Forage, cook, eat

spring undergrowth

If you drive along English country lanes at this time of year, it would be easy to dismiss the green blur of the verges as simply boring grass. But slow down to a walking pace and in amongst the different types of grass you can see so much more. The first leaves of cow parsley, a forerunner of the frothy flowers that will line the roads in a few weeks vie for growing space with the bright green new growth of stinging nettles; a mouse scuttles through the undergrowth to safety and a frog sits motionless, blending into the undergrowth until it suddenly catapults into action; cleavers and speedwell spread outwards beside the first flowering primroses.

jug of wild violets

Best of all, nestled in the undergrowth, are beautiful violets, their colours ranging from white with the merest hint of violet through to a deep, rich purple with the colour offset by their shiny green leaves. Turn off the road and walk along a public footpath and you’ll probably find even more. Just now, there’s enough violets to put in a small jug on the bedside table but before long there’ll be plenty to make a small batch of violet syrup or violet liqueur.

Nettle, cheese and chive scones

Naturally, there’s no shortage of stinging nettles and this is an excellent time of year to use them. At the weekend, I snipped off the heads of a few nettles to make scones. There were comments around the table that normal people don’t eat nettle scones or, for that matter, the violet infused milk jellies that we ate for supper. But why don’t we eat more nettles? They’re abundant, they’re free and are right on trend as foraged food but without the poisoning worries of foraging for fungi.

Nettles cut for the kitchen

Use the top six or seven leaves of a young plant and cut them straight into a colander so that you don’t have to handle them or wear rubber gloves to avoid stinging your hands. Rinse the leaves, picking out any insects or stray blades of grass you may have inadvertently cut and tip the leaves into a bowl. Pour on enough boiling water to cover the nettles and leave for a couple of minutes. Fish out the wilted leaves, which will no longer sting and squeeze out the excess moisture. Apart from Nettle Soup, which everyone seems to have heard of but I think is slightly overrated, you can use nettles to make a hedgerow pesto, green soda bread or as a replacement for spinach in many recipes. Or try the Nettle Scone recipe below. Eat them warm, spread generously with butter.

Go on, live a little dangerously.

Nettle Scones

 

What do you do with a bag full of nettle leaves? Use this simple recipe to make a batch of delicious Cheese and Nettle Scones. Forage, cook, eat

To make Nettle Scones:

225g plain flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

Pinch of salt

60g butter, cubed

Tops of 7 or 8 nettles wilted and drained as above

1 tablespoon of chopped chives

40g strong cheddar cheese cubed or grated

2 dessertspoons plain yoghurt

Milk

Put the flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl and rub in the butter.

Chop the nettles and add to the bowl with the chives and cheese.

Stir in the yoghurt and enough milk to bring the mixture together in a soft but not sticky dough. Tip out the dough onto a floured surface and quickly pat into a round about 4 cms thick. Cut into 4 (or 6) wedges and put them close together on a lightly greased baking sheet.

Brush the tops with milk and bake 220C for about 15 minutes when they should be risen and golden. Wrap in a tea towel and transfer to a wire tray.

Best eaten warm.

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30 thoughts on “Forage, cook, eat

  1. Gerlinde @ Sunnycovechef says:

    This looks wonderful Anne, scones make such a great treat. I don’t have stinking nettles where I live but I remember them from my childhood in Germany. My friend just brought me some chanterelles from his mountain top and they are so delicious. I have sorrel in my tiny garden and I just made a great sauce for my salmon. Have a great week.

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  2. Mrs Thomasina Tittlemouse says:

    Gorgeous violets and yes, why not nettle scones? I agree, nettle soup is not as nice as it sounds as though it ought to be. I kept making it for several years and each time tasted disappointment that was forgotten by the next Spring so it repeated itself until I had to take a firm hand and write in bold letters beside the recipe in my handwritten book, “you do not like nettle soup”! So nettle scones sound a much better alternative – wild, green but not so wild or so green that it feels like Iron Age rations. Normal is not always a term to be aspired to in culinary stakes. Processed and stuffed-full-of-artificial-additives is normal for many. Enough said! Enjoy eating on the wild side! E x

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    • Anne Wheaton says:

      Haha I shall have to write that by some of my recipes! We quite often sit down to eat and comment that possibly very few people are eating the same meal. While I think this is a good thing, there are others at the table who sometimes mutter that there’s a good reason why nobody else is doing the same! Your description of nettle scones is very accurate.

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  3. Kate Serrurier says:

    From one dedicated forager to another across the globe , I have become quite fond of nettles after some rather unfortunate experiments. The trick with nettle soup is a good strong chicken broth I think- and a bit of cream when serving. I personally love nettle pesto- quick boil of the nettles , then usual recipe using almonds rather than pine nuts and plenty of black pepper and garlic. Sometimes I use sheep milk cheese ( pecorino) instead of parmesan. Don’t bother with nettle liqueur- ghastly !!
    In Australia we regard nettles as a sign of good soil health . They seem to love sheep manure… which is a problem when you are a sheep farmer.
    Still a huge fan of your blog and dedicated user of your recipes. .

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    • Anne Wheaton says:

      Thanks for the tip about nettle liqueur Kate – I’m sure I would have tried it at some stage, so you’ve saved me from that! I usually put walnuts in my nettle pesto but the squirrels ate ours last year so I shall try almonds.

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  4. Sam says:

    The photo of the jug of violets is excellent, Anne. Thanks so much for this recipe – I’m going to make some and tell my kids the green is ‘fresh herbs’. I’ll let you know what they think!

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  5. Brian Skeys says:

    I guess your family never know what you are going to serve up to them next so have got use to living on the edge! We recently drove past a house where the grass verge had already been mown like a bowling green for a least 100 yards either side of the house. I thought, what about the wildlife and then, they must want something to do with their time.

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  6. Helen says:

    I can’t wait to go nettle picking. I do like nettle soup (with cream is best, I’ve decided) but the scones look a brilliant idea. I wish I knew where to find violets.

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  7. Glenda says:

    Hi Anne, I love the idea of foraged food. I don’t know why but it is so satisfying to think you have made, whatever it be, and it hasn’t cost anything. Makes me think I could survive a war. Don’t worry, I know I am deluding myself. 🙂

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    • Anne Wheaton says:

      You might be slightly deluding yourself, but surely it proves you’d have a jolly good go at it instead of just throwing up your hands in despair because the shops were empty. I think we’ve all become so removed from the production of much of the food that we eat that to grow or forage anything brings back that connection. Also, it’s particularly satisfying when you know it hasn’t cost anything.

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  8. homeslip says:

    I put a handful of nettles into homegrown leek and potato soup the other day – feeling the need for additional greens (the deer have eaten all the cultivated greens, grrr). Will try the scones too. Perhaps nice with chive butter? I think I’ve mentioned before that I crystallise violets to decorate my daughter’s birthday cake on the 9th April. Just had a read through of your other comments – thanks Kate for the nettle pesto recipe; that’s on the menu tonight.

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    • Anne Wheaton says:

      I think chive butter would be delicious with the scones. What a good idea. I’m also definitely going to put some nettles into my leek and potato soup as mine always looks a bit insipid and needs something to green it up.

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  9. croftgarden says:

    I really enjoyed your post. We’ve some fairly substantial patches of nettles which we leave for the butterflies, but I’m sure there is enough to share. So I shall try the scone recipe, but I think I’d better sample them firsts before offering them to visitors.

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  10. Julie@frogpondfarm says:

    Go on live a little dangerously made me laugh! I have a barrel of stinging nettles growing in my veg garden. I can’t bring myself to handle them .. lol! Those scones look amazing Anne 😃

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