None of this would have happened if I weren't such a bad gardener. Nearly 20 years ago, after years of living abroad, my husband and I moved our three daughters to New Jersey and bought a fixer-upper on 28 acres. As soon as we moved in, I started a vegetable garden, but everything I planted died. I'm not the sort of person who pays attention all the time, you know? I'd plant something, and the next time I'd check on it, I'd find it all shriveled up. So I started getting interested in the plants growing wild on the property. I really geeked out on it — I ended up working with top local ecologists and the state government to map the plants of New Jersey. This was in addition to the banking job I had then.
At first I wanted to get rid of the non-native species on our land. But then my father had some Japanese professors over to visit, and when I told them we had invasive Japanese knotweed, one of them said, “In Japan we eat this. It's really good.” A light bulb turned on for me. I realized I was trying to battle these plants that can be eaten, that other people see value in. It turns out that some of the most healthful plants to eat are the ones that grow wild. Purslane, which has a lemony flavor, and lamb's-quarter, which tastes sort of nutty, are both loaded with omega-3 fatty acids.
The problem was that I couldn't find good recipes. I got some cookbooks for foraged foods, but the recipes were awful. They had instructions like, “Boil three times to reduce bitterness.” My family wouldn't eat the dishes I made.
Through friends I ended up meeting Eddy Leroux, the chef at Restaurant Daniel in New York City, and he was really interested in the edible plants I was finding. He said, “Bring me everything. I'll pay you.” And I replied, “I don't want you to pay me. I want recipes.” He thought I was really weird: She doesn't want money; she just wants some dumb recipes. Meanwhile, I was thinking, This guy's going to give me free recipes just for bringing in my weeds! I had 220-plus edible plants in my meadow, and he wanted to try all of them, so I started bringing him different ones every week, on my way to work. By the end of the year, we had a huge dossier of recipes. Eventually, we were invited to write a cookbook, and I was the one who tested every recipe. If it was too hard for my middle daughter to make, it didn't go into the book.
American Sumac Apple Tart
- 1 pound frozen puff pastry, defrosted overnight in the refrigerator
- 1 large egg, lightly beaten
- 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons American sumac spice (see sidebar)
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 3/4 cup almond flour
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- 2 medium-large crisp apples, cored and sliced thinly
- 2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar