I have neglected this blog shamefully over the last few months because I have been very busy.
I had a frustrating start to the year. After years of being stymied in my hopes for an allotment, I found somewhere locally which does allow people from outside their village to rent one. Full of excitement because Google Maps showed large tracts of uncultivated land, I applied, only to be told all the plots were taken (a lot can happen in four years, it seems). So it was back to Plan A – container grown veg, and foraging.
This changed later in the year when a plot became available, and at the end of July I took on an allotment about 15 minutes drive away. It’s not ideal from a time, fuel or pollution point of view, but it’s an allotment and I’m thrilled.
In the meantime I’d done some foraging, had intended to keep this blog up to date, but found myself too busy. What I intend to do now is a few “catch up” posts of events earlier in the year, and how I got on with some of the James Wong inspired growing. I shall start with Nettle Soup.
It was a long cold winter and a very late spring this year. Once it started to warm up everything rushed into growth, so I very nearly missed making nettle soup. As nettles age they become inedible with crystals in the leaves, particularly when they start to flower, so it’s best to pick them young. I saw to my horror that the little sprouts of fresh leaves I’d seen a few days before were now several inches tall. Despite being busy with other things i knew that if I wanted nettle soup this year, I would have to gather the nettles immediately.
The question was, where from? I considered Tiptree Heath, because there are lots of nettles near the entrance, but I suspect that’s because of the high nutrient levels from years of dog fouling, and didn’t fancy toxocara soup.
I realised that this was going to be a consideration wherever I went. The usual rules of harvesting above dog leg height could not apply to something that had to be harvested very young and low growing. So I picked areas where people are unlikely to walk their dogs, like the side of a road without a footpath. But then there is the potential for pollution, though I think this is less of a problem since lead is no longer added to petrol. In the end I picked a local quiet lane which proved a bountiful place for nettles.
A dog walked did pass by, but I think the number of dogs is fewer and so any contamination is likely to be more spread out. I was a trifle embarrassed to be discovered rummaging in the nettle patch, wondering if the poor lady thought I was some sort of weird woman, but instead she was interested.
I picked just the tips, gathering a good carrier bag full, as called for by a River Cottage recipe. They needed a good picking over and thorough washing, which was a time consuming fiddle. I cooked the base of potatoes and stock before adding the nettles, cooking then whizzing with a hand blender.
I was surprised at how green the soup was. I’d been expecting a more khaki colour, an “appetizing” cowpat brown. As it was, the soup looked lovely. The smell was strongly metallic, reminiscent of watercress soup. Some describe the taste as lemony, but I thought it acid, fresh and green, which might seem a silly description until you try it. It was a very pleasant flavour.
The family weren’t interested, so by the time I finished it a few days later, I was a little tired of nettle soup. I will definitely make it again, but will regard it as a seasonal treat.
As nettles are rich in vitamin K I think perhaps those on anticoagulant therapies like Warfarin shouldn’t eat too much of it.
I found a couple of interesting articles on nettles. This one describes some fearsome sounding nettles and goes into the history of their use for cloth making.
This one is about some of the herbal benefits. Perhaps I should have dried some to make tea.