For a long time, I've been interested in foraging wild foods. I've collected a fair number of field guides and amassed a pretty good knowledge base, but I haven't done as much actual foraging as I would like. Berries; now, everyone picks berries. Besides blackberries, I can recognize salmonberries, thimbleberries, and huckleberries. Blackberries are by far the best, of course, and I try to put away at least a few gallons in the freezer every year, besides making as much of them as I can fresh during the season in the form of pies, smoothies, jams, and bowls and bowls of berries and cream.
A few years ago, I discovered that the large patch of mushrooms which springs up every fall out by the back fence are shaggy manes, a delicious variety. I always make a big pot of soup (these aren't very amenable to drying, alas). Other mushrooms I can recognize include field mushrooms (the grocery store variety) and puffballs. Not to mention the "special" kinds unique to our area - not that I've much use of them in the last two decades.
Growing up on the shores of Puget Sound, I've done my share of clamming and gathering of mussels. And that's about it. I tried young wild dandelion greens, but found them extremely bitter and just about inedible. Nettles have been on my list forever; they are easily recognizable, and anyone who has ever been stung by them relishes the idea of wreaking some vengeance.
Their sting, which is horrible, disappears after blanching, so I've always read, but the threat was enough to deter me until now. Today, walking the pasture to see if any of the grass seed I sowed had sprouted (apparently not) I saw that a good crop of nettles was up along the fenceline, and it seemed exactly the right stage to pick. About four inches high, tender and bright green. So the girls and I took a paper bag, a pair of gloves and some scissors and set out. It didn't take long to snip off enough tops to almost fill a grocery bag. It was a good opportunity to talk to the girls about nettles, how to recognize them and what to do if they got stung (make mud and slap it on the sting.). They thoroughly enjoyed the outing.
After looking up a few recipes on the internet, I decided to make avgolemeno soup. It was absolutely delicious and everyone had seconds - even Homero, who usually eschews all foods green. This is one of those foods that tastes so muscularly healthy that when you swallow it you can feel the strength running down your throat into your body. Nettles have always been considered a powerful spring tonic, being one of the first greens available in the early spring, and now I can see why they are held in such high esteem. Nettle soup will be on our spring menu from here on out.
Nettle and Spinach Avgolemeno Soup
1 grocery bag at least half full of young nettle tops (use gloves and scissors.)
Similar amount baby spinach or other tender greens (if you have enough nettles, omit other greens)
1/2 medium yellow onion, minced
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 quart good quality chicken stock (bullion cubes are okay if that's all you have)
juice of two or three lemons (1/2 cup minimum)
1 big spoonful sour cream
salt and pepper to taste
red pepper flakes (optional)
Bring a pot of water top a rolling boil. Dump in the bag of nettles and use a wooden spoon or tongs to submerge. If using spinach, add immediately and submerge as well. Let cook one minute. Drain in a colander in the sink and run cold water over to stop cooking. Drain well, pressing on greens with a spoon to remove water. Dump onto a cutting board and chop finely.
In the same soup pot (now drained, duh), heat butter and olive oil. saute onion and garlic until just soft. Add stock. Bring to a simmer. Add greens.
In a medium bowl, crack eggs and add lemon juice. Beat with a fork until smooth and bright yellow. While beating, add a few tablespoons of hot soup to temper. Then pour egg mixture into soup and stir rapidly. Add salt to taste and plenty of fresh ground black pepper. Ladle immediately into bowls and top with a small dollop of sour cream and sprinkle with red pepper flakes.
Not only delicious, but absolutely beautiful soup!