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RECIPE: How to Make Stinging Nettle Hummus

If there’s one thing that can ruin a walk in the lovely English countryside it’s stinging nettles. If you brush past them with bare skin you can get a painful sting which usually isn’t harmful for most people but hurts for a while. But you can exact revenge on them by eating them! Nettles are not only edible, they are highly nutritious – they contain iron, calcium and magnesium, as well as vitamins A and B. They are great in soup, can be dehydrated to make crisps, can be used like spinach in a variety of dishes such as stir fries and stews, and can also be used in dips and sauces. The process of cooking with them renders them harmless by getting rid of the sting. One of our favourite things to make with them is stinging nettle hummus and we have a recipe.

Stinging Nettle

Despite them being found all over the British Isles nettles are not native plants, they were introduced by the Romans a couple of thousand years ago. Some stories suggest that they were used by Roman soldiers who would flog themselves with the nettle plants in order to use the stings to warm their skin in cold northern climes.

If you do get stung by a nettle there is a plant that you can use that helps soothe the pain. The standard view is that a dock leaf rubbed onto the sting will help. Actually it’s a plantain leaf (which used to be called dock in bygone times) which is more likely to help. Rubbing the sting with a dock leaf won’t harm but plantain will provide more relief.

It is the perfect time of year to go foraging for spring greens. We are already keeping an eye on our local patches of wild garlic, ground elder, mustard garlic, sorrel and three-cornered leek to see how they are growing, and also to plan lots of recipes for them. Stinging nettles are absolutely ready right now.

Preparing Stinging Nettles For Hummus

Go foraging for nettles. Try to find a patch where it’s unlikely that dogs may have been walking (just in case they have used that area for a toilet). Hardy foragers pick the nettles with their bare fingers but we use gloves to save ourselves from the stings. It’s best to pick in early spring to get the most tender leaves (the leaves will become quite tough as summer progresses). You need around half a carrier bag’s worth but you don’t need to be precise.

A word of warning – nettles are generally one of the easiest plants to identify but please be 100% sure that you have identified the correct plant. If you have the slightest doubt, don’t eat it. Plant identification apps aren’t always reliable either.

Wearing gloves, wash the nettles and have a look through them to see whether there are any leaves that should be discarded and look out for any insects to brush away. You can also make sure that no extraneous leaves from other plants. It’s quite common for grasses to end up in your bag as well.

Stinging Nettle Hummus Recipe

Place the nettles into a saucepan and pour boiling water over them to cover them. Stir for a minute or so. They will start wilting. This process gets rid of the sting and you can handle them with your bare hands from now on.

Stinging Nettle Hummus Recipe

While they still have their lovely green colour, using a slotted spoon, transfer them into a bowl of cold water for a few minutes.

Blanch Stinging Nettle

Keep the hot water from the saucepan and pour it into a mug – you can enjoy a nice cup of nettle tea, which has a mild, refreshing flavour and tastes a bit like green tea or coca tea. Then drain the nettles and let them dry naturally. They can then be used in our stinging nettle hummus recipe.

Stinging Nettle Tea

Stinging Nettle Hummus Recipe

Ingredients

Bowl of blanched stinging nettles

1 can of chickpeas, drained (if you’re keen to avoid food waste, you can keep the liquid, which is called aquafaba, which can be used to make vegan meringues)

1 large or 2 small cloves of garlic

Juice of 1 lemon

1 dsp peanut butter (you can substitute tahini, or omit completely if you can’t eat nuts)

Slosh of olive oil

Pinch of sea salt

Method

In a food processor or blender, combine the lemon juice, garlic and peanut butter. Give them a whizz.

Stinging Nettle Hummus Recipe

Add half the chickpeas and half the nettles with a slosh of oil and blend again.

Stinging Nettle Hummus Recipe

Scrape the sides of the bowl. Add the remaining nettles, chickpeas and a pinch of salt, and blend again.

Have a taste – does it need more lemon or salt? Add seasoning as necessary. We tend to like sour flavours so added  the juice of an extra half lemon. You can decide how much you would like your blend depending on whether you prefer a smooth or chunkier texture.

Stinging Nettle Hummus Recipe

Decant into a bowl and serve with warm pitta bread.

Stinging Nettle Hummus Recipe

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Go With The Sloe – How to Make Sloe Gin

It’s autumn in the UK, which means it’s the perfect season for foraging for fruit and mushrooms in the countryside. We are lucky to have many sloe (blackthorn) bushes in our local area and one of our favourite things to do at this time of year is to make sloe gin.

Sloe gin is a liquer made from gin and sloes, although other alcohol bases can be used. Unlike gin, which is quite perfumed, sloe gin is much sweeter, deriving its flavour from the fruit infusing into the alcohol as well as some added sugar.

Gin is a very fashionable drink these days, with a huge number of flavours and variations available, as well as it forming the base of a vast array of liquers and cocktails. Sloe gin is available commercially but if you have access to sloe bushes it is great fun to make your own.

It’s a really easy process and you can adapt it to your personal taste. It just needs a little patience.

Here’s a flow chart – or, if you will, sloe chart:

How do make sloe gin

This is what the colour will look like after around three months. You can see that already the gin has acquired the colour of the berries.

Cheers!

Postscript – sloe gin is also great if you pop the bottle into the freezer for a couple of hours. The alcohol doesn’t freeze fully but becomes slightly syrupy. It’s delicious, so remember to keep some back for summertime.

As with all foraging, do make sure you are 100% certain about the fruit that you are picking. There are some great identification guides.

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Everything Stops for Tea

A very British tradition is the afternoon tea. The British are, of course, well known for their love of tea.

Tea to the English is really a picnic indoors.
-Alice Walker

Afternoon tea originated in the early 19th Century. It was a time when tea drinking was becoming extremely popular amongst all classes but this was also a time when people tended only to have two meals a day: breakfast and supper. Supper was usually taken around 8pm in the evening which meant that there was an awfully long gap between meals.

Anna Russell, Duchess of Bedford and friend of Queen Victoria, invented the afternoon tea. She had decided that the gap between breakfast and supper was just too long (who can help but agree?) and she would start feeling peckish mid-afternoon. She solved this problem in around 1840 by indulging in a cup of tea and a snack at around 4pm. The tea was generally accompanied by bread and butter and some cake. She invited her friends to join her and soon enough afternoon tea became highly popular amongst high society.

The elements comprising afternoon tea evolved over the years. Fortunately sandwiches had already been invented by the Earl of Sandwich, who had discovered the joys of putting something delicious between two slices of bread in 1762, so afternoon tea could accommodate this as a menu item as well.

Scones are also considered to be an essential element of afternoon tea these days. These are usually sweet scones, eaten with jam and clotted cream. The scones are presented whole: they should be cut in half and the jam/cream or cream/jam combination applied copiously. Never reveal whether you put the jam or the cream onto the scone first to anyone from the West Country. Devon and Cornish folk have very different ideas about the order in which the scone should be adorned. We politely suggest that they taste wonderful either way. As well as disputes about how to eat scones the English also disagree on how to pronounce the word – is it scone to rhyme with ‘gone’ or scone to rhyme with ‘stone’? We’re originally from the south of England so both use the former but have regular arguments with friends about the true pronunciation.

The quintessential afternoon tea comprises a selection of sandwiches, a couple of scones served with clotted cream and jam and a variety of miniature pastries, cakes or sweet treats. Served with a cup of tea. This might simply be an ordinary cuppa but it is more likely that you would be offered some speciality teas or herbal infusions. Coffee and hot chocolate are usually available for non-tea-drinkers. The more indulgent modern afternoon teas may also offer a tall glass of fizz; Champagne (preferably) or Prosecco to accompany the treats.

Etiquette suggests that you start with the savouries on the bottom tier. Scones next, then the sweet treats on the top tier. This particular one had four pastries each, including a fruity pannacotta and layered cake.

Almost a meal in itself, tea is refined and rather decadent. This particular one was a splendid way of relaxing after spending an afternoon exploring small villages in the English Cotswolds.