Although the weather here in the Pennines is still a bit stuck in winter, the year moves on all the same and now here we are at Beltane! As I've looked out at bare trees and grey skies these past couple of weeks, it's been hard to really drop into spring. Those hope-filled warm days, that make me feel like running about the countryside barefoot, have been hard to come by. It's difficult to imagine that our ancestors would have cavorted about the countryside around this time, making merry in the fields and hedgerows.
Beltane was the great fire festival of growth and fertility, the most potent and active time of the year. In warmer springs it's easy to feel the strong green push of the earth - as the ground becomes carpeted with tiny opportunistic wild seedlings and the tight fat buds of the trees burst at the seams. But in this cold grey half-season it's harder to sense the throb of a land on the cusp of summer.
And so, I offer you, nettle soup...
It's a simple affair, but full of the rich green goodness that we are so in need of just now. I've only been aware of the food potential of stinging nettles for a year or so, I'm still exploring its many possibilities but it seems to me that soup is a good simple way to enjoy them. And as long as you're using only the freshest tenderest growth, delicious too.
So...take some scissors and a pair of gloves and chop off the young growth at the tops of the plant. For a decent amount you need about half a sink full of nettle tops. Then wash them really well as they are beloved of many wee beasties. Whilst they're having a bath, chop up a big onion or a few small ones with some garlic, and peel and chop a handful of potatoes. Then melt a hefty chunk of butter in a very big pot and fry the onion and garlic.
When the onions are soft, add the potatoes and a couple of pints of good stock. Cook until the potatoes are almost done then add the nettles and cook for a further five to ten minutes. Blend. You could add some cream or creme fraiche at this point but it will somewhat dilute the deep grassy hues of the finished soup.
And that's it. The simplest way to eat your weeds. Obviously this verdant broth is bursting with all kinds of greenly goodness as nettles contain iron, calcium, magnesium, B vitamins, vitamin K and chlorophyll . Nettle has a long and full history as a medicine plant with herbalists prescribing it for all kinds of bodily complaints from kidney problems to asthma. It puts a spring in your step and a twinkle in your eye, so I'm told, making it the perfect Beltane tonic. Maybe it will finally enable us to to launch fully into this season of growth and light. Let the frolicking commence!
(With thanks to Sam Lowi and Jesper Launder for the nettle wisdom and my ever-growing wild food cupboard)