Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Green Beltane soup

Although the weather here in the Pennines is still a bit stuck in winter, the year moves on all the same and now here we are at Beltane! As I've looked out at bare trees and grey skies these past couple of weeks, it's been hard to really drop into spring. Those hope-filled warm days, that make me feel like running about the countryside barefoot, have been hard to come by. It's difficult to imagine that our ancestors would have cavorted about the countryside around this time, making merry in the fields and hedgerows. 

Beltane was the great fire festival of growth and fertility, the most potent and active time of the year. In warmer springs it's easy to feel the strong green push of the earth - as the ground becomes carpeted with tiny opportunistic wild seedlings and the tight fat buds of the trees burst at the seams. But in this cold grey half-season it's harder to sense the throb of a land on the cusp of summer.  

And so, I offer you, nettle soup...

It's a simple affair, but full of the rich green goodness that we are so in need of just now. I've only been aware of the food potential of stinging nettles for a year or so, I'm still exploring its many possibilities but it seems to me that soup is a good simple way to enjoy them. And as long as you're using only the freshest tenderest growth, delicious too.

So...take some scissors and a pair of gloves and chop off the young growth at the tops of the plant. For a decent amount you need about half a sink full of nettle tops. Then wash them really well as they are beloved of many wee beasties. Whilst they're having a bath, chop up a big onion or a few small ones with some garlic, and peel and chop a handful of potatoes. Then melt a hefty chunk of butter in a very big pot and fry the onion and garlic.

When the onions are soft, add the potatoes and a couple of pints of good stock. Cook until the potatoes are almost done then add the nettles and cook for a further five to ten minutes. Blend. You could add some cream or creme fraiche at this point but it will somewhat dilute the deep grassy hues of the finished soup.

And that's it. The simplest way to eat your weeds. Obviously this verdant broth is bursting with all kinds of greenly goodness as nettles contain iron, calcium, magnesium, B vitamins, vitamin K and chlorophyll . Nettle has a long and full history as a medicine plant with herbalists prescribing it for all kinds of bodily complaints from kidney problems to asthma. It puts a spring in your step and a twinkle in your eye, so I'm told, making it the perfect Beltane tonic. Maybe it will finally enable us to to launch fully into this season of growth and light. Let the frolicking commence!

(With thanks to Sam Lowi and Jesper Launder for the nettle wisdom and my ever-growing wild food cupboard)


Miriam Darlington said...

Oooh I am definitely going to try this soup tonight - I have plenty of lovely nettles sprouting joyfully in my garden, and I need some of what they've got right now!

Thanks for the inspiration..


Anonymous said...

Selina you have an eye for natural beauty, and a heart for rich abundance. You inspire me.

Curiously enough, whilst spring has definitely sprung in these lower latitudes, and the sap is definitely rising (!) I have not had my attention caught by the nettles. Now if soup could be made from daffodils... well.

I shall forage, when I go out to milk the chickens, and see what goodness abounds... though whilst Bears definitely do eat nettles, they don't naturally favour potatoes... perhaps nettle and parsnip? I'll let you know.


Miriam Darlington said...

I have now devoured some of my garden nettles and feel nourished and also pleased with myself. Only one ant was harmed (accidentally) and the soup was delicious. I added some organic yoghurt, like you said. My throat is tingling slightly but that is probably due to all the goodness. Any ideas on what I can do with wild garlic?

Selina Gough said...

Tingling throat? Mmmm, I've had that with nettle tea but not with soup...hope it's not too uncomfortable. Glad you enjoyed it - I was quite surprised by how good it was. I hear that wild garlic pesto is a winner, although I've not made it myself - found this recipe from River Cottage


Let me know how it goes!

Selina Gough said...

Bear, you have a way with lovely words.

I thought nettle mixed with pea and mint might be tasty. Do bears eat peas?

I'm afraid that you must stay away from those daffodils though and only consume them with your eyes.

Miriam Darlington said...

Right I'm off tonight on an evening quest to gather garlic - it smells like heaven when you get down in it! And the new buds and flowers are nice sprinkled on a salad, although pretty pungent.

Selina Gough said...

It is wonderful stuff. My youngest loves it and when it's plentiful, likes to wade through it shouting 'I'm garlic boy!'. Happy gathering x

Anonymous said...

Hmmm... As you say, best looked at and left standing - Daffodil soup is a sorry affair.

And curiously enough, no, this particular Bear does not usually eat peas, or for that matter any of the grains and legumes that require agriculture. No sugar either.

Bear will eat pretty much anything he can catch in the woods and valleys... from mouse to moose, or even giraffe if the circumstances were right. Things that I can find in trees, like fruit, nuts, squirrels, birds and their eggs, and if I'm lucky, honey. Things that I can find on the ground, like nettles, green leafy things, roots, alliums, shrooms... (Garlic mushrooms, mmmm...) Things I can scoop from river or lake or even the sea... Even the occasional human, if they are tender (not cubs!)
And of course, being an international Bear of mystery, I don't limit myself to European forests, so the ever delectable Cacao bean, in all its forms, is definitely included in the feast (no sugar though, so I make my own choc/nut surprise)

And Bears most definitely do not eat porridge! That Robert Southey has a lot to answer for. Call that a fairy tale? Now the Faeries that live in these woods can tell a proper tale (or an improper one if they fancy!)

Well I've had over 14 hours of screen time today, so time for me to curl up and dream. Bears are good at that.

Abearbyanyothername said...

In one of life's bizarre parodies, as the chickens came to forage round my barn, I went and foraged round theirs... and as well as a few eggs I returned with half a bucket of nettle tops.

That makes quite a lot of soup for a single Bear! Good job it's tasty. Used a parsnip, grated, and chopped the nettles before cooking so I didn't have to blend (cos I haven't got a blender...)

Served with a dollop of creme fraiche, just the thing for the first course of brunch - well it's afternoon already... cos I was up late on the web... cos somebody had the temerity to post simple moments of inspiration... which led to... oh now look what you did. I only meant to try the soup, but now I seem to have a blog too.

Where am I going to find the time to fit that in? Honestly. Don't expect anything regular.

Thanks for the soup though.

dandelion-and-daisy said...

Hello - I've just come across your blog from the GP forum and just wanted to say how beautiful it is. Blessings x

Selina Gough said...

Hi dandelion-and-daisy, it's good to have you here and thanks for your sweet words. I popped over to your blog and was really touched by your honest words there...I'm also really intrigued about the nettles in the bed...