On a recent sunny weekday afternoon, noted Northwest forager and “Fat of the Land” author (and blogger) Langdon Cook stood in a clearing in the Gazzam Lake preserve shaking a clipping from a stinging nettle.
“I remember the first time I got stung by nettles as a kid .. and then years later I have a distinct and fresh memory of eating them, having my revenge,” he said.
And with that, he and 16 people from Bainbridge Island, Seattle, Tacoma and trekked through the woodlands, snipping at a seemingly endless supply of the weed. They filled baskets and paper sacks and in a Strawberry Hill Park kitchen, sauteed onions, potatoes, garlic, added stock and whirled in freshly washed (using tongs) nettles into a a nettle soup.
From the taste, this revenge was a dish best served … with a scrape of nutmeg. The nettles added a bright note to the soup, which was akin to a potato leek style. No blistered tongues were found (boiling or drying destroys many of the stinging compounds in the nettle hairs), though I did feel a slight and very likely psychosomatic tingle on my tongue.
In the search for new tastes and exotic foods, it can be easy to forget that a walk through the woods can offer an edible bounty. It’s a lesson I’ve often forgotten, and one I was gratefully reminded of this week as I shot video for Tristan Baurick’s story on nettles.
As a kid, my grandma used to come home from a friend’s Hood Canal beachfront house with strands of seaweed, occasional bunches of horsetail shoots or bags of woodsy mushrooms. Or she’d put a garden shovel in my hand and tell me to dig fast for those butter clams.
A renewed appreciation for the food around us — and a way to entice foodies outdoors — is one Bainbridge Metro Park and Recreation District’s Jeff Ozimek hopes to spark with a series of spring and summer classes called “Bounty of the Land.”
“One of my biggest passions is going to hike in the woods and being able to figure out what to eat,” he said.
The classes, which opened for registration this week, will be led by Cook and others and range from digging and cooking shellfish on the beach to picking berries for pies. Classes cost $30 to $75 for island residents, though for $5 extra, non-residents can take them too. They encourage you to sign up early; some classes fill fast while others may be cancelled if there aren’t enough people who sign up.
Oyster gardening, April 11: Take a tour of the Taylor Shellfish Hatchery, learn aout the gear you need, when to harvest and sample a variety of oysters on the half shell. Cost: $29.
Shellfish Foraging and Cooking, May 1 (repeated May 18): Visit Taylor Shellfish Farms with Langdon Cook to learn about several species of Puget Sound shellfish, learn how to shcuk them and cook a batch with a champagne vinegar and white wine sauce. Cost: $49.
Geoduck Dig, June 15: Hunt for the difficult-to-get geoduck with Langdon Cook and learn how to cook the briny delicacy. Cost: $75.
I hope to take a couple more of BI Parks’ classes this year, and would love to hear from any of you who do the same.