I’m going to try not to sound too giddy here, but I’m not confident that I’ll succeed in reining in my fanaticism. I adore nettles: so abundant, so hardy, and so many uses it can be put to.
There’s a real pleasure in being able to make use of – and get up close and intimate with – a plant that most people shun and curse. Personally, I think it’s a good thing to get stung a little when foraging – you’re taking from Pacha Mama, so expect to meet her natural defences. And there’s great reward in braving the barbs: if they weren’t considered weeds, nettles would certainly have had their faddish superfood moment, being rich in potassium, iron, vitamin C, and vitamins A and B.
If I need to lift my spirits, all I need to do is stick my head right into a carrier bag full of freshly picked nettle tops and breathe in; I can’t think of anything that smells so … green. Try it.
When it comes to recipes, there are so many directions you can go in – too many to list here. Nettle soup, with potato to thicken it, is a serious pleasure. A combination of nettle and sorrel (both foraged from the churchyard at Eastling, though not too near the old graves) made a properly satisfying pesto for our pasta last week. Or get a pan of oil seriously hot and drop leaves in for a few seconds to make a crispy nettle snack. And in the picture above are the nettle burgers I made recently, an idea found here. Cook the leaves up slightly, drain and squeeze dry, chop and mix with roughly equal amount of oatmeal and spice it up to your taste. Shape into patties, cool in the fridge for a little, then fry. Very lovely, and I’ve frozen a few leftover patties for a quick and lazy future dinner.
Even more exciting, yesterday I bottled my first ever batch of nettle ale, only the second booze I’ve brewed, following last year’s pretty successful elderflower ‘champagne’. The process is very similar, and doesn’t require a great deal of equipment or expertise at all: essentially, a bucket of nettles and boiling water, left to cool and then with sugar, citrus juice and ale yeast added, then left somewhere warm.
Andy Hamilton’s Booze for Free says leave for 3 days to ferment – I left it for 4 as I wasn’t confident it had been warm enough, as we are miserly with the central heating in our already chilly house. Then we had a rather messy two-man task in the garden of decanting from the bucket into swing-top bottles. There’s still a sticky patch on the paving that I need to scrub clean.
I’ve read that the result is much more like a light sparkling booze than an ale. It’s certainly very fizzy, as you can see below – one of the reasons you should use properly sturdy bottles of thick glass, to avoid catastrophic explosions.
One other piece of advice – a bit of ‘do as I say, not as I do’ – is to either use a siphon or more muslin than I used when decanting from bucket to bottles, as I seem to have let a lot of sediment through – and given how fizzy the ale is, it’s not going to be easy to prevent the sediment from ending up in people’s glasses – little bits of sediment barrel around the bottle when you open it like flakes in a snow globe. A beginner’s mistake to work on next time.
Talking of equipment, a quick plug: on moving to Faversham I was really happy to discover that we’re blessed with a dedicated homebrew shop, well worth a visit if you live in the area.
Next we’ve to leave the ale to condition in the bottles for a week (the difficult part), so they should be ready just in time to toast a visit from our recently married friends.