Wild about clover: The garden groundcover that should find its way into your kitchen this spring
Plus, a decadent egg recipe topped with this fresh blossom
As a kid I learned that there was nothing a cow liked more than a field of red clover; to a peckish ruminant, clover is as sweet as candy. Growing up in the country, and often shortcutting through farmers’ fields, I knew to never get between a herd of cattle and a fresh patch of clover. Stampede!
In the garden
Some things you plant, some things plant themselves. Along with dandelions, wood sorrel, chickweed, and purslane, clover is a wonderful edible that will just pop up uninvited, and that’s a good thing. Both red (Trifolium pretense) and white clover (Trifolium repens) are super-adaptable, growing in any sort of well-drained soil, from rich loam to heavy clay. Its mighty taproot — as long as four feet! — opens up compacted soil, and adds nitrogen to the soil. You could say this plant gives more than it takes.
As a gardener, white clover is my choice of groundcover. It’s much more low-maintenance than a grassy lawn, it loves full sun but will manage in partial shade, and it rarely requires re-planting as it spreads by runners, seeds, and comes annually. White clover seed is readily available through most garden suppliers nowadays. Sprinkle the seeds between rocks, on paths and natural driveways. If you keep chickens, watch out — they love to nibble on clover and clover seed!
In the kitchen
As with all foraged foods, be sure to gather clover from a pristinely clean source, and if planting with a view to eating, look for seed that has not been treated with chemicals. Both the greens and flowers are edible. Dry the flowers for tea, or add to vodka and fruit jellies for a clover infusion. Fresh flowers and greens can be added to salads, cocktails, and to canapes and desserts for garnish. The flowers taste like raw green beans with just a hint of sweetness, and look just gorgeous. Add the leaves to salads, or to spinach, lamb’s quarters, amaranth, collards, or other minimally-cooked or wilted greens.
Chef Bangerter’s Baked Eggs With Summer Garden Flowers And Foliage
Chef Jason Bangerter moves from one plant to the next, nibbling on leaves, popping a petal or a berry into his mouth. “I have the best gig in the world,” he says. Since 2013, Chef Bangerter has been heading up kitchen operations at Langdon Hall, a fantastic Victorian estate set on 75 acres of lawn, woods and gardens near Cambridge, Ontario. He does his grocery gathering out back, and from the area’s small family farms that supply him with whatever his talented gardeners can’t coax from the soil.
I visited on a perfect summer afternoon, when the vegetable and flower gardens had much to offer a chef gone wild. Here’s what Chef Bangerter made.
- 2 tbsp canola oil
- 1 hot or mild chili pepper, seeded and finely chopped
- 1 small onion, finely chopped
- 2-4 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 heirloom tomatoes, regular tomatoes or a pint-basket of assorted cherry tomatoes, finely chopped
- 6 fresh basil leaves, torn, stems discarded
- 4-6 eggs
- Sea salt, to taste
- Black pepper, to taste
- ¼ cup grated Toscano cheese (or substitute Parmesean or Pecorino Romano)
- 1 scallion, finely chopped
- Clover flowers and leaves and/or dill
- Coriander flowers
- Anise hyssop
- Marigold petals
- Arugula blossoms
- Monarda petals
- Daylily petals
Pre-heat oven to 350F degrees.
In a gratin dish, cast iron skillet, or another heatproof casserole, warm the oil on the stove over low heat, add the chili pepper, onion, and garlic and cook until tender. Add the tomatoes and cook gently to heat through. Add the torn basil leaves.
Crack the eggs individually on top of the cooking vegetables. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Transfer the dish to the oven and bake for 10 minutes or until the eggs are cooked to the desired doneness — runny yolks are best.
Remove from the oven, sprinkle the grated cheese over top while the eggs are still hot, and drizzle with a little more oil. Garnish with the chopped scallion and a healthy amount of your favourite herbs and edible flowers. Serve with fresh bread and butter; a side of pickles goes well too.
Yield: Makes 4 servings
Signe Langford is a restaurant chef-turned-writer from Hudson, Que., now living in Port Hope, Ont. She tells award-winning stories and creates delicious recipes for such publications as: Harrowsmith (where she’s the food editor), LCBO’s Food & Drink, Today’s Parent and Watershed. In 2015, she published her award-winning book, Happy Hens & Fresh Eggs: Keeping Chickens in the Kitchen Garden with 100 Recipes. Follow her @sigster64.