4.28.11 Deer Hunter
iphotos by gluttonforlife
In my quest for wild edibles, I dredged up a distant memory of my friend Julia telling me about a morel she had once found at her weekend place nearby. So I headed over there, still dreaming of a big score. Her house has been closed up all winter long and as I drove up a big, fat groundhog scurried across the lawn. She has a beautiful piece of land that slopes down to a brook, now swollen from all the rains. Plenty of skunk cabbage along the bank, a favorite snack for bears. No sign of morels, sadly, though I did find a nice patch of stinging nettles. They must be picked and handled with care—heavy gloves do the trick—as the stems and undersides of the lovely, heart-shaped leaves are covered with fine spines that release irritating formic acid upon contact (like the sting you get from fire ants and bees). Nettles are surprisingly high in protein and deliver lots of calcium, magnesium, iron and potassium, among other vitamins and minerals. For millennia, they have been prized for their anti-inflammatory properties. Their delightful green color and spinach-y flavor makes a wonderful spring soup. And the skull pictured above? Stay tuned for an episode of CSI: Sullivan County.
The first clue was that skull, clearly that of a small deer. Notice the large, flat teeth for gnashing grass. As I scanned the big open meadow, I saw several spots of white. They turned out to be tufts of hair and bits of deer hide scattered about. The piece above was the biggest one.
assorted vertebrae and other bones
I followed the tufts of deer hide into the woods at the edge of the meadow and discovered this pile of bones, including assorted vertebrae. The deer may well have died of natural causes, but the trail of evidence suggested that the carcass had been dragged.
This coyote scat brought everything into focus. Picking it apart with a stick, I saw that it contained lots of hair (quite common in coyote scat) as well as a couple of deer teeth. The small bones indicate a young deer so I wouldn't rule out the possibility that it had fallen prey to one or a pack of coyotes. Unless you have another theory, Watson.
stinging nettles look quite a bit like shiso
After all that excitement (yes, I find forensics thrilling), I returned to the nettle patch. Remember to wear heavy gloves when handling this feisty plant. It makes a delicious, healthy and detoxifying soup. If you're not in the mood for that, perhaps you'd like to try this recipe
for nettle pesto.
Stinging Nettle Soup
— 1 pound russet potatoes, peeled
— coarse sea salt
— 4 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
— 3 tablespoons olive oil
— 1 1/2 medium yellow onions, finely chopped
— 4 cups packed nettle leaves
— 4 cups homemade chicken stock
— heavy cream, or whisked crème fraîche, for drizzling
— freshly ground black pepper
Place potatoes in a medium pot and cover with cold water by about 2"; add 1 1/2 teaspoons salt. Bring to a boil, and cook until potatoes are just tender, about 25 minutes. Drain, then cool completely. Cut into 1/4" dice; set aside.
Melt butter with the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add onions and nettle leaves; cook, stirring often, until onions are softened but not browned, about 5 minutes. Add stock, 1/2 cup water and a 1 1/2 teaspoons salt; stir to combine. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until nettle leaves have softened, about 30 minutes. Let cool slightly.
Puree nettle mixture with a small handful of the cooked potatoes until smooth, using an immersion blender, food processor or Vitamix. Reheat soup over low heat. Divide among serving bowls. Garnish with the remaining potatoes and drizzle with cream. Season with pepper and serve.