But it’s not always that easy if you haven’t grown up with it. I was lucky enough to have a dad who would embarrass me by barging down the verge of some lake to grab handfuls of wild garlic and thrust it under my friends noses making them smell the pungent aroma. “Eww!” was the usual reaction from me and my townie friends, but I was secretly fascinated by his ability to magically know things about plants.
At Easter when visiting my aunt in Germany she would make us don gloves and go out to pick nettles. “The youngest and brightest please!” my aunt would holler and my cousins and I would oblige, bagging the succulent sprigs, trying and failing to avoid getting our wrists and ankles stung. To comfort me, my mum told me it was good against arthritis, which somehow made it seem almost brave.
We would get home and our aunt would cook a hot creamy steamy garlicky soup, usually accompanied by the tale of a girl who had seven brothers. A nasty witch cast a spell, turning them into swans, and the only way the girl could save them was to weave them all shirts out of nettles by midnight. Of course, she got stung a lot in the process, but just before midnight, she flung the nettle shirts into the sky so that her swan brothers could fly into them. Only the seventh shirt hadn’t quite been finished and so the youngest brother was condemned to forever have only one arm and one wing. Every time I drink nettle tea (great for the complexion apparently!) I think of that poor girl.
Every summer my mother would get all crazy about the dandelions in the garden. She never understood why they seemed to proliferate only on our side of the lawn, and so she would make us all root them out and then collect the flowers, which she then used to make dandelion syrup. Which, I have to be honest, pretty much just tasted like sweet syrup, so I am not going to share that particular recipe here! But you can add a few of the tender dandelion leaves in a green salad. They taste slightly bitter like radicchio. Apparently, dandelion root has a diuretic effect, in plain English, that means it makes you pee more and might explain why its common name in French is “piss the bed” (pis en lit).
Eating things while out walking has become such a habit that I often find myself ripping off a leaf or two of something and trying it to see what it tastes like. Even some evergreen trees like spruce, are worth trying a pinch of. In the spring when they get their first burst of bright green tips, they are soft and tender and taste lemony and tart. They can be sprinkled on anything from chicken curry to pound cake in lieu of lemon rind.
Yes, my friends do think I am a bit weird sometimes, like when I chuck in a handful of chickweed to a green salad to give it a different twist. But it’s the bane of my life when I am weeding my vegetable patch, as it comes up lush and succulent between my chives, parsley and other more desirable crops, so it deserves to be eaten. And even my friends have to admit it actually tastes pretty good too!
2 large potatoes
1 bay leaf
¼ tsp allspice
Fresh sorrel (one to two handfuls) cut in thin strips
100ml sour cream
Some of the water out of a pickled gherkin jar
Salt, pepper and sugar
Dice the potatoes and fry them in a little fat till they are nice and brown. Then add the diced onion until soft. Then add the sorrel. Allspice, bay leaf and dried mushrooms. Simmer on a low heat until the potatoes start to disintegrate and then add the sour cream and some water from the pickled gherkin jar to thin. Add salt, pepper and sugar to taste.
*Perfect eaten with pumpernickel bread and vodka
Nettle and Chevre Tart
For the base
50g spelt flour
100g plain white flour
100g fat (you can use butter, margarine or cooking fat)
Rub in the fat until you have a fine crumb mix
Then gradually add hand-hot water until it comes together as a dough.
Roll the dough out into a round and line a tart tin with it, pinching the edges and ensuring none of the filling can leak through.
Prick the base all over with a fork to allow the steam to escape when it’s baking.
Bake blind in a hot oven (190C) for ten minutes.
For the filling
Saute 1 medium-sized onion
Add 200g de-stemmed chopped nettles (they shrink just like spinach so make sure you pick enough)
2 cloves garlic
1 tsp marjoram
1 pinch of salt
½ tsp nutmeg
½ tsp salt
100g Chevre, crumbled
Place the filling into the base and then pour the egg and cream mixture over it carefully. After around 20 mins sprinkle on the chevre and continue to bake for another 20 mins or until the edges turn brown and the chevre is also browned.