Saturday, November 7, 2009

Getting Nettled

It’s not what you think. But yes, it's a drug.

You can’t quite see them, but I am holding thousands of tiny hypodermic syringes poised to protect one of my favorite foods from, well, foragers like me. Among many other things, Urtica, stinging nettles, make excellent ravioli and delicious soup. Favoring the spring at the bottom of our property, rains and cooler weather bring it out in the spring and autumn, free for the taking. I just have to be careful when I pick it.

Whenever I see stinging nettles I also make sure to note where this plant grows. We call it curly dock in the States. The two are almost always found near each other. Which is handy if you happen to get an unasked-for injection. The oxalic acid in it neutralizes nettle venom.

Ever since I learned this trick camping as a Boy Scout, I've tried to "be prepared" and know where the dock is when nettles come into view. This has come in handy for me around the world. For instance, that time last spring when Sally waded inadvertently into our nettle patch in shorts. She said her legs were on fire. I get a kick out of how rubbing a woman's legs with weeds can cause her to swoon with relief and utter the phrase “my hero.”

Considered a noxious weed by the US Department of Agriculture, stinging nettles are the highest plant food source of iron there is, and they deliver 40% protein, very high for any leafy green. Their taste (after boiling to remove the irritant) is somewhere in the spinach range, but greener, herbier, weedier. Ralph Waldo Emerson said: “A weed is just a plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered.” Spinach was a weed once, too.

Did I say nettles are a drug? They have anti-arthritic and anti-inflammatory qualities, among others. But above that, they are the reason your Mama said "eat your greens." They are just plain good for you. Isn’t food an excellent drug?

Friday, November 6, 2009

First thing this morning

I couldn't resist. This was my view looking toward the ruined castle of Montelifere from the property this morning. I've only seen such full sun double rainbows in two other places: The back side of Maui, the Grand Canyon.

Those who've read my last post will understand when I say there really is a pot of gold at the end of this one, and it's green.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Green Gold

Giovanni and his family are still picking olives. This is what it's all about. Extra virgin, low acid, herby, grassy, spicey. It's green because of polyphenols, antioxidants you only get by picking early by hand and milling immediately.

The spicy kick you get in the back of the throat is from the polyphenols, too. If a bottle says Tuscan and it doesn't have that kick, you have to wonder where it's from or how old it is. Because of it, one way people around here characterize their new oil is on the "cougher" scale. When I tasted my friend Roberto's new oil, he was pleased. "That's a 3-cougher," he grinned.

Picking early means yields are low, so we only get a liter or two per tree on average, 15-18% of the olive's weight in oil. 400 kilos yields about 60 liters of oil. It's a lot of work and despite prices in the states, there's no money in it at this scale at this end of the pipeline. It's a labor of love. If you're ever lucky enough to get a bottle of our oil, please store it carefully out of heat and light and use it up within 6-months for best taste.

After visiting the Montisi olive festival, I treated myself to the confluence of my four favorite flavors from my favorite season: new oil, new wine (the original beaujolais nouveau), cinta senese proscuito (like Spanish pata negra), and a fresh white truffle (second to none). What could be better on a sunny Sunday afternoon?