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April 26, 2013

Spring air isn't always the freshest

The Daily Star

---- — When you step outside on a springtime morning, there’s a freshness that stimulates your senses.

The trees are budding and the grass is turning green. If you don’t have a bunch of allergies, there’s a smell that fills your nostrils and regenerates your soul.

The aroma of spring reminded me of an incident many years ago.

I moved to Wells to teach junior high English and Social Studies in 1969. Winters were rough back then. When spring arrived, Ray Brennan took his nine sixth-graders — yes nine, the total number of students in the sixth-grade class — out behind the school on a nature hike one afternoon. The weather was warm and the four feet of snow had finally disappeared.

When they returned to the classroom, they cleaned a delicacy they had pulled from the ground. Every one of kids sampled the wild plant that they had dug up. A few minutes later, the entire class went down the hallway in perfect order to the principal’s office.

Frank looked up from behind his desk, questioning the sudden appearance of the entire class when Ray spoke up.

“We brought you something.”

All nine kids who had circled the desk took a deep breath and exhaled toward the principal. The smell nearly knocked him from his chair and brought tears to Mr. Belmont’s eyes.

Without saying a word, he got up and quietly walked toward the door. Immediately, the bells started ringing. Because of the offensive smell in his office, he had pulled the fire alarm and evacuated the building.

It was nothing serious. Ray’s class had just eaten wild leeks.

I have to laugh. Things like that couldn’t happen today. It wasn’t that the principal’s office wasn’t much bigger than a janitor’s closet, but breathing such a stench at the principal could easily be construed as an act of terrorism today. Heck, parents would have been called in for “forcing” their children to eat an unapproved plant and Ray’s job may have been on the line.

A lot of things have changed today, but the wild leek still grows in the woodlands.

Wild leeks are often called ramps. They have an extremely pungent odor and are considered to be part of the garlic family. When pulled from the ground, they look much like a scallion or green onion and have a flavor which is like a combination of onions and strong garlic. The rural people have used this easily found plant to flavor their food for many, many years.

The leek is April’s wild food of the month because as spring breaks, these plants start sprouting about the same time that the crocuses peek through the barren ground. They like moist soil in the woods and along wandering streams. Not only are leeks used for flavoring other foods, they are used to make soup and can even be steamed or sauteed like asparagus. It has become a delicacy in some of world’s finest restaurants.

The leek’s broad leaf is light green in color and looks a lot like that of a tulip. The plant grows in clumps and is easily found from Quebec to the Carolinas. If you aren’t sure you’re picking the right plant, just pull one and smell your hands. There’s no doubt about it.

Mother Nature offers us a wonderful array of edible plants. It’s just that some must be used more sparingly. The rule of thumb — don’t eat leeks before going on a date or kissing your wife.

Trust me, it won’t be good.

What’s Happening?

The Dave Brandt Chapter of Trout Unlimited is sponsoring its annual Introduction to Fly Fishing Course at the Hanford Mills Museum in East Meredith from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. May 11. It includes classroom and hands-on experience on the pond. Bring a bag lunch and your own equipment if you have it, but loaners are available. Cost is $40. Sign up before May 8 by calling Marge Harris at 607-263-5767 between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. or Dave Plummer at 607-563-1978.

Rick Brockway writes a weekly outdoors column for The Daily Star. Email him at