Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Stinging Nettle Trips a Huge Success! Tour Leader Only Casualty.


Or, as the Wine Goddess says, “the war between winter and summer”. It’s a time, she offers, filled with "hesitant optimism".

For me, spring means one and only one thing: Stinging nettles.

In this war between winter and summer, I fancy myself a culinary warrior and healthful, delicious nettles are my booty, the spoils worth the stings.

This spring we led two foraging adventures on Vashon Island to harvest stinging nettles and other woodland treats. Join us below, in photos and captions, on our first annual adventure “Culinary Warriors 2009 - Nettle Edition”.

But first, meet the cast of characters:

Jeanette Smith, aka “Jet” : Ecologist, tour guide, pilot, cook, woman of too many talents to name.

April Pogue, aka “Wine Goddess”, giver of all things liquid and grape, GM of the soon-to-be-open GrandCru Wine Bar, hostess with the Most-esse, chanteuse and Karaoke queen.

Me, Becky Selengut, chef, teacher, writer, cheap sonabitch always ready to harvest a free lunch. In this shot, I’m no doubt waxing poetic about some little green edible thing, but more importantly notice my hot pink foraging gloves.

Also starring (dammit, forgot to take group pictures!) our army of foragers, 16 fabulously adventurous individuals -8 on each trip- over 2 consecutive weekends. Also, I must mention our anonymous Vashon hosts: 2 generous families who donated their land for our spring forays.
And... last but not least, without whom this adventure could not have occurred, that's right: The Stinging Nettle, one mean, nasty, nutrient-filled chartreuse profusion of toxicity.

First, in the wild.

Next, on the plate, uncooked, no less painful.

In what should be the beginning to any woodland adventure, a thrill-ride on an awesome tree swing.

Twisted, older than the hills, Doug Fir on our friend’s property that held my body weight and sassy pink gloves. This tree is massive and you have to be underneath it, looking up, to feel the mysterious calm that envelops everyone who visits it.

In case you didn't feel the vibe, Buddha was there for some spiritual inspiration.

There was one and only one "extreme" foraging moment (tongue totally in cheek). A 6-7 foot drop by rope to get to the best area for picking. Shannon, at the top, takes photos.

Sarah modeling perfect salmonberry blossom picking technique.

One of our guests, Brook, smiling to the camera. (Thanks for taking all the great photos Brook and Shannon!)

Bags and bags of nettles, as well as required gloves for protection.

Tea with a view. We steeped up the fresh, green brew overlooking the Southworth ferry.

Close-up of foraged spring beauty. We used this in the salad with champagne vinaigrette that Jet made for us later.

Brian Lowry, manager of Hogsback Farm on Vashon Island, gave us a tour of the farm. Here he is telling us the tall tale of the gi-normous daikon radish that got away. "It was THIS BIG."

Brian showing us the greenhouse. Just off camera, chickens, one rooster and one white goose make quick work of some culled turnips and okay, one Annie's cheddar bunny I threw it.

A quiet moment on the farm, in early spring. Peas just planted are about 2" high.

I take one for the team. Always curious to see if “dock” leaves, crumpled up and rubbed on nettle welts can relieve the pain and itching, I willingly rub my arm on a bunch of nettles. Our guests question my sanity. And frankly, so do I.

The cure, Dock. After 5 minutes, the pain recedes. After twenty minutes, the welts fade. Normally, the irritation from the toxin in nettles stays with me for at least 12 hours. Conclusion: Masochistic science experiment declared a success! Dock cures what nettles irritate!

Before heading back to our house for our foraged cooking class, we lunched one weekend at La Boucherie on Vashon Island and one weekend in West Seattle at Spring Hill.

Below, Jet creates a “memory plate” for our guests to remind them of the things besides nettles we collected during our trip. Going clockwise starting at 1:00, spring beauty, salmonberry blossoms, sheep sorrel, dandelion and peppercress. We also foraged for chickweed (not pictured).

Preparing the wok for smoking some spring halibut. April is just behind me thinking, “did we or did we not get fire insurance?” Jet is in the far background, head down, in anticipation of the smoke about to engulf her.

Wok-smoked first of the season halibut with nettle sauce, morels and fried nettle leaves.

Stinging nettle Hershey kisses. Not your average childhood treat.

Sealing the ravioli helps to remove air bubbles. This limits the embarrassing “ravioli blow-out” syndrome whereby you are left with a pot of floating flat squares that have spewed their fillings.

The finished dish of nettle ravioli with brown butter mint and shallot sauce with salmonberry blossoms.

What it's all about, ultimately, is conviviality shared around the table. Thanks to all who helped make these trips so incredibly enjoyable. For more information, please check out Rebekah Denn's article that appeared just days before the Seattle P.I. bit the dust (r.i.p. p.i.). Sign up here if you'd like to be on our mailing list for future trips. Until next time.


Seattle said...

Becky, that's fantastic! Loved reading about your foraging adventures. Now, I'm hungry.

ashlyn said...

Beautiful, Becky! I felt like I was there.

LC said...

So the dock worked. Always wondered about that folk remedy, brave of you to verify!

MyLastBite said...

I can't stop looking at your photo of the nettle ravioli with salmonberry blossoms. Stunning.

Jacki said...

Thanks for posting about the trips! We had a great time and leaned a lot!

A couple weeks ago, we went out for the first mushroom foray of the season with our group. They were looking for verpas, which are not my thing really, and it was still a little early in the season to find many mushrooms, but we did harvest a TON of nettles and some miner's lettuce and got some other folks in the group interested in nettles by telling them about our trip and class with you. A few of us each left with a big bag full of nettles!

We saved out some of the purple tips to make tea and it turned out a lovely purple color:

--jacki (and leah)

Becky said...

Seattle: hmmm, your blogger identity is so mysterious!

Ashlyn: Thanks buddy, see you monday!

LC: Nettles in, Dock out!

MyLastBite: thank you, we kind of went a little nutso with the flower garnish.. :)

Jacki: your flickr photos are fabulous, check em out folks.

Carlyn Arteaga said...

really great blog! i'm actually headed out for some nettle harvesting around portland tomorrow. any chance you have your recipes posted somewhere?? they look amazing!


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