Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Cossack Asparagus

My foray into cattail harvesting happened, admittedly, after I had departed Ukraine. It wasn’t until I was harvesting young shoots in the spring, and cattail pollen in the early summer, that I began to learn about the way in which the cattail and Ukraine are deeply connected. Also known as “Cossack asparagus,” a wild edible’s guide to the plants of Poland (Dzikie Rosliny Jadalne Polski: Przewodnik Survivalowy) notes that a 19th century traveler to Ukraine commented that, “cattails were eaten in spring with religious passion, and they were visible everywhere, stacked in each yard.” A simple search into cattail as an edible pulled up multiple references to Cossack asparagus and traditional recipes.

For my first attempt, we gathered small shoots, cleaned and washed, and served a simple sauté with stinging nettle. Though the fall doesn't present as many opportunities for harvesting shoots and pollen, the rhizomes are busy storing food to make it through the winter months. Next time I travel through Ukraine, I will certainly be looking for evidence of this past tradition!