Pudding club: foraging for food

Another post that has been very long in the writing.

I’m growing very slowly and gradually in the stuff I eat from hedgerows. I urge everyone to make their own elderflower cordial at around about this time each year. It’s really easy, the ingredients are easy to find, and elderflowers are everywhere in England at least. My recipe is here. This year I also have some elderflower gin which needs to steep in a darkened place for another few weeks yet, and which I will report on in the fullness of time. Loosely based on this recipe.

In years past I have made things with blackberries – I’ve only just finished a blackberry vodka made by steeping blackberries in a jar with vodka for a couple of days, then straining. Bramble jelly has been a favourite too, and a bramble / apple jelly also.

But beyond that, I have not been terribly adventurous when it comes to eating things that can be picked in the park for free.

A few weeks ago, that changed. Inspired by Alys Fowler’s Edible Garden TV series we made dandelion pancakes and nettle soup.

Picking the nettles was… interesting. There’s a huge patch around the corner from me, so I donned some of P’s cleaning gloves (( not that I don’t clean, hem hem, I just don’t mind plunging my unprotected hands into neat bleach )) and went to pick them. Standing in front of the nettles, even with protected hands, it was actually quite hard to summon up the courage to grasp the stems and pick them. Aversion to the sting is obviously very deeply ingrained from childhood.

Standing there in front of them, I was reminded of a story about an Australian friend of mine living and working in London, where he was unexposed to wildlife. When, however, he went on a choir tour the countryside, he returned with a very long face. “No-one told me about nettles!” he said. And I don’t suppose anyone did. English children learn very early on not to touch the nasty jagged-leaved hairy beasties and it would never have occurred to me that they are not common in Oz, home to nastier plants and nastier insects than almost anywhere else on the plant. (( “It is true that of the 10 most poisonous arachnids on the planet, Australia has 9 of them. Actually, it would be more accurate to say that of the 9 most poisonous arachnids, Australia has all of them.” – Douglas Adams ))

Anyway. The vinyl gloves protected me from the stings. For the first four stems. On the fifth, the nettle won, and so I returned home and got the really sturdy gardening gloves before continuing. Before long, I had a half-carrier bag full of nettles and headed home to soup them.

I was basing my recipe loosely on this one from Wartime Housewife.

Because I think I got there a little bit late in the nettle season, I removed the leaves from the stalks and discarded the stems. If I’d gone out earlier in the year when the nettles are still acid green, the stems might have been thinner and less manky. But at this stage in the year, I kept the gloves on in the kitchen and pulled all the nettle leaves off before sluishing them through the colander, and adding them to a pretty standard soup base – stock, onions, garlic, carrot, the usual stuff.

The resulting soup was definitely a distinctive flavour. It was a very dark, evil-green. It was nice – I couldn’t finish a whole bowl, but my companions all did.

For the dessert of that meal, we made Alys Fowler’s dandelion head pancakes. For these, I’d just picked dandelion heads – flowers, obv, not clocks – and doused them in a light batter before shallow frying. They were edible, a novelty, but not particularly nice.

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