Monday, June 7, 2010

Granny Wrinkles shares her Reed Recipes

Peace Corps volunteer Barbara Trecker, living in a village in the Danube River Delta, is working with a non-profit environmental organization, Zhavoronok.  After a conversation about The Pickle Project she generously sent me a copy of their newsletter which included this article about the many benefits of reeds.  The article is narrated by "Grandmother Wrinkles,"  a Danube Delta marsh turtle.  Here's Grandmother's take on reeds and their culinary uses (and that's Grandmother Wrinkles at the end of the post)
Today I will introduce you to one of the most numerous inhabitants of our wetlands - reeds. Meet the reed, find its many uses,  and try to prepare a meal from my recipes. Believe me, reeds are very, very helpful and very, very tasty.

If you only knew how wonderful the reeds are that grow in our marshes! They cast a high solid wall, but when the wind blows, the cane leaves turn their edge and the stem bends easily, but does not break. Reeds are flexible and very durable! They can be used to build houses and shelters.

For many animals, the reeds are home. How many spiders, bees and insects are found in the crooks of the cane stalks! They like reed thickets, as do muskrats and pelicans, herons and ibis. Also, wild cats, wild boar, and raccoon dogs.  Birds hide in the reeds, and fish. The “White Cupid”, for example, loves the sweet tender tip of the cane. Since she cannot reach the tip, she grabs the lower branches of the stem with her mouth and pulls it up so the top will not fall into the water.

I must say this one is no fool. Reeds are not only tasty, but also useful. In the reed leaf and shoots is contained up to 500 mg. of ascorbic acid which is four times the vitamin C in lemons!  Reeds are rich in carotene, cane sugar, and starch. The rhizome (root bulb) is especially high in nutrient value, containing up to 15% sugar and 50% starch. That is why long young shoots and rhizomes of reeds are used as food. They can be boiled, pickled, included in soups, salads, vinaigrettes, purees, and stewed with butter. Autumn and spring rhizomes that are dried, milled and made into flour can be cooked for coffee, baked as bread, and used as a seasoning for various dishes. I think it is high time to introduce reed dishes in your diet! Try to cook the recipes in the next column.

Rhizomes are not difficult to collect in the spring or early summer before the reeds flower, and in late autumn from the bottom of reservoirs with rakes or special hooks. But before you start cooking dishes from the reeds, you must perform important rule of survival school:    Remember! Collect reed rhizomes and young shoots only far away from towns, factories and plants!   
And some recipes from the same newsletter.

Reed Root Salad
300g. reed roots, 60g. grated horseradish, 60g. chopped sorrel,
40g. sour cream, salt to taste

Wash the roots and boil in salted water. With a knife, chop into 2 cm. pieces,
stir in horseradish, sorrel and salt,
then add the sour cream.

Reed Root Puree
 200g. reed roots;  60g. nettle;
60g.onion (10-20); vegetable oil; 
salt and vinegar to taste

Boil the reed roots and finely chop in a meat grinder. Fry the onions and nettles in oil, then add the chopped reeds.
Flavor with vinegar and salt.

Reed Root Coffee
Wash the reed roots and air dry, then  roast in oven until brown. Grind the toasted pieces in a coffee grinder and use like regular ground coffee.

These recipes provide just a glimpse of a way of life that involves making do, with whatever the landscape provides.  I'll never just take a casual look at reeds again, without thinking of Granny Wrinkles and the ingenious ways of finding sustenance in this diverse country.


  1. This article and illustration are authored by Larissa Malykh, a wonderful woman with a great imagination and a huge store of knowledge about the plant and animal life of her home region. She's a good cook, too!

    (Hi, this is Barbara, and work is progressing very well down here in the south of Ukraine as my counterparts work to educate both children and adults about biodiversity in the wetlands. Thanks for posting this!)

  2. Which kind of reeds? Sweet flag sometimes called a reed... medicinal and edible (at least the N Am variety in moderation, called muskrat root in some areas) introduced by the Mongols who valued it highly for their horse and themselves.