As we notice the days lengthening and the warmth returning, we are naturally wanting to spend more time outside. We try to get out and about even in the depths of winter but at that time of year it feels natural to spend more time indoors, by a warm fire. I am already noticing that our mornings are starting earlier with the returning light. I have a tendency to want to hide under my duvet until the day is half gone, but thankfully my children are very much morning people. I am grateful; without them I would miss out on so many sunrises. Gethin has developed the habit of getting himself up quietly in the mornings to sit behind the curtains on his window seat and watch the garden as the day begins.
The change of season is reflected indoors, too.
And now, for nettle soup!
One of my favourite things to eat at this time of year, the humble stinging nettle is vastly underrated. The tender young shoots are absolutely packed with iron, calcium and vitamin c and are honestly delicious. The whole process of gathering and making is a wonderful bit of garden and kitchen witchery.
I am a terrible gardener, at least by any 'normal' standards. Our garden is large and very, very wild. If stinging nettles were worth money then we would be very rich indeed. And yet, I feel blessed by the sheer abundance of wild herbs and flowers that grow with little or no interference from us. We are visited by badgers, hares, sparrowhawks, ravens and tawny owls. Frogs and newts breed in the pond and swallows nest in the barn. I prefer our little corner of wilderness to a cultivated garden any day.
Children love to help gather food from the garden. Stinging nettles can possibly be a bit daunting but then...I've never seen anyone die from a nettle sting. In fact, nettles are a great teacher; to gather with care and thought rather than grabbing and then when the inevitable sting does happen, what to do about it. Every child learns their first bit of herblore because of stinging nettles, luckily dock seems to grow wherever stinging nettles do! Rather than complaining about a sting, a child who knows about the magic of dock leaves can go ahead and treat it.
Another good lesson is to say 'thank you' for what we gather. Gethin is starting to understand that everything is alive, whether or not it has a mouth to speak with and that good manners cost nothing.
I don't follow an exact recipe, but here's a general idea of what we do:
Gather about half a carrier bag/a saucepan full of nettle shoots or the very tops of the plant (the first 4 or 6 leaves). I find the easiest way is to snip them with a pair of scissors. Chickweed and fat hen are also good to eat if you have any. Wash carefully.
Use an onion and whatever other veg you have lying around; we used a leek, a large carrot, a potato and a handful of spinach. Chop and fry the onion gently to soften, chop and add the rest of the vegetables, add about 1 litre of chicken or vegetable stock, salt and pepper if wanted. Bring to the boil and simmer until the carrot and potato are cooked. Add the nettle towards the end of cooking as it only needs 5 minutes or so to cook.
Use a hand blender to puree, you may like to add some cream or creme fraiche if you like creamy soup.
Eat. Lots of it. Apparently this soup freezes well, but I've never had the opportunity to test this as we never have leftovers; even kids who don't eat green vegetables seem to like this. I think it's the very real magic of gathering a plant that stings and turning it into something not only edible, but delicious that does it.