It’s feasting time here at our Appalachian mountain cabin. The morels have come and gone, the ramps are getting scarce, but the branch lettuce and stinging nettles are in full swing.
Take a little walk with me to the creek and we’ll collect some branch lettuce for a salad and some stinging nettles for pesto. We’re heading though the yard to the woods where it’s damp and creeky.
Lookie here! Right in the middle of our mountain creek, grows our appetizer and salad! To the left is branch lettuce (Saxifraga micranthidifolia), and to the bottom right are stinging nettles.
My good friend, Effie Price taught me about branch lettuce. She was born in our Big Pine cabin in 1914.
She said to me, “You pluck the tender leaves out of the middle of the plant in April before it blooms, and then you wash them good. Then you kill ‘em with bacon grease.” So if you are graced with this treat, fry up a couple slices of bacon in a skillet, leave a little of the fat in the pan and cook up a chopped ramp if you have one, then quickly stir your branch lettuce in the pan until it wilts. Effie would have just drizzled the hot fat over the branch lettuce. A sprinkle of salt and a drop of your favorite vinegar and you’re good to go.
Ok, so this is an Appalachian style stinging nettle. See the pokey things sticking out all over? Well watch out … if you brush up against them, they’ll make you holler and want to throw yourself in the freezing mountain stream water for relief.
Put some lovely blue gloves on and cut the tender tops off the plant. I like to harvest when the plants are little and the leaves are tender. Do harvest before the plant flowers.Nettles cook down to nothing, so you’ll need a fair amount.
Now, my friend, Jeanie is going to share how she makes her stinging nettle pesto. In the next post, I’ll talk about our ladyslipper party in the woods behind our house where we enjoyed this garlicky pesto which we topped with a dollup of ramp aioli. Now that’s some odiferously delicious treat!
P.S. That’s a Jack-in-the-pulpit plant on the table in the pot next to the pesto. They’re not for eating, but my friend Jean who made the ramp aioli also grows Appalachian natives from seed.
Jeanie’s Stinging Nettle Pesto
About 2 cups of rinsed young stinging nettle leaves (no stems!)*
2 cloves garlic
A handful of whatever nuts you have (walnuts, almonds, etc.)
A drizzle of olive oil
Put nettles, garlic, and nuts into food processor and, while running, drizzle in enough olive oil to make a smooth consistency.
*I plunge my nettles into boiling water a second to de-sting. Jeanie and everybody else I know will tell you that this is not necessary. As long as you only have the leaves, the processing should de-sting them. I’m not taking any chances!
Serve with crackers, as a dip, on pasta, bruschetta, on cooked heirloom white beans. Definitely serve with home-made mead!