Wild and Edible Stinging Nettle

Wild food forager and Nature Place activity leader Paul Tappenden tells us what’s local, wild, and edible in and around our area.

Apart from the fact that stinging nettles are among the most nutrient rich foods available, they have been used medicinally for treating seasonal allergies, cold symptoms, bladder infections and chronic arthritis, along with many other ailments.  They are much prized by herbalists.  In fact, despite their tendency to sting anyone who touches them, most of the herbalists and foragers I know have planted them on their property.  I have two sizable patches in my back yard, which I tend with loving care.

Now that it is October, I’ve cut all my nettles down to the ground, hanging  the plants to dry for making teas.

I’d highly recommend starting your own patch, if you want to have their medicinal and nutritional powers at your disposal.  If you have a friend with a patch, I’m sure that he or she would happily give you a piece of root to transplant (nettles do tend to spread and need thinning).

Each year, I work with campers at The Nature Place Day Camp.  We use stinging nettles in cooking or even eat them raw.  Once cooked they can no longer sting, but eating them raw presents a bit of a challenge – a challenge that the kids love to go through as a kind of rite of passage.  There is a trick to eating them without being stung which I make sure of telling them be fore they try it.  Eating raw nettles has become a source of pride.

Nutrient-rich-stinging-nettles

stinging nettle growing wild

Nettle soup

nettle soup

Nettles are rich in vitamins A, C, D, iron, potassium, manganese, and calcium.  What’s more they possess up to 40% protein.  Of course, these nutritional facts are not foremost in our minds when we are enjoying a bowl of nettle soup or a side of nettle greens.  We are too busy experiencing their delicious flavor.

There are many recipes that call for spinach or kale in which nettles can be substituted, and several that were developed with nettles in mind.  I’ve found many versions of nettle soup online.  With the recipes that call for boiled greens, usually, twenty minutes of boiling is all that is required to produce tender results.  However, don’t throw out the brownish water that remains.  It makes a rich and tasty stock as a base for soups, having an almost meaty flavor.

Paul making nettle empanadas

Paul making nettle empanadas

Making Apple Compote with Eva

Reconsidering Apples

Fall’s harvest bounty is tempting us and inviting us to the kitchen. As we tune into the rhythm of the season, we look through our old recipes and consider new ones. Sooner or later we stumble upon a recipe asking for apples.

Apple is the ultimate fall fruit in our climate. Yet, we take apples for granted for most of the year. They are always there on the shelves of our supermarket or health food store, although they somehow lost their appeal a long time ago.  Months of  refrigeration robbed them of their flavor and texture, and we easily forget how good an apple could be. Without a doubt, apples are a fruit worth reconsidering, and fall is the right season to remember the true taste of apples.

While nothing beats the joy of climbing an apple tree, picking and biting into a crisp ripe apple on a sunny autumn day, no more than a trip to the local farmer’s market is needed to secure a variety of fresh, tasty apples. Kids will love to help. They will be happy to pick out the fruit, examine the shapes, wonder how many shades of green, yellow, and red there are. Counting spots, gray and white. The adventure will continue at home. Is this one soft and mushy or firm and crunchy? Sweet, crisp, tart, or juicy?  And the flesh? Is it going to be white, yellow or cream colored? All the answers are just one bite away…

When it comes to apples, my children associate “ugly” with “yummy”. At this time of the year, the two old, weathered apple trees on our property are full of “ugly” green, crisp, tart apples. Although we still haven’t figured out what variety they are,  we know that they are not only delicious raw but they make a good applesauce and work well in apple pie.

After having our share of raw apples, it is time to cook. Perhaps it is the right occasion to make one of our favorite autumn treats: apple compote.

Eva's apple compote

Eva’s completed apple compote (yum!)

For the compote, choose some fresh but not necessary perfect apples. In this recipe (like in the one for applesauce or apple pie), fallen or less-than-perfect fruit gets a chance to shine.  As an added bonus, children will have fun examining oddly shaped apples. If your children are old enough and can be trusted with knives, invite them to help with cutting. The younger ones can assist with washing the apples, measuring out the ingredients, or cranking the apple peeler, if you use one. Remember to cut some apples crosswise to uncover the beauty of the star hidden in the middle.

 

Apple Compote Ingredients

3 pounds of apples (such as Granny Smith, Rome Beauty, Pink Lady, Macintosh, Gravenstein), peeled, cored and cut into fourths or sixths depending on the size of your apples

¼ cup maple syrup, honey, or sugar (also, apples are sweet as is! Some of you may decide to add no additional sweetener).

1 large cinnamon stick or ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon

8 whole cloves

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

enough water to cover the apples

 

Instructions

Combine water, lemon juice, sugar and spices in a medium saucepan. Add apples. Bring to simmer over medium heat.  Cook for a few minutes until apples are barely tender. (The apples shouldn’t become mushy or lose their shape). Remove from the heat. Spoon the compote into a bowl, let cool down, then chill in the refrigerator.

Apple compote makes a perfect snack or dessert on a crisp autumn day. It can be also served as a side dish with roasted or grilled meats.

The uglier your apple, often, the more tasty it will be!

The uglier your apple, often, the more tasty it will be!

Enjoy the tastes and aromas of the Fall, and don’t forget how good an apple can be!

 

Eva Szigeti operates Pinebrook Garden Day Care, child-care centered around hands-on homesteading activities and free creative play. She also offers cooking and fiber craft classes for children and programs for homeschoolers.  For the past three summers Eva has been teaching cooking at the Nature Place Day Camp.

Hall Pass to a pretty how town

Chuck Stead offers us a seasonal story for this month of October

It was in my sophomore year at Albertus Magnus High School that I broke my knee – tearing cartilage in two places – and ended up missing a great deal of class time. I made it up at home reading endless boring textbooks about subjects I felt I would never need to know again in this lifetime. But I also spent hours reading Ernest Thompson Seton, John Burroughs, John Muir and Aldo Leopold as a vacation from the text books. I was familiar with Rachel Carson as a result of my Uncle Mal ranting that she was an anti-American Communist. So I found her wonderful and scary book Silent Spring and read that mostly so I could counter Mal’s opinions on Carson.

Come fall of my junior year I was fresh from knee surgery. Our Athletic coach, Mr. Tom Collins, exempted me from gym with a permanent study hall in the cafeteria, where I regularly picked up a Hall Pass and went to the library up on the second floor of the school.  I had developed something of a reputation for reading and writing poetry, which meant that upon arriving to the library I was escorted to the likes of Rod McKuen and Jonathan Livingston Seagull, neither of which could keep my attention. My older sister Muffin had left some of her Beat Generation material around and as a consequence I had found my way to Allan Ginsberg’s “Howl”. Then one day, thumbing through some more of Muffin’s poetry books, I opened for the first time a collection by e. e. cummings and read these three lines:

Anyone lived in a pretty how town
(with up so floating many bells down)
spring summer autumn winter

I was amazed at the randomness of the writing, it felt to me like the way thinking happens. I put the book down on the table and staring at it I thought, “book of poetry on table of polished wood no need to hurry the hall pass is good”.  This word play reminded me of Bob Dylan’s lyrics. It was no doubt cumming’s refusal to use capital letters that first attracted me but soon I was following his drumming rhythm into places I didn’t know existed. I read everything I could get by cummings and then re-read it. I talked with teachers about his style but soon found I was talking to myself. I tried to write like cummings but failed at it.

It was October of 1969, and while Vietnam loomed at the edge of my world, I put off thoughts of war while in the school library, where cummings ranted a bit like a mad man and distracted me long enough to not worry about things. Back in Hillburn Cindy Maloney was shipped out to live with her grandmother; Cousin Buzzy was still around but he was attending Suffern High School and involved in a whole different society now; the Cramshaws moved down to Oakland, NJ, so seeing them was much less frequent.

Before I stepped off the school bus at the end of the day I yanked off my neck tie and shoved it into my book pack. The crisp, earthy-smelling world in the village embraced me as I walked up Second Street and encountered my Uncle Mal climbing out of his pick-up truck. Sometimes it is the little things that resonate most, and on this fall afternoon a small token of life passing by was about to land on the ground between us. Mal saw me and said, “The weary scholar come home from the academy.”

I said, “Anyone lived in a pretty how town with up so floating many bells down.”

Hillburn - School
(Photo courtesy of the Hudson River Valley Heritage website)

 

He eye’d me suspiciously and I explained I was quoting e. e. cummings. He said, “An educated poet, that’s a helluva thing.” Then he grinned and said, “Let’s go down to Hagedorn’s for ice cream, last of the season.”

I shove my hands into my trouser pockets and pulled out a couple of dollars but a small slip fell out and landed on the concrete sidewalk between us.

Mal said, “What’s that?”

I picked it up, looked at it and said, “It’s a Hall Pass.”

“For your school?”

“Yeah, with this I can get out of Study Hall and go to the Library.”

Mal said, “It’s a Hall Pass to a pretty how town. Now back in the old Hillburn School we didn’t have Hall Passes. You either was where you belonged or got a whipping.”

I shoved the pass into my pocket and we climbed into his pick-up. As we drove around Mountain Avenue we turned the corner at Fourth Street and Mal indicated the old school across the way. “That’s just a simple country school house but you know a poet can come out of most anywhere.” As we drove along the street and out of the village, through the valley brilliant with autumn color, I felt that little crumpled bit of paper in my pocket and thought about how a lot of small things and some big ones led me to reading poetry: a hunting accident, led to surgery, led to extra study halls, led to Hall Passes to the school library, or as Uncle Mal observed, to a pretty how town.

A Time For Every Purpose

And the beginning of this month it was time for a mountain top wedding in our beloved Harriman State Park.

Daniel Bieber (camp administrative director and my son) married Ayla Dunn (daughter of Scott Dunn, camp program director).

So we now have some extra ‘titles’ to add to our relationships: son-in law, daughter-in-law, fathers-in-law. Some people have joked that this was an arranged marriage, as in former dynasty days, to bring together two families (who have been close anyway from the time the ‘kids’ were young) in order to solidify and expand the ’empire’.

Those of you who have known us at The Nature Place over the last 30 years are probably smiling, knowing we say this with tongue very much in cheek. We are happy being who we are, nature-oriented and non-competitive. Those who have met us three bearded gentlemen – Ed, Scott, and Daniel – know that we appear more like the Smith brothers on the cough drop packages rather than the Koch brothers.

The day Ayla and Daniel chose for the wedding hike was unusual. For many weeks before and after the wedding date the weather was superb – sunny blue sky days, moderate temperatures, just perfect. But you can guess that day wasn’t.

With raincoats, long underwear, sweaters, hats, ponchos and boots, small groups of the 120 guests followed the winding, in some places steep, trail. It looked like a group of pilgrims forging ahead through  the cold and gray and wind-blown rain to finally arrive at their destination.

And they all did. The mountain top (which I had carried Daniel to the top of when he was a baby in my backpack) offered a 360 degree view of sky, mountains, lakes, the natural world everywhere you looked. Also on top the wind was stronger, the cold colder, the sky felt lower and darker and the rain began to come down more heavily. These conditions made the rather large group of us huddle close together as Daniel and Ayla, in their wedding finest (they got dressed on top of the mountain!) shared their wedding vows with what felt like the whole world as background. There was a flower girl and boy and a ring bearer.

All of us on the top seemed to make an invisible cocoon around us and the bride and groom. The environment felt electric (no, there were no thunderstorms), spiritual, dynamic. We all knew that this/everything was part of a truly authentic, magic moment that each of us present will keep forever. We were all reminded that even though the day was dark, the sun was still shining – you just had to imagine above the clouds.

wedding

Open House and Apple Pressing

Join The Nature Place for our autumn open house on Saturday, October 24th, between 1 and 4 pm. Stop by any time to take a tour of camp (the leaves should still be beautiful!), learn what we do during summertime, and why we do it (non-competitive or cooperative games and hands-on play and learning in nature), meet us face-to-face, and really get a feel for how things are at The Nature Place.

Arrive right at 1 pm to help us press apples into apple cider! Want to know what fall tastes like? Just drink some apple cider. Fresh-pressed apple cider brings the crunch of fall leaves, the smell of ripe pumpkins, and the chilly autumn air right to your taste buds in one sip. We’ll need able hands to toss apples in our hopper, spin the grinding wheel as we crush apples, and help turn the press to squeeze our juice out.

Apple Pressing

Our autumn house and apple pressing event will both take place at 307 Hungry Hollow Road in Chestnut Ridge, NY 10977.