“The peasants of Gascony beat a faithless wife wi’ nettles,” he said. He lowered the spiky bunch of leaves and rushed the flower heads lightly across one breast. I gasped from the sudden sting, and a faint red blotch appeared as though by magic on my skin.
“Will ye have me do so?” he asked. “Shall I punish you that way?”
“If you…if you like.” My lips were trembling so hard I could barely get out the words. A few crumbs of earth from the nettles’ roots had fallen between my breasts; one rolled down the slope of my ribs, dislodged by my pounding heart, I imagined. The welt on my breast burned like fire. I closed my eyes, imagining in vivid detail exactly what being thrashed with a bunch of nettles would feel like.
Suddenly the viselike grip on my wrist relaxed. I opened my eyes to find Jamie sitting cross-legged by me, the plants thrown aside and scattered on the ground. He had a faint, rueful smile on his lips.
“I beat you once in justice, Sassenach, and ye threatened to disembowel me with my own dirk. Now you’ll ask me to whip ye wi’ nettles?” He shook his head slowly, wondering, and his hand reached as though by its own volition to cup my cheek. “Is my pride worth so much to you , then?”
“Yes! Yes, it bloody is!” I sat up myself, and grasped him by the shoulders, taking both of us by surprise as I kissed him hard and awkwardly.
Diana Gabaldon, Dragonfly in Amber (Chapter 29)
I’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of that one stinging nettle passage over the years. It’s inspired everything from Claire’s Nettle-Kissed Buns, to these Spankakopita Bridies, to the nettle and bacon omelette I shared with My Englishman for this morning’s breakfast.
Living in a Pacific Northwest rain forest has only increased my nettle fixation. The plants generally pop up from under the leaf mould of the forest floor in mid February, and stay sweet until about mid-April. After that, the stalks get spindly and the leaves bitter.
In other parts of North America, as well as Europe and Australia, the nettles are on a different timeline, but if you’re interested in foraging for these tasty greens, a quick google of your location + “stinging nettles” should get you off to a good start. Don’t forget to wear long sleeves, pants and protective gloves. I take a pair of rubber dish gloves and my kitchen shears when I go picking.
Hundreds of years ago, Highlanders depended upon stinging nettles to fill in part of the food gap that resulted annually after the kitchen garden’s last winter crop of kale failed in early spring. Full of iron and high in many vitamins and trace minerals, nettles were added to brose, stews and soups.
Today, nettles are reemerging as a popular wild food. On my little island, you’ll find a number of nettle foragers; some dry it for tea, others pick a few leaves daily to blend into their morning smoothie, and a few hardcore pickers like myself pick and blanch pounds of nettles to freeze as source of free food all spring long.
To make the filling for these bridies, I blanched several (gloved) handfuls of young nettle tops in boiling salted water for a minute. I then shocked the greens in ice water to cool them down immediately and preserve their bright green colour. I spun them dry in a salad spinner, but wringing them out in a clean dish towel also works.
If you don’t have access to nettles, use fresh blanched spinach. Frozen works too!
Stinging Nettle Spanakopita Bridies
- 3 cups chopped, blanched stinging nettles or spinach, wrung dry
- 1 small onion, julienned
- 1 cup crumbled feta
- 1/4 cup fresh chopped oregano or 1 tablespoon dried
- 1 small potato, peeled and diced
- 1 clove garlic, grated or minced
- Pinch red pepper flakes
- salt and pepper
- 1 recipe Short Crust Pastry, chilled
- 1 egg beaten with 1 teaspoon water for egg wash
Move the rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 400 degrees F.
In a medium bowl, combine all the filling ingredients and toss to mix well.
On a lightly floured board, roll out the one of the pasty discs into a rough circle about 1/8-inch thick. Slide a pastry scraper under the dough periodically as you roll it out to prevent sticking. Cut (4) 4-inch circles from the dough, then roll each circle to lengthen into a slight oblong.
Pile 1/8 of the filling onto the bottom half of each oblong, leaving a 1/2” border to seal. Fold the top half over to make a pie. Press, then crimp the edges to seal well, and with a sharp knife make a slit or hole on the top of each pie to vent the steam. Repeat with the remaining pastry and filling.
Arrange on a parchment-lined baking sheet and brush with the egg wash. Bake until golden, about 30 minutes. Cool slightly before serving.
I served this beautiful, crystal clear turkey consommé alongside our bridies. Also inspired by Dragonfly in Amber, this recipe is a variation on the beef consommé recipe I posted a couple of years ago. I used some homemade turkey stock that I made after Christmas, and substituted a couple of small, minced chicken breasts for the ground beef in the recipe. When simmered with egg whites and a few veggies, the stock clarifies – see my ipad camera and finger reflected in the bowl? – and deepens in flavour.
If you’ve never tried consommé, it’s hard to put words its richness that nourishes the body and soul like nothing else. The perfect sustenance during these last waning, cold nights of winter.