Nettles get a bad rap around here. I am not sure why.
I know they have those hairy hypodermic needle-like bristles that emit a formic acid, which, on bare flesh, causes a sting that can last from a few minutes to 24 hours, (baking soda will neutralize the acid if you get stung), but I do not think that is a good enough reason to steer clear of them.
They are more than plentiful for eight or nine months of the year and they are free. They literally grow along the side of the road. March is the season when they start to surge and you will notice their glossy green heads everywhere you go around these parts. Although I could pick them off the side of the road there is no need. They favour the surrounds of the Chefs polytunnel, so I had one of the kids rescue me a batch before they left for school this morning.
When I got back from the school run I noticed a small enamel pot outside my front door with a note taped to it. The note read ‘On loan only. Please return when you are finished‘. Filled to the brim with rich yellow cream it was. I am guessing my friendly farmer meant I had to return the pot as soon as I was finished, but taking his message literally, I set about to return the cream to him in a more edible fashion.
If you still need a bit of convincing as to why you should be eating (or drinking) more nettles then take a peek at the nutritional value of nettles so you can make a more informed decision for yourself. And if it is the stingers that are keeping you away wear gloves and use a kitchen tongs and scissors.
I always soak mine in a bit of salted water incase there are any uninvited bugs hanging around.
With all that cream the best thing to do is come up with a way to preserve it. We only use real butter here at chez Wise. No schwag stuff. Receiving a few gallons of fresh dairy cream as a gift gave me the opportunity to make a few pounds of butter that we can keep in the freezer for a few months, or share with friends. If you have never made butter then you are in for a surprise. It is dead easy. Pour cream into the food mixer – using the paddle attachment – and turn it on high until the butter forms. Depending how much cream you have in there it might take ten minutes or longer. When we returned home to Ireland several years ago it took forever to convince the Chef that Kerrygold did NOT add yellow food coloring to their butter. He has still never come across cream with such color. Grass fed = happy cows = beautiful butter.
Once your butter has formed into what might look like very yellow cottage cheese curds, line up a strainer with cheese cloth and a bowl underneath. Pour it all into the cheesecloth strainer and save the buttermilk. This makes a thoughtful gift for a friend that loves to bake. It is very low-in-acid tasting but makes fabulous baked goods.
Now that you have butter all lined up and ready to go you can decide what you want to do with it. I like old fashioned salted country butter so I made one batch with salt – for me. I also made one batch with bacon because the kids love bacon butter on their baked potatoes. What is not to love. …. mmmm bacon. And the final batch was a combo of salt and stinging nettle.
I dropped the nettles into a pot of (already boiling) ham that is slowcooking for supper later. The nettles sting is stifled the minute it hits the water. As soon as it comes out, shred it with your chopping knife, stems and all.
After you have your nettles shredded and your bacon obliterated, then divide your butter into three separate portions and start mixing. I think doing this with your hands is just fine. A lot of butter making folks use the fancy paddles and ice cold water baths etc. but all of that takes time and is, in my opinion, not necessary at all.
The butter will take any form you like and freezes for months. No need to feel bad that you do not have a friendly farmer dropping (illegal) milk or cream on your doorstop. This works just fine with any old shop cream. I expect, were you to use double or heavy cream, your butter might in fact taste better than mine.
Go foraging with friends for nettles and use them in many different ways. Make warm milk with infused nettle and a bit of honey for a bed time drink, add nettles to your bowl of buttered mashed potatoes, to your soup, to your stews. Dried nettle leaves act as a natural anti-histamine and the fresh leaves have been known to relieve pain from arthritis. In the summer infuse a large bunch with freshly squeezed lemons and make a souped up lemonade for the kids.
Oh – and one more thing – they taste great!
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I am a native Galway girl that seems to be drawn to professions that rhyme with 'err'. Writer, Mother, Restauranteur, Wedding Planner, Dishwasher, Grass cutter, Cocktail maker. I suppose you could say I am a well rounded entrepreneur.
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