Crime fighters try a new way to uproot thugs and punks — weed out the flower pickers

Retiree plucks dandelions for meals — instead, preserve cop serves him a $75 ticket

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With so much crime in the Chicago area, from murderous gangbangers to those thug mobs and everything in between, it's nice to know that law enforcement finally cracked down on Public Enemy No. 1:

He's John Taris, 75, retired tailor and notorious dandelion picker.

Now this alleged criminal is facing a $75 fine for the terrible crime of picking a weed that most Chicagoans hate.

A few weeks ago he was hunted down by a Cook County Forest Preserve cop and caught red-handed in possession of dandelion greens. For an old man barely making it on Social Security, finding $75 to pay the ticket will be tough.

"They make me a criminal for picking dandelions in Chicago," Taris told me the other day. "And all I wanted was something to eat.

"Oh, my wife, she's so upset. She couldn't eat, she couldn't sleep. I couldn't eat, I couldn't sleep. It's very upsetting to be called a criminal. And $75?"

Taris and his wife, Joanna, don't have very much. He says he worked as a tailor for years on North Michigan Avenue, and now he and his wife receive about $1,500 a month in Social Security.

After the bills are paid, there isn't much left over. There wasn't much in the refrigerator, either, when Joanna asked him about lunch.

"My wife says, 'What to eat? We have nothing to eat.'" he recalled.

But Taris knew where he could find some healthy and delicious food: at the LaBagh Woods near Foster and Cicero on the Northwest Side of Chicago.

"I say, 'Don't worry. I'll go to the park.' We had an egg, some hot dogs. I tell her, 'Make that and I'll go and pick some horta.'"

Horta.

They're so tasty.

Horta is what Greeks call dandelion greens. You can find them at gourmet food stores and top-end produce markets. Fancy chefs have recently discovered them, but most Mediterranean people eat them, even if they call the weed by another name.

Horta are delicious and nutritious, and they don't cost anything when you pick your own.

Wash thoroughly, boil until tender, then drizzle with lemon, olive oil, salt and perhaps a pinch of pepper. I grew up eating them, and drinking the lemony broth full of vitamins. We eat them at home to this day, and I always order a plate each time I visit a Greek restaurant.

The Greek and Italian horta pickers aren't alone. Asians forage for wild onions as well as greens. Poles and other Eastern Europeans search for wild mushrooms.

Drive by any forest preserve, or most any empty roadside, and you're apt to see people, particularly women, pulling dandelions and stuffing them into their plastic supermarket bags.

"I'm in the park, I see the Chinese people taking the onions. The Polonezi (Poles) for the mushrooms. The Italian people, the Arab people, Greeks, all of us," Taris said.

"I used to see another police, Mr. Wilson. He would say, 'John, how are you doing?' I say, 'Dandelions,' Mr. Wilson. I'm hungry, Mr. Wilson.' This is what we do."

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