Nettles for sale at Stoke Newington farmers’ market, £1.60 for 100 grams! With a sign saying ‘they sting!’ I blame that Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and his article in the Observer colour magazine recently (which I came across inadvertently of course, I don’t normally read the sunday paper mountains.) And only the day before the entrepreneur-proprietor of the Table restaurant in Southwark Street which we or rather my colleague Ian supplies with salad leaves was asking for nettles. And dandelion leaves, which incidentally can be forced, like rhubarb, to make the leaves less bitter, thus confusing the distinction between foraging and cultivating. And when I jokingly mentioned chickweed, which in late winter was on sale at the market for what was the outrageous price of £1.30 until I saw how much they want for nettles, he became even more enthusiastic. And we must have thrown about 50 quids worth of the stuff on various compost heaps last week.
On monday we’ll be out in Mint Street park with scissors and gloves selecting the finest, freshest nettle shoots for the restaurant. It’s a long time now since Richard Mabey’s Food for Free came out; it sat withering in the dust on many ageing book shelves, but maybe now its time has really come. Except it’s not free is it? It’s very expensive. £16 a kilo for nettles makes it more expensive than just about any other food you could think of.
Actually of course it’s both free and very expensive, and I’ll sign off now before falling into and becoming tediously lost in the contradictions of our post-modern, post-agricultural, post-industrial society.