As a child, I avoided these prickly greens like the plague -- now I'm foraging for them to feed my family
Stinging nettles have been the enemy for as long as I can remember. Nettles grow lush and huge here in Deadwood, Ore. When I was a child they were an impediment, tall sentinels blocking the path to the creek. A sting raises a cluster of pink welts like spider bites, which linger for hours.
Nettles lose their sting when exposed to concentrated heat, and they are edible and extremely nutritious, being rich in vitamins A and C, as well as potassium, iron, magnesium and calcium. Supposedly you can use the plants to treat a huge variety of ailments including hay fever and arthritis. My friend Kamari tries to convince me that nettles are God’s gift to hippies, but I’ve always been dubious about cooking them, for obvious reasons. However, our return to Deadwood has been marked by hard times, and scrounging is the name of the game. I started foraging for wild mushrooms, but as our resources dwindle, I’m getting more creative. Stinging nettles it is.
My plan for dinner tonight is spaghetti with beef meatballs. Our neighbors very kindly gave us six or seven packages of ground beef when they slaughtered their bull, and the meat is delicious — flavorful and tender. For our vegetable course we will have the dubious stinging nettles, sautéed in white wine. In the interest of making this sound less obnoxiously twee, I should mention that I found the meatball recipe in “Playboy.” Go figure.
I start down the driveway at dusk, wearing work gloves and carrying kitchen scissors and a colander. My neighbor Alan pulls up in his red Dodge truck and dumps a load of hay for his cows.
“Looking for nettles?” he asks, noting my scissors and gloves. Evidently this activity is normal to the average Deadwoodian.
After some poking about, I find clusters of baby nettles growing at the edges of the pasture. At this time of year, early March, the plants are small and purple-green — the color is reminiscent of a reptile. I snip, grasp the felled plant with my scissors and transport it to the colander without contact. Even though I’m wearing gloves, my childish fear lingers and I can’t bring myself to touch the leaves; with these gingerly methods it takes me five or 10 minutes to fill the colander. I don’t mind. It’s beautiful and still at this hour of evening, as the sky fades pink above the saw-toothed hills.
When I return to the kitchen, the spaghetti sauce is bubbling on the stove, infusing the drafty wooden house with a comforting aroma: It may not be that warm inside, but at least it smells warm. I started the simple tomato sauce two days ago (I find spaghetti sauce is always better the next day), so that part of the meal is practically done.
I’ve never made meatballs before, but they go off without a hitch. I mix the beef with eggs we bought from my Aunt Coretta, who lives down the road, and two diced slices of white bread from the loaf Rich baked yesterday. The recipe calls for pickled peppers and I don’t have any, so I substitute a couple of Herdez chipotle chiles. I stick the meatballs in the oven at 400 degrees, and 15 minutes later they’re done, juicy and tangy from the chiles.
Of course it’s the nettles I’m really worried about. I run some water over the colander, but because I don’t actually want to touch them, my rinse job isn’t exactly thorough. I dump the contents into a hot, oiled cast iron pan and watch with a kind of doubtful interest as the nettles soften, changing from the purple-green color to a brighter, more uniform green. I can still see the tiny stinging hairs. I stir vigorously.
When it comes time to actually taste one, I hesitate. Maybe just a little longer, I think, and prod the ropey mass of greens for the umpteenth time. I turn down the burner, stalling for time. Three or four minutes pass before I actually get up the nerve to touch one. I poke at it. Wait. No sting. I pinch a green between my fingers and close my eyes.
Maybe it’s the aftershadow of the sting, but the nettles taste strangely alive — fibrous and tingly, with a hard-to-articulate flavor. Nutty is as close as I can get. When we sit down for dinner, Rich takes a bite and declares them “pretty good.” When asked to elaborate, he says he thinks they’re good but not as good as regular greens. I’m inclined to think the nettles are just as good as regular greens, or they would be if I’d cooked them a little longer. Maybe I’m imagining it, but I feel my lips tingle with the inkling of a sting.
All in all, the dinner is a success. Especially when you consider the cost — thanks to the generosity of my neighbors, the total bill is about $3. When we’re finished, enough sauce remains for another meal, so I figure our dinner comes out to 85 cents per person. Sweet. Now I just need to figure out how to make my own glass of red wine.
Felisa Rogers studied history and nonfiction writing at the Evergreen State College and went on to teach writing to kids for five years. She lives in Oregon’s coast range, where she works as a freelance writer and editor. More Felisa Rogers.
More Related Stories
- El Salvador court delays ruling on abortion case while woman's life hangs in the balance
- Kicked out of the mall -- for an anti-cancer hat
- Why do men pretend to be women online?
- Pa. governor "can't find" any Latinos to work in his administration
- Conservative group blames military sexual assault on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" repeal
- Is Pittsburgh the next Portland?
- Tornado survivor to Wolf Blitzer: Sorry, I'm an atheist. I don't have to thank the Lord
- Donald Rumsfeld worried that marriage equality will lead to polygamy
- San Francisco Giant Jeremy Affeldt apologizes for homophobic past
- Wall Street firm's "Golden Pitchbook" is totally sexist, full of lies
- Federal court strikes down Arizona abortion ban
- I'm not achieving my dreams!
- The most popular Tumblr porn
- Slave descendants seek equal rights from Cherokee Nation
- Snapchat is secretly storing your photos
- Peace Corps to allow gay couples to volunteer together
- Facebook's hate speech problem
- Rand Paul: Congress should apologize to Apple, not the other way around
- When my home was destroyed
- Okla. mother's tearful reunion with her 8-year-old son
- New campaign compares gun control to anti-LGBT discrimination
Featured Slide Shows
The week in 10 picsclose X
- 1 of 11
Lisa Montgomery embraces her nephew Thursday after a tornado tore apart her home in Cleburne, Texas. The twister killed six people and destroyed entire swaths of the North Texas town.
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia Tuesday. His client was convicted of killing three babies in his clinic, and will serve multiple life sentences.
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
A photo taken Monday captures Vice President Joe Biden's response to a Milwaukee second-grader's innovative proposal to end America's epidemic of gun violence. This guy!
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flanked by a grouper-eyed Michele Bachmann, addresses the IRS' admission that it targeted Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election. In an op-ed for CNN Thursday, the Kentucky senator slammed the president for his faux outrage.
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller is sworn in on Capitol Hill Friday. Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the extra scrutiny the agency gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Holder is under fire, among other things, for the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at the Associated Press.
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial.
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Major Tom to ground control: On Sunday astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the first music video from space, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
Credit: AP/NASA/Chris Hadfield
When it rains it pours. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inexplicably inspiring an #umbrellagate Twitter meme.
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
A smoke plume rises high above a road block at the intersection of County A and Ross Road east of Solon Springs, Wis., Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but the the wildfire caused evacuations across northwestern Wisconsin.
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
Recent Slide Shows
- 1 of 11