‘One of the essential beauties of having your own veg patch is that the simple act of growing and eating your own food decorates life in often unexpected ways.’
Mark Diacono, ‘River Cottage Handbook No.4: Veg Patch’
A quick, barefoot check around the garden last week found the hedge, up there on the left, coming back to life. A chunk running parallel to the back half of the house burnt last summer, but winter has healed the gap. Broad beans, jam-packed in their tub and recently moved to a shadier, less windy spot, are stunning. They've been my favourite plant to photograph this year. The pear tree, midway down on the right, which doesn’t ever, even when covered with pears, look like it will ever actually bear fruit, is sending out big, juicy blossoms. There are lemons, not many, but they are all excellent. Last year’s pruning was instinctive, but was absolutely the right thing to do. I made Lemon (and Tangelo, as you can see) Delicious Pudding to celebrate.
Deeper into the yard, where the grass is longer, the earth beneath it cool, there is a lot of parsley. Half of which is beginning to go to seed. I made this soup from last year again if anyone’s got a similar problem. It’s still rather good. Tiny curds are forming when you peer into each cauliflower, the leaves of which are gargantuan. Silverbeet Perpetua, a variety of chard I’ve never seen for sale (because it wilts comparatively quickly?) was the most useful winter crop by a mile. Its prolific output was aided by what felt, at least to me, like a substantial dumping of winter rain. A huge bunch looks good set out on the kitchen bench in a jug of water. It makes a good still life.
For the past three weeks, some impressively-sized nettles I’ve been ‘saving’ have begun snagging me when cutting the rocket they sprung up among. I’d like to pull them out now before they do some serious damage and I stomp them flat. Lots of good ideas, thank you, but the simplest won out in the end. Nettle soup with some of the silverbeet (yay) too. A little bottle of smarty-pants cream needed using, but I suspect that this soup will in fact be even better with a large potato subbed for the small I used and an equivalent quantity of rice milk. A squeeze of lemon juice changes the character, but try it without, first. It had the effect of making us feel, as Madison suggests, ‘...like an animal that had been out grazing in the wild, which is just how a spring tonic should make you feel.’ Too right.
Stinging Nettle Soup enough for 2 people, over one weekend.
Only worthwhile if the nettles are from your garden. I wouldn’t seek them out specifically. I agree with Jane Grigson in that they are, ‘not as good as spinach’ and will make this again with spinach very happily. I think the butter at the beginning essential, though you may certainly use oil in its place. Based on a recipe in the excellent ‘Local Flavours’ by Deborah Madison. And remember, please, that they really do sting until blanched. Wear something long-sleeved.
Stinging nettles, a basketful
2 tablespoons of butter
1 onion, chopped
1 small potato, scrubbed and diced
1 large bunch of silverbeet (chard), roughly chopped
½ - ¾ cup of thin cream
1 lemon, cut into quarters (optional)
Pick, wash and plunge your nettles – hands protected – into a saucepan of boiling water for 30 seconds. Drain, discarding any large stems and chop roughly. Warm the butter in a large saucepan. When foaming, sauté the onion and potato until soft and catching a little on the base of the pan. Add the silverbeet, turning with tongs until wilted. Add the drained nettles to the pot, a good pinch of salt and enough boiling water to cover things by about 5 cm (2 in). Bring to the boil, lower the heat and simmer until the potato is cooked through.
Puree, in batches if necessary, and press through a strainer. Return to the heat, add cream to taste and warm through. I like it sipped from a small Japanese bowl that I can cup my cold hands around, but it’s an elegant deep velvet green thing, quite graceful in a way. Try without the lemon first to get a grassy dose of vitamins. Which I mean in a good way. I swear.