THERE is an abundant source of leafy goodness on our doorstep for free which has the nutrients and flavour of spinach, but there is a sting in the tail . . . they are nettles.
We may not think about tucking in to nettles today but they have been eaten by our ancestors for hundreds of years and once cooked they do not sting at all.
Samuel Pepys mentions them in his diary entry for February 25, 1661, when he visited a friend and later wrote: “We found him abroad, but she, like a good lady, within, and there we did eat some nettle porridge, which was made on purpose today for some of their coming, and was very good.”
And the lyrics of the early 19th century folk song The Poor Cotton Weaver recall: “We lived on nettles while nettles were good an’ Waterloo porridge was best of us food.” It is a song familiar to Peter Nalder, a one-time folk singer himself and a co-director of South Court Environmental which is holding its Nettle Nosh evening next week.
The event is a chance for people to find out more about the plant, see how it can be cooked and taste some of the produce.
At the moment nettles are in their prime for harvesting and eating. Peter explained: “You have to pick the nettles first and it’s traditional to have it before the end of March. They tend to get tough after that. Like other things you harvest there’s a good time to do it.”
Nettle harvesters need to just pick the young tips of the plant if they are going to cook them, but there is no need to put yourself in harm’s way. Peter said: “If you are a wimp use gloves . . . I do.”
South Court Environmental is an organisation which looks after various outdoor sites including Wilson’s Orchard off Billing Road, Northampton, and Abington Lodge in Taylor Avenue, Northampton. It provides community events with an emphasis on caring for the environment, from beekeeping to organic food growing to wildlife conservation.
At its event on Thursday they will be cooking some nettle soup known as Lady Ridley’s Recipe. For this you need to gather about half a pound of nettle leaves which, as they are light, is quite a large amount. Peel and chop a pound of new potatoes and boil for about 10 minutes, coarsely chop the nettles and melt some butter in a pan.
Put the nettles into the buttery pan and stir gently for a few minutes. Add the potatoes and some stock, bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Once it is soft, blend it by hand or with a blender. Add seasoning and a cream of your choice such as sour cream or any other you like. Experiment with some herbs and spices to see how you like it.
Peter said: “Nettles are extremely important for wildlife. All the brightest butterflies you see have all grown up on nettles. It’s a pity not to have them. I think people should have a few in their garden.”
Peter says the best thing about the annual nettle event is people’s response when they tentatively try some nettle soup.
He said: The joy is seeing their faces. They come unbelievingly, not believing it’s possible to eat nettles, but it is.”
The Nettle Nosh takes place between 6.30pm and 8.30pm on Thursday, March 29, at Abington Lodge Barn Kitchen, Taylor Avenue, off Wellingborough Road, Northampton. For more information visit the website at www.scenorthampton.org or call Peter on Northampton 630719.