Frogs, fish and stinging nettles…April 7, 2010
I learned a new use for wine that has nothing to do with drinking. The Monday after Easter is a jour férié in France as it’s the first long weekend in spring, everyone is ready to play outside. My in-laws invited family over for a couscous lunch. The weather was superb and the kids spent most of their time exploring the grounds. Their favorite play area was near the water basin where they spent most of the day catching frogs. We’ve had numerous frog generations make their home in the basin, however, since Kitty came to live with us, their numbers have decreased. The kids had the idea of capture one or two, keep them in captive until they reproduce thus repopulating the basin.
The water flows from the stone wash basin, along an ancient roman waterway that lines the path, down through the woods to a creek. It was, of course, necessary for the kids to follow this water flow to its end in search of more frogs and apparently, rocks and sticks to decorate Frog’s new home.
Sadly, Frog didn’t make it through lunch. During the jostling during relocation of her new home in a water pitcher swiped from my cupboard, somehow she became squished under the large rock meant to be her bed. She will not be participating in the repopulation of the water basin.
Shortly after this adventure, Olivia came running back to the garden complaining that she had been piqued by ortie, or stinging nettles. Her legs were riddled with little red bumps that burn and itch. Immediately, a cousin took a napkin doused in wine and applied it to the marks. I imagine the alcohol in the wine was the property that helped, but it worked. An hour later the bumps were gone and Olivia was back to hanging over the water basin with her cousins – this time fishing for the two or three large goldfish which share the murky water with the frogs. Just a typical jour férié in Provence.
I was surprised to learn that this stinging ortie is the same plant used to make the soup that is so popular in the region. In fact, it is the leaves of the nettle which are used in the soup. Apparently they are used in tea as well. I can’t understand who would want to eat soup made from something with the name stinging nettle. It doesn’t sound very appetising, at least the English name. Ortie, however, sounds exotic – soupe d’ortie.
For that matter, who came up with the idea of making soup out of this plant to begin with. The soup is made from the first leaves of the spring. Gloves are a must when picking them. I have never tried to make it and would have to ask Raphael or Olivia to show me what the plant looks like. I do want to share with you a recipe I found in a book containing tips from French grandma’s. But if picking stinging nettles for soup is not your thing, I have tried a good one from this company http://www.panierdumaraicher.fr/.
2 cups of stinging nettle leaves
4 large potatoes
4 1/2 cups water
1/4 cup crème fraîche
salt and pepper
Remove the stems from the nettle leaves and cook the leaves in two tablespoons of butter until soft. Peal the potatoes and chop them into small cubes. Add the water, potatoes, salt and pepper to the nettle leaves and cook for 20 minutes. It says to pass them through a vegetable mill but a blender works just fine as well. Add the crème fraîche. Serve.