Tasty invasive

How to protect the Calumet and eat well at the same time.

Carrie Golus, AB’91, AM’93 (@carriegolus)

The Calumet region begins just south of Hyde Park and extends into southwest Michigan. But for most UChicago students, this overlooked area might as well be in another world.

Once a vast network of wetlands, lakes, prairies, and dunes, the Calumet region has been radically reshaped by industry and urban development over the past 150 years. Nonetheless it remains home to a wide range of plants and animals.

In 2009 the College launched the Calumet Quarter, an intensive program in environmental studies inspired by study abroad programs. Like students in Paris or Pune, Calumet Quarter students take classes Monday through Thursday. On Fridays they go on excursions to places like Rainbow Beach Park, the Field Museum, the Indiana Dunes, and Gary, Indiana. The Calumet Quarter, which runs every other year, was last offered in spring 2014.

At a Field Museum event Patricia Brandt, AB’14, had the chance to try garlic mustard pesto prepared by high school students in the Calumet Is My Backyard (CIMBY) program. “The George Washington High School CIMBY Class of 2014 taught me that one creative way to get rid of invasives in the Calumet region is to eat them,” Brandt wrote in a blog on the Calumet Quarter’s website. “They termed garlic mustard ‘a serious threat’ to the Chicago area’s native ecosystems and explained that in order to get rid of it, you have to uproot the plant and dispose of it in plastic bags.” But garlic mustard was originally brought to the United States as a culinary herb, so why not just eat it?

I was curious about the recipe but wanted to make sure I didn’t end up making, say, poison ivy pesto or foxglove pesto. Fortunately two Calumet Quarter instructors, Alison Anastasio, SM’05, PhD’09, and Madeleine McLeester, AB’05, AM’08, were kind enough to accompany me to the Sand Ridge Nature Center in South Holland to help me harvest the right plant.

Removing plants from a nature preserve is ordinarily forbidden, but when it comes to garlic mustard, “Take as much as you want,” the staff naturalist said. “Take it all.”


Garlic mustard pesto

3 c. garlic mustard leaves, cleaned
1 c. walnuts
1 c. olive oil
1 ¼ c. grated Parmesan cheese
1–2 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped (optional)

Put all ingredients in a food processor and process until smooth. Serve over farfalle or the pasta of your choice.


Garlic mustard pesto served over farfalle (butterfly pasta). (Photography by Tom Tian, AB’10)