Purslane is a bitter, wild, edible plant. In June, I didn’t know what it looked like: Now I see it growing in the cracks of sidewalks and spreading out in abandoned flower pots every time I leave my house for a walk. Today, I’m sharing a recipe “To Pickle Purslane or Littice stalks” with you.
Over the past month, I’ve been doing two things that have me thinking a lot about bitter herbs, weeds, and wild foods: attending the Oxford Food Symposium’s “Herbs and Spices” Conference online; and gardening, weeding, and clearing out raised beds for planting at a community garden in Philly that will supply a kitchen that feeds people in need. At the conference, I was moved by Fabrizia Lanza’s film Amaro (about bitter flavors and foraging practices in Sicilian food culture) and inspired to look for foraged ingredients in recipe books after hearing Gina Rae La Cerva‘s paper about wild herbs in Renaissance cookery. At the garden, we found established asparagus beds thriving under the weeds and transplanted nutritious purslane and dandelion plants into the newly cleared soil. When some stalks broke off in my hands, I took them home at the urging of my fellow gardeners.
After more than six years spent cooking in the archives, I have quite a lengthy list of recipes that I want to test and post here. But sometimes an ingredient sends me back to the books. I located this recipe for pickled purslane by searching recipe books at the Folger Shakespeare Library that have already been transcribed by the Early Modern Recipes Online Collective through classes, conferences, and annual transcribathons. (For instructions on how to search these transcriptions, read this EMROC blog post.) As long-time readers know, I love pickles and I’ve been thinking a lot about preserving food during this long, strange summer spent mostly inside. This recipe book bears the names of Ann Smith –“Ann Smith sen. Her Book October the 10th 1698” — and Thomas Barnaby — “This book was written by Thomas Barnaby sen. of Reading” — and was compiled and used in Reading in the last years of the seventeenth century and the early eighteenth century. (For more information about the manuscript, see this entry in the Manuscript Cookbooks Survey.)
To Pickle Purslane or Littice stalks
First pick your Leaves off then boyle your
stalks pretty Tender in water & salt poure
thatt from them & when they are Cold
putt them into A pott with some venigar
& salt Cover them Close & you may steep them
all the yeare Round
These proportions fill a single, 2-cup mason jar. Double, triple, and quadruple if you have a lot of purslane on hand!
purslane, approximately 2 cups leaves and stems (100g)
1 t salt, used in two 1/2 t increments
1/2 cup white wine vinegar
a 2-cup mason jar, fresh from the dishwasher or sterilized with boiling water
Pick the leaves from the purslane stalks. Set the leaves aside. Cut the stalks into 3-inch pieces that will easily fit in the jar.
Put the stalks in a small sauce pan with 1/2 t salt and 1 cup water. Bring to a boil and cook for three minutes. Pour off the water. Set the stalks aside to cool for about 10 minutes.
Put the cooked stalks and leaves in your prepared jar. Add 1/2 t water, 1/2 cup vinegar, and 1/2 cup water. The liquid should cover the purslane.
Firmly affix the lid and label the jar. Leave in refrigerator for 2-3 days.
Consume pickled purslane within a month of opening the jar.
The pickled purslane was sharply sour and refreshing. All of the potent bitterness of the raw green was gone. Perhaps this transformation is the desired effect of the recipe – a uniformly sour pickle that can be consumed year-round – but I experienced this taste transformation as a loss. An anodyne flavor took the place of the bitter intensity that I liked in the raw greens. If I pickle purslane again according to this recipe, I’ll cut the vinegar in half and see if more of the original flavor shines through. Nevertheless, pickling is a great way to preserve an abundant ingredient like purslane when it’s at the peak of its growing season.
11 thoughts on “To Pickle Purslane or Littice stalks”
What and interesting recipe, and the manuscript is great!
Thanks so much!
It is always interesting to see what people in the past ate and how there are such fashions in food.
I completely agree, Julia! Thanks for reading.
Maybe my downstairs neighbor can do this with the purslane growing so energetically between the paving stones of the back yard. Two questions: Why did you decide to include the leaves, when they are not mentioned, and have you come across other recipes using purslane?
A great idea for using those backyard plants!
The first part of the recipe calls for removing the leaves from the stalks. I think there’s ambiguity in the instructions about whether to include the leaves or to only pickle the stalks so I decided to add the leaves. If I were using the leaves in a fresh salad, pickling the stalks alone would be a great way to avoid waste!
When I searched the Folger’s site and located this recipe, I also found a number of other recipes calling for purslane as a seasoning. If you follow the instructions in this post, you can search for (and look at) these other purslane recipes: https://emroc.hypotheses.org/search-in-luna
I am a big fan of purslane, having encountered it first in my historic cooking. I’ve made both the pickle with the leaves and without, and frankly prefer to leave the leaves on. It saves time and I think they taste lovely. I’ve usually used Martha Washington’s recipe. One eye opening experience I had was when I was spending time helping Syrian Refugees adapt to our society. We were walking in a garden and she brightened when she saw the purslane growing among the vegetables. She said she had been looking for it in the stores, but couldn’t find it! It is apparently something used very often in their cooking. I have used it raw in salads, stir fried with other greens, in soups and of course pickled. It has a mucilaginous quality–a little like okra–that adds some thickening. On top of this it is free and it’s nutritious. What’s not to love?
Thank so much for sharing these reflections on purslane, Mercy! I’m glad it’s something I’m cooking with now.
May you and I can agree to disagree? 🙂 I can taste no bitterness in purslane, only sour. But perhaps that is a difference of taste buds? In fact, the ones in my garden are disappointingly mild tasting, not even sour enough for my taste. There are a number of different purslane varieties.It is possible some are bitter and some are sour.
Purslane has the distinction of being known for its beneficial, high omega-3 content. While it is wonderful to find free, wild purslane, avoid plants along roadsides, as they may contain pollutants from car exhaust.
Here in Mexico, I have to battle the leaf cutter ants for the purslane in my garden. Apparently they love the bitter/sour taste.
Of course we can agree to disagree! I tasted both bitterness and sour, but that may be about the particular variety growing in this South Philadelphia community garden.
Thank you for sharing this information and these tips with my readers.
I too find no bitterness in purslane growing in southeastern Pennsylvania, but it does have a little acid ting that I like.