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The accidental foraging expert (my tv appearance)

foraging for nettles

10 years ago I was called up by a tv producer looking, rather last minute, for a foraging expert to appear on a tv show - they had read a blog post I had written about making nettle soup and thought I would be a good fit.

The reality tv show was called Conquer the Castle and took 6 city slickers up to Blair Atholl estate in Perthshire, teaching them rural estate skills. Each day the contestants competed in a variety of 'rural skills' tasks and at the end of the week one was crowned 'King of the Castle'.

I was there to show them what food could be foraged from the wild on a Scottish Estate at the beginning of July. Half the contestants would go fishing, half foraging and they would get together and make a meal at night from whatever they caught and found.

The estate is beautiful with lots of old pasture and woodland so we found wild garlic, wood sorrel, pignuts and lots and lots of nettles.

I taught everyone how to pick nettles without gloves and avoid stings (this is where the phrase grasping the nettle comes from - be confident, pick swiftly and you won't get stung) and how to choose good pignuts to dig up.

I loved the filming, striding around in the rain in a borrowed Akubra hat, it was amazing fun, much less choreographed than I had assumed.

The programme still occasionally airs on Sky. I haven't been asked to do any tv since though . . .

I am not a professional grade forager - I'm certainly not an expert, but I do love to collect tasty wild plants - especially at this time of year, the hungry gap, where we are all in need of the kind of 'pick me up' that early wild greens contain.

Nettles are very good for your health - as well as helping to reduce inflammation and improving circulation they are used for treating everything from prostate problems to menstrual cramps and kidney stones.

I tend to think of the as a simple, gentle, general detox plant that comes into leaf at just the right time of year.

foraging for nettles

By the way, if anyone else suffers from Reynaud's syndrome - where the fingers lose all circulation - deliberately stinging yourself with nettles is a great way of alleviating the symptoms. You do end up with the prickly buzz of nettle stings but I personally find that better than having stiff cold blue fingers. I keep a little patch of nettles in the poly tunnel through the winter to use.

Mostly however I use nettles in cooking and this recipe is one of my favourites.

Nettle Risotto

Pick the growing tips of nettles - just the top 4 or 5 leaves as they are the most tender. You can either wear gloves or just confidently pinch out the leaves. Nettles sting when you brush against them rather than when you squash them.

Ingredients

  • Bowl of freshly picked nettles (quantities don't really matter) - roughly chopped. (use a big knife or wear gloves)
  • Juice and zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 onion
  • 1tbs butter
  • 200g risotto rice
  • 1l stock heated in separate pan
  • Soft goats cheese to taste
  • Salt and pepper

Chop the onion finely and cook in butter until soft.

Add nettles and stir until wilted. Add lemon zest.

Add rice, stir to coat it in butter and add in hot stock a ladle at a time, slowly stirring until it is almost absorbed before adding in another ladleful. Do this for 15-20 minutes until the rice is cooked.

Take pan off the heat and stir in lemon juice, seasoning and cheese.

foraging for nettles

There are lots of possible alterations to this recipe, like most foraging recipes it is very adaptable - sometimes I add in chopped sorrel with the nettles, sometimes I use parmesan instead of goats cheese. Nettles go especially well with strong salty and sour flavours

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foraging for nettles

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When I was at University it was the time of the Poll Tax, an unpopular tax made even more unpopular by being implemented in Scotland a year before the rest of the UK - 'Thatcher's guinea pigs'.⁠⠀
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It was a time of demonstration and violence with 50,000 marching in Glasgow, 1 million Scots refusing to pay. ⁠⠀
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It was a time Sheriff's Officers and poind sales of possessions. ⁠⠀
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Coalition student groups were formed - Socialist and Feminist and Anarchist and so on - there were big meetings in the Union, debates about a name and a logo and a manifesto. I remember lots of young, middle class, white men talked at length.  I remember that very, very little got done - a bus was organised to take students to Glasgow for the protests. ⁠⠀
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In the meantime, up the hill from the campus, three women (I thought of them as old at the time but I'm sure they were the age I am now) simply stood outside the auctions and asked nobody to attend.  They stood by the front doors, they explained their reasons, they prevailed.  They possibly looked randomly menacing in that way middle aged women can.⁠⠀
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People calmly bought back their possessions for 50p and their debts were squared. Action, meaningful results, a recognition that the personal is political - all while the student groups still debated their slogans.⁠⠀
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I've been thinking about those women a lot recently. If they were the age I think they were, they will be queuing up for their vaccines this month.
In my happy place.⁠⠀
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In the winter months The Studio is the centre of my working life. ⁠⠀
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This was yesterday.  Trimming pieces of vintage velvet fabric for the Studio Club shop; alpaca socks drying in the dispatch room behind me (we now have size 8-10 in stock too); a roll @scottishlinen seconds to experiment with hogging the cutting table.⁠⠀
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Bright and light and inspiring.
Starting the week with a photo from last year (simply because I lost a lot of this weekend to fatigue, so didn't take a new photo.)⁠⠀
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Budgie, my beautiful and psychotic cat, with a windowsill of white amaryllis. ⁠⠀
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Worth a second outing.
The proposed airstream conversion is in for planning permission approval at the moment, so that we change change its use from (neglected) artist's workshop into beautiful holiday accommodation.⁠⠀
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In my vision for this we get to use the paid holidaymaking element to subsidise some artist's residencies - painters, writers, musicians, makers coming here to soak up the landscape and be inspired.⁠⠀
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At the moment though I'm still at the stage of answering environmental health questions about quite how loud I am in my Studio and how we will light the path to the compost loo.
Yesterday my elder daughter, who lives in London, messaged me to say that our local DPD driver Slav was being given an award by @official.dpd.uk for his outstanding service. 

It was because of the hundreds of messages that they had been sent commenting on his helpfulness, incredible good cheer, and parcel based problem solving.⁠⠀

Slav has been an important part of my lockdown life here. ⁠⠀
When roads look like this, good delivery drivers are a vital (and hopefully appreciated) part of life.⁠⠀
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As my younger daughter chimed in “Go Slav!
This photo is from last week - but I see through the gloom that it has snowed overnight .⁠⠀
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This part of the garden is outside our bedroom, the beech hedge borders the road, it used to be a drive when our bedroom was a garage.⁠⠀
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Now it has a birch tree (symbolic for me of my miscarried babies, as I had to leave their actual birch trees behind when we moved here) surrounded by lots of box grown from small plants and cuttings.⁠⠀
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We buried Jasmine, my scruffy miniature schnauzer, here in the summer, so in some ways it is becoming a garden for sitting on the bench and remembering and watching the birds.  I shall ask my ever generous  friend Nadja for some snowdrops to plant in the grass.⁠⠀
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In my mind, eventually, the box balls will become like the ones on the front of @arnemaynardgardendesign book Garden Design Details - but this year they remain unclipped. ⁠⠀
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I suspect box blight in the back garden and @jekkamcvicar points out that unclipped box does not get blight.⁠⠀
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I love old gates - particularly old gates that stand in the middle of old unused spaces, leading to nowhere, keeping nothing in.⁠⠀
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A memory of another time.
Last year - while I was dyeing socks out on my Studio deck, I was also dyeing wool yarn. ⁠⠀
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Wool dyed with docks and nettle, gorse and meadowsweet, onions and plum bark all from the garden and lane.⁠⠀
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Over the winter I gathered the wool skeins together - all the soft bright colours - and knitted myself an oversized stripy jumper. ⁠⠀
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@rhiannonconnelly described it as wearing 'a hug from my garden' and I think she was spot on. ⁠⠀
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The pattern is the 'After the Rain' sweater by @heidikdesigns but with random stripes as I wasn't sure how much of each colour I had. #aftertherainsweater
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At Snapdragon Life I gently guide you through bringing the changing seasons into your daily life, helping you slow down, so that you can experience increased well being, calm and creativity.

 

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