Why it’s the best time of year to make Stinging Nettle Scones

Primroses, daisies, violets and leaves in spring flower arrangement

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.

Stinging Nettles growing wild in England

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.

Gathering stinging nettles in colander with violets growing beside

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.

 

Stinging Nettle Scones

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

Nettle Scones

 

Recipe for 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

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. Liberally spread with butter.

Snowy flashpost

Snow drifted into ditch and hedge

We have snow. And a chilling wind that makes it feel like -11C. The sort of day that you tuck your shirt into your knickers so there’s no gaps for the wind to whistle in.

The wind is whistling around the house and the sky is grey and leaden with more snow forecast today. On the plus side, I don’t have to commute to work or go out to buy food. A day to stay inside. Who knows, I may even turn on the heating.

#flashpost

The greyness (or otherwise) of February

Trees and fence reflected in pond on misty February day

February can seem so dull, lacking the newness of the year in January or the spring joyfulness of March. The fields and the garden are too wet to work, there are muddy patches to negotiate on every walk and too many days are grey and overcast. It’s the time of year for catching up with all the niggling jobs that have been put off, for repairing machines and buildings and for sorting, cleaning, discarding, recycling and reorganising on the farm and in the house.

Thankfully, there are bright spots to relieve the greyness and tedium.

Farming conferences, farm machinery shows and training days bring a little light relief and we’ve been temporarily transported back into the sparkle and glitz of Christmas at trade shows while ordering our 2018 decorations.

Lichen growing in hedge

Lichen on the bare branches of the hedges brings a splash of colour.

 

Oak tree in winter against blue sky

An ancient oak tree stands proud against the bright blue sky on a sunny day.

 

Tree shadow on farm barn

The shadow from a tree creates a piece of wall art on the side of a barn while …

 

Shadow of gate on stones in garden

… the shadow of a gate suggests the pattern for a parterre garden.

 

Reflection of tree in window

A bright day gives dramatic reflections in the window.

 

Rippled reflection of trees in a window

Looking in through a window, past the rippled reflections of the old glass, to see a piece of ivy still entwined amongst the candles makes me realise that I haven’t taken down all my Christmas decorations.

 

Scattering of snowdrops and crocus underneath apple tree on a late winter afternoon

On a winter’s afternoon, the scattering of snowdrops and crocus underneath the apple tree holds the promise that spring isn’t too far away.

Maybe February isn’t so dull after all.

A Country Style Christmas Wreath

A Country Style Christmas Wreath

At this time of year, it’s good to take time out from the frantic Christmas rush and clear your head. My favourites are to get out into the fresh air and to do something creative, so what better than taking a pair of secateurs and snipping some greenery to make a Christmas wreath. While I greatly admire the glory and perfection of a florist’s wreath, I’m more than happy with a simple, country style wreath using foraged plants. I don’t mind if it’s a little wonky and isn’t made with the season’s must have flowers, as it’s as much about the gathering and making as it is about the finished wreath.

 

How to make a rustic Christmas wreath

 

If you’d like to make a country style foraged Christmas wreath, here’s what to do.

 

making Christmas wreath with fresh foliage

BASE

Cut a few willow whippy branches of willow and twist and twine them together to make a circle. Tie them with string if you think your circle might spring apart. Alternatively, buy a wire ring which has the advantage of being round and won’t fall to pieces.

GREENERY

The trimmings from your Christmas tree are excellent foliage for your wreath. I presume you trim and shape your Christmas tree? Snip a little off the back to make it fit close to the wall? Prune back any wayward branches? Haven’t you read our tips for decorating your Christmas tree? Some people worry about cutting anything off their tree, but I always do, just to give it a good shape. Also, the offcuts are very useful.

As well as your Christmas tree trimmings, cut some holly, ivy, bay leaves, rosemary, thyme or anything green about 20 – 30 centimetres long. The larger your base, the longer your stems will need to be.

Binding foliage for country style Christmas wreath

Using florists wire, bind the greenery to your base. Place a few stems on the base, wind the wire around to hold them firm and then lay the next stems on top to hide the wire and continue to wind the wire round the stems and base, working your way around the circle. When you get back to the beginning, gently lift the heads of the first stems, bind the final stems and then drop the first heads back down to cover the wire. Cut and secure the end of the wire.

DECORATIVES

Collect some pretty seed heads, berries (fake or real), fruit, feathers, baubles or anything else that takes your fancy and poke and weave them into the wreath by slipping them under the wire. If you can’t do this, wire them in separately or stick them on with a hot glue gun. This is the chance to cover any bits of wire that may be showing.

FINISHING OFF

Choose how you want to hang your wreath. Are you decorating it with a ribbon? Will the ribbon hang at the top or the bottom? Decisions, decisions. Either wind the ribbon around and tie a bow or make a ribbon bow and attach it to the wreath with wire or glue. If your ribbon is at the bottom, make a hanging loop at the top with a piece of twine or ribbon.

Find a door, hang your wreath …

Christmas wreath from the hedgerow

… stand back and admire.

Simple triangle shaped Christmas wreath

Of course, you don’t have to make a circular wreath. Tie some sticks together in a triangle shape and decorate as little or as much as you like.

twiggy heart shaped wreath

Make a heart shaped wreath.

Giant Christmas wreath hanging from ceiling

Make a giant wreath and hang it from the ceiling. Using the same technique, but on a larger scale, this wreath is a metre across and dangles from above.

If you don’t have the time or the greenery, buy a plain fir wreath and personalise it with your own decorations.

Whichever you choose, have fun.

These Autumn Days

These Autumn Days

winter wheat crop emerging in field Essex UK

The brown fields of early October are slowly changing colour. Walk the fields with a farmer and you’ll watch them search the field for the first signs of germination, scrabbling around with their hands to see if there’s still a seed there and if it’s starting to shoot.  Soon there’s a slight green tinge to the field as the first green shoots appear and then the rows of tiny wheat plants become clear as you look across the field. This is next year’s harvest.

sloes growing on blackthorn bush
We’re sloe picking. It’s been a fantastic year for plums of every description and the sloes, forerunners of our modern plums, are no exception. The sloes are picked from the blackthorn hedges on the farm and used for making sloe gin, which seems appropriate as the first record of our farm appears in the Domesday Book, where it’s listed as Slamondesheia, which is thought to originate from the Old English meaning enclosure of the sloe tree hill. We still have plenty of sloe bearing blackthorn on the farm and every new hedge that’s planted here includes a good proportion of blackthorn to keep Slamseys Gin well supplied.

sloes on blackthorn hedge showing sharp thorns
Look at the thorns that we reach across to pick the sloes. They’re vicious and always seem to be right in front of the juiciest looking sloes. Sometimes we prune the blackthorn and pick the sloes from the cuttings. It’s certainly easier for Beth to take a pile of blackthorn branches back to the garden and pick off the sloes while one of her boys sleeps in the pram beside her and the other plays in the sandpit. The two year old is adept at raspberry picking but I think it will be a few years before he can pick sloes.

Rustic measuring stick leaning on Christmas tree

A high tech measuring stick in the Christmas trees. Orders for large trees are coming in from local churches, businesses and parish councils so the trees are chosen, measured and marked ready for cutting down next month. We sold our first Christmas tree of the year in the middle of September and will cut down several this month; all for photo shoots rather than super-excited house decorating. Well, that’s what they told us.

Notley Yoga at Slamseys
The sign outside the Yoga Studio in the yard. In the build up to December, it might be an idea if we all took heed of the advice and stepped inside the door. Instead, we hurry past averting our eyes from the bodies within.

circle using sloes, hips, haws, ivy flowers and leaves
There’s also been a little faffing around with berries and leaves. A calming and meditative pastime. Or a useless waste of time. Depending on your point of view.

 

 

Hip, Hip, Hoorah

Hip, Hip, Hoorah

The rosehips in the hedgerows and garden are ready to pick.

autumn rosehips on Generous Gardener rose

There are deep red round rosehips on the Rosa Rugosa and large round, orange rosehips on The Generous Gardener bush in the garden.

rosehips growing in farm hedgerow

Brightly coloured oval rosehips grow in various hedges around the farm.

It seems a shame not to use them somehow. Here’s a few ideas to use these pretty autumnal fruits.

AUTUMNAL DECORATIONS

string of rosehips hanging from door handle

Thread a needle with cotton and push it through each rosehip. Use a tiny piece of twig at the bottom to stop the hips falling off and use it as a hanging decoration or make a mini garland to string across a small window.

 

AUTUMN WREATH

autumn wreath with rosehips and crab apples

Twist a few branches of willow into a circle and add rosehips, crab apples and acorns to make an autumn wreath. Use a ready made wreath if you don’t have any suitable whippy branches.

AUTUMN PUDDING of ROSEHIP FOOL

If you look up recipes for using rosehips, they mostly instruct you to boil them up and strain them through a jelly bag to extract their juice to make syrups, jellies and soups (being acidic, you can use them instead of tomatoes). Alternatively, you can slit open every rosehip, extract the seeds and hairs and use the flesh for making teas, jams or tarts.

However, the easiest way to use rosehips is to make rosehip puree. Give the freshly picked rosehips a good wash and then simmer them in an equal quantity of water for an hour until they’re soft and squidgy. Allow them to cool a little and then put them through a food mill to puree the flesh and sieve out the seeds in one go. Pushing the puree through a fine sieve afterwards makes sure that all the seeds and hairs are removed. If you don’t have a food mill, just sieve them. You can use the rosehip puree to make soup or use them as you would any other fruit puree. I find that 500g of rosehips simmered with 500g of water gives me about 400g of puree.

The best pairing for the rosehip puree is a little sugar and cream so the ideal simple and delicious thing to make is an autumnal Rosehip Fool. Vary the quantities according to numbers; the recipe below will make six generous helpings.

Rosehip Fool

glasses of rosehip fool surrounded by autumnal acorns and berries

240g rosehip puree (see the method above)
3 tablespoons caster sugar
300ml double cream

Whip the cream until it’s soft and floppy. Add the sugar and puree and briefly whip to ensure it’s evenly incorporated. Spoon into six serving dishes.

You can eat this straight away or leave it to settle for a couple of hours in the fridge.

 

autumn wreath of willow with crab apples and rosehips Autumn dessert Rosehip Fool recipe
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Making the most of blackberries

Making the most of blackberries

At this time of year, there are blackberries to be found all over the place, from the slightly run down corner of the car park in town, in the country park or in the hedgerows around the farm. Food for free. Who can resist?

There’s a certain nostalgia attached to blackberry picking. I always imagine a picture lifted straight from a 1960s Ladybird book with a happy family, wicker basket in hand wandering along a country lane on a sunny autumnal afternoon. Possibly with the prospect of a picnic at the end, complete with red gingham tablecloth and bottles of pop. Continue reading “Making the most of blackberries”