Purslane (Portulaca oleracea ) is an annual succulent plant which is widely distributed throughout the Old and the New Worlds. It is (or was) a popular wild food, and at least forty varieties are under cultivation – meaning that it is considered a weed or a desirable pot herb, depending on your perspective and circumstances.
Nowadays portulaca (pigweed, moss rose, and a number of other local names) is exceptionally rarely seen in greengrocers or at farmers’ markets – at least, this is true of Brisbane – perhaps it is different in your part of the world? It certainly rarely features in modern cookery books, so I suspect it is not commonly used in other developed countries.
To encourage your Inner Forager, I give you some recipes for portulaca from eighteenth and nineteenth century cookery books – starting with the most interesting:
Snipes dressed with Purslain Leaves.
Draw your snipes, and make a forcemeat for the inside, but reserve your ropes for your sauce. Put them across upon a lark-spit, covered with bacon and paper, and roast them gently. For sauce, take some prime thick leaves of purslain, blanch them well in water, put them into a ladle of cullis and gravy, a bit of shalot, pepper, salt, nutmeg, and parsley, and stew all together for half an hour gently. Have the ropes ready blanced, and put them in, dish up your snipes upon thin slice of bread fried, squeeze the juice of an orange into your sauce, and send them up to table.
The Universal Cook, and City and Country Housekeeper,
by Francis Collingwood (1797)
To make a nice ragout of our chosen herb, follow the recipe below, but substitute purslane for the sorrel.
Ragout of Sorrel.
Boil it to half in water, with a few lettuces, and a little chervil, then chop all together; put it into a stew-pan with a few chopped mushrooms, green shallots, a slice of ham, a little broth and cullis, pepper and salt; let it simmer a good while, then take out the nam, reduce the sauce quite thick, and serve with what sort of meat you please. This is mostly done to serve with a fricandeau. If the sorrel is too sharp, you may mix spinage with it, or a bit of sugar, to take off the sharpness. Few people use chervil with it, as the flavour is too strong for many, although it is very agreeable when used with moderation.
Pourpier, viz. purslane, is very little used in England, but may be dressed in the same manner as the former, and a small quantity of it is very good in a mixed salad.
The Professed Cook, by B. Clermont (1812)
The best-known use of wild greens such as purslane is, of course, in soup or salad.
A Purslain Soup.
WHEN your Purslain is young, cut the Sprigs off but keep their whole Length; boil them in a Stew-pan, with some Pease-soup, and small Onions; when your Purslain is boiled in good Broth, put a Crust of Bread soaked in Broth in the dish, then pour your Soup on it with the Purslain; season it to your Taste.
A New and Easy Method of Cookery, by Elizabeth Cleland (1755)
Wash and cut small twelve cabbage lettuces, a handful of chervil, one of purslane, one of parsley, eight large green onions, and three handfuls of sorrel; when peas are in season omit half the quantity of sorrel, and put a quart of young green peas; put them all into a sauce-pan, with half a pound of butter and three carrots cut small, some salt and pepper; let them stew closely covered for half an hour, shaking them occasionally to prevent their adhering to the pan; fry in butter six cucumbers cut longways in four pieces; add them, with four quarts of hot water, half a French roll, and a crust of bread toasted upon both sides; and let the whole boil till reduced to three quarts, then strain it through a sieve; beat up the yolks of four eggs with half a pint of cream, and stir it gently into the soup just before serving.
The Practice of Cookery: Adapted to the Business of Every Day Life,
by Mrs Dalgairns (1830)
Purslain, a herb now little cultivated in England, is an excellent ingredient in summer salad, which should consist of young Cos lettuces, mustard and cress, very young radishes, any kind of fine herb in season, and chives placed round the edge of the dish, and not cut into it; in winter endive, cabbage lettuce, beet-root, celery and onions. The excellence of a salad consists in the vegetables being young and fresh; they should be prepared only a short time before they are wanted, the salad mixture being either poured into the bottom of the bowl, or sent up in a sauce-tureen, and not stirred up with the vegetables until they are served.
A New System of Domestic Cookery, by Maria Rundell (1808)