When carrots go forky…..
When carrots go forky…..
Woodruff, or Galium odoratum to give it its botanical name, is a pretty little plant which can be found growing in beech woodland. It forms dense mats, and so is a good ground cover for gardens, looking very fresh and lovely when it flowers in the middle of May.
Fresh, the plant has a mildly pleasant smell.
BUT… when you dry it for a few days, it gives off a powerful aroma of almonds and maraschino cherries, and as such it is the key ingredient for Maibowle, or Bowl of May, a traditional German punch to celebrate the coming of the summer.
To dry the woodruff: pick a small bunch of about 9 stems, tie some string around them and hang up in an airy place for a few days.
You will also need a large glass bowl.
A word of caution: two glasses is delightful, but don’t overdo it.
I nearly missed this creature, lurking on the wooden post of my raspberry supports. So subtle, what can it be?
You waited a long time for this, didn’t you! (See previous post ‘R is for rhubarb’) Well, it’s worth it because a dish of rhubarb and custard is more versatile than you think.
Remember the penny sweets from your childhood? The sticky paper bag with Parma violets, black jacks, licorice laces and … rhubarb and custard boiled sweets. And you can still get them! But I digress.
All I wanted to say that rhubarb and custard is a classic British combination, delightful if made with real custard, but oh-so-horrid if not. Here is a way to channel childhood nostalgia into an excellent cake recipe where you can use cheap custard. (Save the real stuff for a sophisticated Rhubarb Fool).
RHUBARB AND CUSTARD CAKE
This recipe comes from the Good Food magazine.
Such a brilliant colour combination, you would never have thought it up yourself. There are some Unexpected Outcomes from cooking rhubarb, so read on.
TO COOK RHUBARB
However, using the basic unit, you can go on to other things.
UNEXPECTED OUTCOME 1: RHUBARB BELLINI
Rhubarb produces a lot of pink juice when you cook it. It makes a wonderful Bellini.
Strain the juice into a jug . Fill champagne glasses about a quarter full with rhubarb juice and top up with chilled Prosecco. Mmmm!
For other Unexpected Outcomes, see the next post.
Although April is green and lovely, for the people of the past, it was ironically the start of the ‘hungry gap’, when last winter’s stored roots were eaten and there was not much by way of fresh vegetables until June. For those who had to grow their own food and eat seasonally because they had no choice, nettles must have been a welcome gift.
So here is a recipe for Green Nettletop Soup, made with the tender top leaves of nettles. When the nettles are cooked, they loose their sting. But don’t put raw nettles in your mouth! Nettles have a definite green taste, a bit like spinach.
When you pick them, choose only the tender top leaves and wear rubber gloves. (See previous post N is for Nettles.)
TO MAKE GREEN NETTLE-TOP SOUP
And finally a bit of Nettle Lore…
It is said that in the First World War, the uniform of the German army was made from nettle cloth. Ray Harwood, Professor of Textile Engineering at De Montfort University, heads up a research project into the use of nettles to make sustainable textiles. The stem fibres are woven into a yarn that is cool in summer and warm in winter, a bit like linen.
More remarkable though, are the remains of nettle cloth worn by bronze-age Danes in the National Museum of Denmark.
Nettle is the first wild food of the year, and the sight of its young jagged leaves in early April, is a welcome sign that the Wheel of the Year has turned and Spring is truly here.
Nettle is a wild plant that I treat with enormous respect and admiration, although it was not always so. My first gardening job involved clearing a large patch of waste ground and in those days I was very hench: no gardening gloves for me, as I liked to feel the earth underneath my fingernails. I pulled up nettles bare handed, safe in the knowledge that if you grasp the stalk firmly you don’t get stung. Later that night I was woken from a deep sleep by hundreds of little throbbing stings in my hands, extraordinarily painful. From that time, I have always worn gardening gloves.
There are some very good reasons not to pull nettles out. Here are six of them:
TO MAKE NETTLE TEA
The desire to drink nettle tea tends to come on in the evening. It is pale green and strangely addictive.
You will need
Find a secluded nettle patch – it should be away from a road, and away from any suggestion of herbicide. Pick your nettles carefully: you only want the the very young leaves at the tip of the stalk. You need lots of nettles, so fill your bag.
To wash or not to wash? I don’t: the leaves are going to be steeped in boiling water, which should kill off any germs; and besides, wet leaves tend to rot.
To dry the nettles, spread them out in a warm, airy place. I lay them out on newspaper in my spare bedroom. Turn them carefully every few days so that they dry out. After about a week they will be dry, papery and you should be able to crumble them between your fingers.
Your container is important. It should be large enough, with a well fitting lid, clean and completely dry. Transfer the dried nettles into the container, and label including the date.
To make the tea, you will need a small teapot.
Add 1 – 2 heaped teaspoons to the pot, and fill up with boiling water. Let it steep for about 5 minutes.
Then savour and enjoy. It will do you the Power of Good.