Nettles – if you can’t beat them, drink them

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It is now, officially (in Shoogly Towers-land) Homebrew Season. The time of year when we rope in the YMs, Gamford and anyone else with wellies (to guard against nettle stings) and access to a plastic bag/bucket to help us scour the hedgerows for ingredients.

Just like seeing Seville oranges hit the shops in January and being spurred on to make marmalade, the sight of a snap of Lady June of Langlee shucking some early elderflowers to make elderflower champagne for her birthday was enough to cause a homebrew frenzy at Shoogly Towers.

In fact, for our first brew of the season, no grubbing along the hedgerows was needed. All of the main ingredients came from our garden. I probably should be ashamed to admit what the raw ingredients are, seeing as they are things that most folk try and rid their garden of – nettles, sticky willy and dandelions.

Yes, our first hooch of the Shoogly homebrew season will be nettle beer and nettle wine. Mr E was quite concerned about the sting – would this affect the drinker? He feared one sip would result in a collagen-stylee trout pout.

I had to assure him that – or so I read – the act of boiling up the brews before a long simmer would put paid to that. Slightly reassured, he remains second in the queue to try it.

So the clothes are slowly being evicted from the airing cupboard as the demi-johns and cloth-covered tubs move in. Airing cupboards. Soooooo over-rated. Just chuck the clothes straight in the drawers.

And how satisfying will it be when we finally drink it, knowing that we are helping to decimate the nettle population. After years of pulling them up, chopping them down and digging them out every spring, we have resorted to the final solution – drinking them out.

It’s a first for me, and so far it looks like horrible muck. The Young Mistress pronounced it ‘sludge’. Yuk. Let’s only hope it tastes about a million per cent better than it looks.

Next on the list is elderflower wine and, taking Lady June’s lead, we went out gleaning the first flowers which have started appearing over the last couple of weeks. An enjoyable, sultry summery evening saw the shoogly nippers and Gamford filling a pail with the sweet-smelling sprays of creamy flowers.

Once the elderflowers are in full bloom, we’ll be out again, picking for cordial and – my absolute favourite elderflower product – strawberry and elderflower jam.

There’s nothing like a slice of freshly-made bread, spread with butter and strawberry and elderflower jam. To me, close your eyes and it is the taste of summer. Worth keeping a jar for the deepest, darkest winter month. Better than a shot under a sunlamp.