Fed up with an overload of news, views and loo roll I thought ‘fuck this’ and strode out.
By the way, what is this the loo roll thing?
Mind you, scrumpling up fistfuls of it, dipping them in water to then throw the wet wodges up at the ceiling, boredom relief from self-toleration, well that could be seen as fun.
My girlfriend’s Fortnum & Mason bag in hand and I’m off to fill it with pert, young, violent, green, fresh, spring, nettles tops. It’s a good bag for foraging, with handy little internal pockets for scissors and some protective marigolds. Who’d have thought eh?
It is, however, my intention to sting my frustration away as no amount of fidgeting will shake it off. Sting myself just the right amount. Sting myself back into the present and only then don the rubber gloves.
Why nettle soup? Because it’s good because it’s collection and preparation is more alive than buying pasta because the penne panic has annoyed me thoroughly. For a fraction of the price of a packet of pasta and a jar of Dolmio nettle soup tastes better! Better to the point that there is no point in comparison at all!
Why nettle soup?… A device for what further words? An extract taken from the story ‘Happy Valley, in my new book, included below, states why it is so bloody important to know your land, know your food and know how to cook that you have choices and skills. Both of which, as indicators would currently suggest, will likely one day be far more valuable than loo roll.
Pleasure and Pain Nettle Soup
Note: Pick nettles away from popular dog walking areas, busy roadsides, places where you can observe fallen bird splat or anywhere with a strong smell of fox funk. Nettles should be washed in warm very salty water and twice.
Another Note: Simmer nettles in sugar syrup and you get a pinky-brown syrup that you can then sharpen with citric acid (sold in chemist shops). It makes a great soda and is a perky inclusion for cocktails)
1 XL pair of Marigolds (rubber glove maker not the bouillon powder maker) NOTE: XL fit all sizes – handy!
200g fresh nettle tops, any woody stalk removed while tender and bendy stalk is fine
½ a medium-small onion, finely diced
150 g potato, peel and cubed small
700 ml light chicken or veg stock NOTE: nothing too strong that it will dominate the taste of nettle, it should be that fine line between tasty and insipid
Salt and black pepper to season (probably 1 tsp flaked sea salt)
Pinch of mace or nutmeg to taste
Garnish #1 for hot serve
3 rashers of smoked streaky bacon, sliced finely and fried to semi crisp
3 tbls coarse oatmeal flakes, fried in the residual bacon fat until crisped and brown
Sour cream or crème fraiche, optional
Zip of lime juice, to taste
Finely chopped raw onion, fresh coriander and medium hot green chilli
Sour cream or crème fraiche, optional
- Pick the nettles and be selective taking the top central part of new growth. Be patient and discard cleaver’s stems or sticks now as you will have less sorting to do later
- Wash as instructed, taking care to make sure leaves are well cleaned before wringing them out
- Gloves can be removed now
- Sweat the onion in butter taking care to cook it until soft. This has never taken 5-6 minutes. 8-11 more like
- When onions are soft add the potatoes and cook with the onions until they’re almost tender
- Pour in the stock and bring to a simmer
- Add the nettles bring back to a simmer
- Cook for 3-4 minutes only
- Allow to cool and liquidise. Colour should be vibrant but if you want techno green then add a couple of handfuls of fresh spinach leaves into the blender with the soup
- Puree until super silky smooth
- Season with salt pepper and a hint of nutmeg
- Serve hot, at room temperature or chilled with the soured cream and either of the suggested garnishes
- Here are some more words for reading while you sip or post soup
Happy Valley (An extract from The Consolation of Food by Valentine Warner, Published by Pavilion Books 2019)
……….I was sent a letter once that read something to the tune of, ‘Valentine you are an idiot.’ I could not argue with that but could the following ‘while gallivanting around the countryside banging on about foraging, do you really think, on getting home, I have to time to then set off with a bucket gathering nuts for my dinner? I work hard and have three children to feed. Your posh ramblings are annoying and impractical …’
Gosh, I thought now there’s a cross soul, and with no desire to anger him further wrote back to him to say that, with respect, he had appeared to miss the point.
Foraging is rarely more than a contribution to my table and that, should he ever pass a watercress bed or a cobnut tree, some horseradish or a stand of mushrooms, then is it not better to know than not know that something as pleasing as a country walk may also result in bounty? To know simply gives you options.
In cases where nature does supply me with the whole meal, then all the better. It is not a way of life, just an extra string to my bow.
To show such things to his children might mean a lovely time spent together, or alternatively, he could send the little brutes out foraging and take some well-deserved time to write more letters. Should the jets streak low one day, leaving the Pot Noodle factory a smoking ruin, it might indeed be useful to remember where he put the bucket and where those nuts grow.
Apologies for my posh accent, but to try and impersonate a Stepney barrow boy would look ridiculous.
Thankfully that was the end of our correspondence.
And that really is it for me. This is where I am from. These fair isles.
I speak the English language, behave by most of its rules and enjoy it traditions. As a cook and an Englishman, I want to know my countryside that I can use it best, as we did long before the first avocado rolled into town. I want to pass this on to my children so that the cycle of nature continues.
So pull away at blackberries, cut the cep from beneath the pine, make rosehip syrup and nibble the Alexanders. Put meadowsweet in your butter, and elderflower fritters in the deep fryer.
Which twit said nothing in life’s for free?