It’s Nettle Week, let’s celebrate with beer! Nettle beer can be ready to drink in a ten days but you could wait longer for a better brew. The flavour can vary from something similar to ginger beer to pale ale depending on your recipe. Traditionally, you add ginger and other hedgerow herbs such as goosegrass (pictured below) wild sorrel or horehound, for flavour.
Nettles are home to many species of moth and butterfly larvae such as the Red Admiral, Peacock and the Magpie moth and the plant supports over forty kinds of insects.
Nettle Seeds (dried before eating) are supposed to give one clarity of thought, a sense of well being, and heightened energy. I put them in smoothies to add a zing.
Nettle tea aids digestion and is good for the skin, kidneys and disorders of the urinary tract. Steep a few leaves in a mug of boiling water for 5 minutes first thing in the morning, for an excellent mild-tasting herbal tonic to start your day after the night before’s nettle beer drinking.
Nettle Tops (approx a carrier bag full or about 450-550g)
Optional – Mix with a handful of sticky wild goosegrass (also called cleavers)
5 lts water
10g of fresh ginger root crushed a little
Juice of two lemons
50g cream of tartar
A sachet of beer yeast
- Boil the nettles and ginger (add a handful of the cleavers, horehound, a little dandelion root or a little sour sorrel for different flavours) for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Strain through a colander lined with some muslin into a sterilised bucket.
- Stir in the sugar until dissolved and leave to cool. Add the lemon juice and the activated yeast. Cover and leave for three to four days.
- Making sure you leave the sludgy sediment at the bottom of the bucket, siphon the beer into a fermenting jar with an airlock stopper or sterilised swing-top bottles but beware of exploding bottles! You can brew this in sterilised plastic bottles to be on the safe side. Ready to drink in a week but you could wait longer for better beer. The flavour can vary from something similar to ginger beer to pale ale depending on your brew.
Another favourite way to eat nettles is Nettle Gnocci, made with light ricotta rather than potato flour, the recipe can be found on one of my earlier posts here: https://devonium.wordpress.com/2012/04/29/nettle-gnocchi-with-cherry-tomato-sauce/
It makes green soup and cordial
Or steep the leaves for tea
Or use it
as a tonic
As it’s absolutely free.
Ramsons form fragrant spring carpets in shady woodland areas at this time of year. The origins of many place names such as Ramsey Common, Ramsdale and Ramsbottom are derived from this ancient word. The plant is related to chives, and their botanic name, Allium Ursinum, contains the latin word for bear (ursus) as bears are extremely keen on them and dig up the bulbs with enthusiasm. Wild Garlic is easy to find in woods, just follow the aroma of garlic in the air and look for their shiny ovate leaves and white balls of little star-shaped flowers.The leaves taste much milder than bulb garlic and can be eaten raw. The flowers are also edible, have a peppery flavour and are very tasty when fried in batter as tempura.
Seasonal and delicious, Ramsons Relish has many uses –
Sandwiches – An excellent addition to cucumber, chicken or cheese sandwiches
Pasta – use the condiment like pesto
Smoked salmon or pan-fried fish – an excellent side sauce
Mayo – Mix it into fresh mayonnaise and use as a dip
Rice – Wild garlic risotto
Mash – Mix the relish into mashed potato.
Soup – Use the relish as a drizzle
Salad – Ramsons Relish makes an excellent addition to vinaigrette
Scrambled eggs – stirred into creamy scrambled eggs, divine.
Potato Frittata – one the side, one of the best
Jugged Hare by Mrs Beeton (use two or three rabbits as our beautiful hares are in decline).
Two or three rabbits
680g (11⁄2lb) Gravy Beef
285ml (1⁄2 pint) Port Wine
225g (8oz) Butter
Forcemeat Balls – fried or baked
6 Cloves (I use only 3)
Pepper, Cayenne and Salt, to taste
Skin, paunch and wash the rabbits.
Cut it into pieces, dredge them with flour and fry in boiling butter.
Have ready 900ml (11⁄2 pints) of gravy, made from beef and thickened with a little flour.
Put this into a jar.
Add the pieces of fried rabbit, an onion stuck with six cloves, a lemon peeled and cut in half and a good seasoning of salt, pepper and cayenne.
Cover the jar tightly, put it up to the neck into a saucepan of boiling (simmering) water.
Let it stew until the rabbit is quite tender, taking care to keep the water boiling.
When nearly done, pour in the port wine and add a forcemeat balls (these must be fried or baked in the oven for a few minutes before they are put to the gravy).
Serve with redcurrant jelly.
Time: 31⁄2 to 4 hours. Sufficient for 7 or 8 persons.
In the 16th and 17th century walled vegetable gardens were springing up on country estates all over the land. With fashion comes profit and new vegetables like artichokes were soon grown in the market gardens that developed around London as the middle classes sought to emulate the gentry with tables laden with fresh fruits and vegetables.
Patrick Lamb master cook to “their late Majesties, King Charles II, King James II, King William & Queen Mary, and Queen Anne” gives seven recipes for artichokes in his ‘Royal Cookery’ book published in 1710, and a little later John Nott, chief cook to the Duke of Somerset, among many other aristocrats, listed seventeen recipes in his book ” The Cook and Confectioner’s Dictionary in 1723″ so their popularity and status was rising pretty swiftly.
To Pickle Artichokes by John Nott
“Take Artichokes that are not too ripe, because they will be full of strings; when you have pared them around to the bottom, let them be boil’d tender, take them up, and let them stand to cool; Make a pickle of white-wine, good stale beer, a good quantity of whole pepper, and a little salt and put all into a barrel, and keep them close; they will serve for boil’d or bak’d meats for all the year.”
More contemporary ways with Artichokes
Artichoke Pasta – The mint is the key to this recipe. Buy a tub of grilled marinated artichokes (in olive oil), chop them up a bit, pour some of the oil from the tub in a frying pan and fry for about 5 mins. Squeeze on the juice of 1/2 a lemon + the zest and toss with pasta. Finish with a handful of fresh mint leaves. Serve Parmesan in a separate dish.
Simply eat the leaves with vinaigrette, then plunge the whole heart into the sauce dish and gobble it greedily down. Satisfaction.
Green Pizza with artichoke, feta and pesto
Artichoke and wild mushroom pie
Artichoke hearts and potatoes braised with peas in tomato sauce
And why is it so popular? Because you can substitute it for several kinds of carbs like rice and pizza bases, though I don’t really see the point of making a pizza base that uses cheese as glue and pretending it’s better than homemade dough, and I rather like adding cauliflower rice to real rice! Stick that in the carbometre, however it is a brilliantly versatile vegetable that tastes good both cooked and raw. It’s great to see it back with a starring role.
More ways with Cauliflower
Dry spiced cauliflower and potato curry with whole cumin, coriander, fennel seeds plus turmeric and garam masala
Chargrilled cauliflower salad with spinach tomatoes, dill and lemon dressing
Cauliflower, onion and roasted garlic soup using chicken stock and a bit of cream at the end
Cauliflower pakoras (chickpea flour fritters) with minty yoghurt sauce
Cauliflower cheese but add watercress to the sauce
Asian pickled cauliflower with rice vinegar, chilli and sugar
Warm cauliflower (also good raw) with Aioli
Cauliflower pasta with feta, lots of garlic, roasted walnuts, olive oil and lemon juice
Roast a whole cauliflower (1/2 inch water, foil on top for 30 mins remove for 10 more) with cumin, sumac, turmeric, garlic salt
Cauliflower rice Tabbouleh
Cauliflower Tikka Masala
Cauliflower, leek and cheese gratin
Coconut cauliflower rice (good with extra real short grain brown rice added!)
As an almost instant, tasty bowl food using left-overs in the fridge (that’s how I discovered it) try this:
Cauliflower and Feta Mash
I large Cauliflower
1 pack 200g Feta cheese
old end of parmesan, grated, (1 heaped tablespoon)
lots freshly cracked black pepper
salt to taste
a drizzle olive oil
Break the cauliflower into small pieces and steam (do not boil, never boil) it until it is tender.
Remove from the steamer into a large bowl or Magimix while still hot.
Crumble the feta into the bowl, add the Parmesan and mash it with the cauliflower with a potato masher. You may want to use a whisk at the end to really fluff it up. /Or whiz in a Magimix.
Rhubarb is Mongolian, Siberian even, cousins with the Chinese and with Tibetans on the side. This only seems odd to me because somewhere along the way rhubarb became ‘Britishified’, who would have thought our favoured nursery dishes: rhubarb crumble, tart, pie, rhubarb and custard, had their origins in the vicinity of the Himalayas and the grassy steppes. No one even ate it as a dessert in this country until the eighteenth century.
The Chinese have cultivated rhubarb as a medicinal plant for thousands of years, used to relax the digestion or as an astringent tonic for liver and gall bladder complaints, bad skin and even the plague. It was traded along the silk route and reached Europe in the 14th century and England in the 16th but it was sold only as a medicine.
The first recorded mention of an English food recipe is in Glasse’s ‘Compleat Confectioner‘ of 1760: “These tarts may be thought very odd, but they are very fine ones and have a pretty flavour….To make rhubarb tarts. Take stalks of English rhubarb, peel and cut it the size of gooseberries; sweeten it, and make them as you do gooseberry tarts.” So rhubarb must have begun to be establishes before this was published, but continued to be a bit of a novelty for some years yet. I believe the moment we really took rhubarb into our hearts was when we began to ‘force’ it as a winter foodstuff and that happened by accident in 1815. I love this story.
The horticulturists were growing rhubarb at the Chelsea Physic Garden, in London, as part of their collection of medicinal plants. A bed of rhubarb became buried under the earthy spoil of thrown up by some workman digging a trench. When they came to clear the up the mess they found the rhubarb had produced long thin stems in the light deprived environment. The gardeners ate it. I love that bit, I can just imagine them huddled around the long pink stems “Oi, Dave, come and look at this, do ya think it might be tasty winta vegetable?” They discovered it had a fine and sweet flavour. The news was hastily shared in the trade literature at the time and fervent gardeners began to experiment with buckets and all sorts. Joseph Whitwell, a market gardener from Leeds took up the baton and created a forcing business, constructing candle lit sheds devoted to the plant. His neighbours followed suit and the Rhubarb Triangle in West Yorkshire (between Wakefield, Morely and Rothwell) became famous for early forced rhubarb, with a special train laid on to rush the stems to London from December to March. It was known as ‘Champagne Rhubarb’ and they are still producing it, but sadly the train has gone.
Rhubarb now has a firm place in British cuisine as a dessert but top chefs are rediscovering it as a foil for new flavours (asparagus with rhubarb hollandaise, beetroot and rhubarb salad) and the latest craze, of course, is to add it to gin. I use it in many ways: rhubarb trifle; rhubarb Eton mess; as a savoury vegetable to add the sour element to Asian Lao fish soups; I also enjoy eating it raw with salt and chilli. My favourite is rhubarb fool which is so delicious it’s painful to wait for it to cool so why not make a cocktail while you do. My mother used to make vats of this (fool not the gin) which we scooped up with ginger biscuits and then turned the excess into ice-cream!
Rhubarb Fool (for 4) with Rhubarb Gin (for 1) on the side
I prefer a rougher, sharper fool so I don’t mash it up too much or add as much sugar as some I’ve seen (1/2 weight of sugar to weight of rhubarb, too much) but the choice is up to you.
400g rhubarb, roughly chopped
65g of caster sugar or vanilla sugar
a couple of drops of pure vanilla essence
300ml double cream, whipped
- Place the rhubarb in a WARMED pan with the sugar and the vanilla essence. DO NOT ADD WATER. Cover with a lid and heat gently on a low heat until tender which should take about 5-8 minutes depending on your rhubarb.
- Now taste for sweetness and add a tablespoon more sugar if you prefer. Drain the rhubarb in a sieve and reserve the juice in a bowl underneath. Allow to cool.
- Meanwhile, whip the cream to soft peaks.
- Mash the cooled rhubarb with a fork and add back ½ the juice (rhubarb syrup).
- Now make a Rhubarb Gin and Tonic – 50ml gin, about 25ml rhubarb syrup, tonic, a squeeze of lime juice and a sprig of mint if you have some.
- Fold the rhubarb into the cream and allow to cool in the fridge for at least an hour which will give you ample time to enjoy your cocktail (or mood-shifter as my husband would call it).
- Serve the fool. It won’t last for long.
More Ways with Rhubarb
The tartness makes stewed rhubarb a natural partner for creamy vanilla crème anglaise or ice cream
Bake it with a little water, caster sugar, two green cardamon pods & the zest and juice of an orange.
Rhubarb crème brulee, trifle or Eton Mess
Use it green as the sour ingredient in sour Asian fish soup
Smoothie- coconut water, rhubarb, mango, ginger
PS. Remember rhubarb leaves are poisonous do not eat them.