It has been wet here and there’s water in ditches that have been dry for years. Bill and Jack are desperate to get the tractor work done, but alas every sunny and windy spell that dries the fields has been followed by a soaking. On the bright side, there’s plenty growing; primroses smother some of the ditch banks and the violets are flowering profusely.
There are also stinging nettles springing into life. Stinging nettles are unpopular a lot of the time. Unexpectedly encountering a clump of high growing and vicious nettles in the summer when walking with bare legs is a painful experience, as is not noticing small nettles when pulling weeds in the garden. But, it’s always good to have a patch of nettles somewhere out of the way as they’re a good food source for butterflies and insects and their high nitrogen content make them useful on the compost heap or soaked in water to make a liquid feed.
Even better, you can eat nettles and spring is the best time of all to pick them.
If you’ve thought about foraging for wild food but aren’t sure where to start, then try stinging nettles.
Stinging nettles are easy to identify, grow abundantly and they’re nutritious. Be warned though; nettles taste very green. If you look for stinging nettle recipes, Nettle Soup always pops up. I’ve made several batches of nettle soup and sometimes it was OK, sometimes it didn’t taste too good and it was never fantastically delicious. Mostly, it tasted as though it should be good for you. Which indeed it is.
Cooking with Stinging Nettles
We enjoy stinging nettles stirred into risotto, in a hedgerow pesto or as an addition to soda bread and over the years, we’ve decided that we prefer them as a supporting ingredient rather than the star. Perhaps that’s the reason that the recipe I return to every spring and continue to make through to early summer is the one for Stinging Nettle Scones. The nettles don’t dominate but they add interest and if nothing else, provoke a little discussion around the table.
The Best Time of Year to Make Stinging Nettle Scones
Spring is the best time to make Stinging Nettle Scones because you need to use young, tender leaves and not the tough stringy plants of late summer. Did you know that nettles are so fibrous that they can be used to make fabric? That’s why you need young plants for these scones. Although spring is the best time, you can cut down older plants later in the year and wait for the new growth.
Picking Stinging Nettles
Pick the top six or seven leaves from young nettle plants, cutting them straight into a colander so that you don’t have to handle them. Alternatively, wear gardening gloves to avoid stinging your hands. Rinse the leaves, picking out any stray blades of grass, and tip the stinging nettle leaves into a bowl. Pour enough boiling water into the bowl to cover the nettles and leave them to wilt for a couple of minutes. Hey presto, the leaves don’t sting any more. Honestly. Fish them out, squeeze out the excess water and make a batch of scones using the recipe below.
Needless to say, these scones are best eaten warm, spread generously with butter.
Go on, be brave and give them a go.
How to make Stinging Nettle Scones
To make Stinging Nettle Scones:
225g plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
Pinch of salt
60g butter, cubed
Tops of 7 or 8 nettles wilted, drained and squeezed dry (see above)
1 tablespoon of chopped chives
40g strong cheddar cheese cubed
2 dessertspoons plain yoghurt
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. Liberally spread with butter.