In September 1968, Vic and I rented a barely winterized cottage on Cayuga Lake. The next spring, we splurged on a canoe. As we explored the lake, Vic paddled and steered from the stern, while I practiced beginner’s skills from the bow.
One warm day, we paddled nearly a mile up shore. Looking north, we saw a white-haired woman standing on a retaining wall in front of a cottage that stood close to the water’s edge. As she waved her pale billowy apron, her frizzy curls danced in the wind.
“Come on over here,” she hollered with raucous caw. It was an order. Vic who loved an adventure steered toward shore and her dock.
“Hey, I’ve been watching you two paddling up and down the shore for weeks, wondering when you’d come close enough to hear me calling,” she said as we floated next to her decaying dock. “Come on up. My name’s Libby. Glad you’re here.” She tossed us a rope to tie the canoe and extended a hand to haul me to the dock.
“Come with me,” she demanded after asking our names. We followed her up uneven stone steps beside her cabin to a leveled area one tier uphill from the house.
“This is my garden,” she said, lifting her chest and sweeping her arm as though showing us a grand vista. Down the lake at our place, I had planted spindly tomato plants in shaded rocky soil, hoping for the best. Libby’s garden was rich with black loose loam held in place with shale walls. Her red Swiss chard was huge.
“It wintered over,” she said. “Over there next to the compost pile, that’s the lamb’s quarters. It volunteers.” I eyed the rampant green plants cautiously. “I compost with chicken shit,” Libby continued without a breath. “The coop is up the hill. Could you use some eggs?”
“Did you ever eat lamb’s quarters?” she yelled as she climbed over the pile of orange rinds, green plant skins, and chicken manure.
“No, never have,” I said, leaning closer for a look.
“It’s delicious, even raw,” Libby said, breaking off a pink tinged tip and handing it to me. “Here, try it.”
Forty-three years later, I harvest tips from the volunteer lamb’s quarters in my vegetable garden. I stir fry them with olive oil and garlic and shout out thanks to wild Libby Leonard before devouring them for lunch. Thank you, Libby, for teaching me how to harvest volunteers and prune tomato plants. Thank you for sharing your favorite black cap berry patches on the hill above Cayuga Lake and teaching me the art of making jam. Thank you, Libby, for handing down your crone wisdom about the healing power and delicious possibilities of plants.
Do you ever forage for food in the wild? Do you let plants self-seed in your garden so that you’ll have volunteers the next season? How did you learn to grow and prepare vegetables? Follow this link for easy and delicious vegetable recipes. Try greens and beans with any greens you forage in the field or in the produce aisle.