Recipe from Fiona J. Houston
Submitted by Saraband Books
Small basket of young nettles, roughly chopped
2-3 medium potatoes, roughly chopped
2-3 medium onions, roughly chopped
2-3 pints/1- 1 ½ litres water or vegetable stock
Salt & pepper
Wearing gloves, cut or pluck a small basket full of young nettles, or, if they are older, nettle tips. Gently soften onions in butter. When they are transparent, add the potatoes and some water or vegetable stock and simmer until they are soft before adding the chopped nettles. Cook a further few minutes until the nettles have softened but not lost their bright green colour. Blend until smooth with a hand-held machine, or simply break up with a potato masher until there are no large lumps.
When I spent a year re-creating the 1790s lifestyle of my ancestor, a Scottish schoolmaster’s wife, I either grew or foraged for almost all of my food – apart from buying oats and barley by the sackful, keeping chickens and bartering for dairy goods.
Until late spring I had plenty of winter vegetables and stores of dried fruit. But by May I was facing the ‘hungry gap’, that part of the season when the old stores are gone, but there is nothing new to harvest; the kale and cabbages are not yet ready to eat. This is the time of year when when nettles come into their own.
As soon as there were a few inches of growth on the nettles in my patch, I was making soup with them (as I do every year!). It’s easy to make, tastes delicious, and it was once a staple of the Scottish diet. The taste is rich, slightly astringent, and deeply evocative of wild places. Nettles can be used in many recipes, cooked as you would prepare spinach; for example in a frittata, or simply as lightly cooked greens. Nettle tea is a favourite, too.
Nettles are not just tasty but can be beneficial as a natural diuretic, in aiding digestion, and as a rich source of vitamins and minerals, including iron. By strimming a nettle patch you can extend the season to the whole summer, with a steady supply of young growth.
Fiona J. Houston is the author of The Garden Cottage Diaries. She is an educationalist, museum researcher, feature journalist, grandmother and campaigner for healthier, sustainable lifestyles and a greener, cleaner world. For a full year, Houston carried out an extraordinary experiment, immersing herself in the 1790s lifestyle of her rural ancestors. The Cottage Garden Diaries is her quirky, lively and down-to-earth account, packed with history, folklore, facts, practical tips and curiosities.
Fiona J. Houston is published by Saraband Books.