Picking food in all seasons in woodlands and meadows is great fun – especially when you get something as tasty as Nettle Soup as an end result. Writing for SilverCircle.ie, Caroline Hennessy tells you what you need to know to get started. First published in 2009.
One of the pleasures of living in the country is having a wealth of wild food available all year round – it is just a matter of looking for it. No matter what the season or weather, it’s always worth keeping an eye out. Walks can be much enlivened by having a copy of Richard Mabey’s Food For Free or Wild Food by Roger Phillips tucked into a pocket so you can figure out if that plant really is deliciously sharp wild sorrel, perfect for a spring salad, or just another dock leaf.
As country children, guided by our elders, every walk down the fields involved a feast. We bit into sloes for dares, puckering our mouths up with their sharp astringency; buckets of blackberries and crab apples were collected each year for my grandmother to make jam; wild blueberries were a special treat on walks in the woods and hills; and we couldn’t go past a patch of honeysuckle without gathering a handful to suck the sweet nectar. We also learned never to eat anything new without bringing it back to be checked first.
But, compared to many of our contemporaries, we were just novice foragers. As kids who disliked green vegetables of every kind, we had no regard for the early summer watercress and wild garlic, being away from the sea we missed out on the year-round riches of seaweeds and shellfish, and there were many more edible mushrooms than we ever dreamed of.
Such pleasures are also available to the city based. Drifts of wild garlic can be found in the Phoenix Park each May, just waiting to be turned into pesto, soup or used to flavour a ravioli filling. Nettles are also available – and easily identified – everywhere. Spring is the best time to pick and eat nettles, when they are still young and tender. Once you’ve dared to grasp your nettles (rubber gloves make the job a lot easier), nettle soup is traditional or, like spinach, nettles can be used in quiches or on top of pizzas.
There are numerous foraging courses on offer – as with wild food, it’s just a matter of seeking them out.
300g potatoes, peeled and cut into 1cm cubes
100g onions, chopped
100g leeks, chopped
1 litre chicken stock
150g young nettle leaves, picked using rubber gloves, stripped from their stems and chopped
Sea salt, freshly ground black pepper
Melt the butter in a large heavy saucepan. Add the potatoes, onions and leeks and season well. Put the lid on the pan and cook over a gentle heat for 5 minutes until soft but not coloured.
Add the stock and boil until the vegetables are cooked, about 10 minutes. Toss in the chopped nettle leaves and simmer uncovered for another 4-5 minutes until the nettles are soft and wilted.
Liquidise or purée with an immersion blender. Season to taste and serve immediately. Serves 4-6.
Slow Food Ireland run a selection of foraging events in different areas around the country. Check for details at www.slowfoodireland.com