Four women and a baby went foraging at the Welsh Harp reservoir last week to make nettle pesto for our stall at the Mapesbury Residents Association AGM.
The Welsh Harp is Brent's only site of special scientific interest, so it was sad to see litter and debris - a sign that people are camping out there, as in many open areas these days. When picking nettles its best to avoid areas by paths prone to dog poo, but we wondered where the rough sleepers may have been too! A kestrel hovering nearby reminded us that wildlife was also enjoying this open green space, and with canoeing on the water on the other side, the area has a lot to offer.
We found the best nettles growing in shaded woodland. It is best to pick young green shoots and only the top 4 or 5 leaves. Older woody stems are not great for pesto as they soak up the oil and can be fibrous, though nettles can be picked all the year round if you pick the tips. At this time of year wild garlic is also making itself known by offering a garlicky aroma. We picked stems and leaves to add to our collection. And Vendy also showed us edible flowers of white nancy lamium. The weather stayed kind to us, but rain the night before meant muddy paths. So good footwear, long sleeves and trousers, and gloves are needed for this job – they are called stinging nettles after all!
After lunch back in Dollis Hill we sorted, rinsed, blanched and squeezed our found greens to prepare them for the pesto. We used this recipe and adapted it to make a batch with walnuts and wild garlic. Walnuts are less expensive than pine nuts, and tastier and pretty nutritious too! Unless you have a super blender, we found it best to use a stick blender or mortar & pestle to grind the nuts and garlic with oil first. After a lot of tasting, adding more parmesan, lemon or salt, we filled small jars ready for our stall. These will keep for a week or so in the fridge – you can also freeze spoonfuls to use when needed.
Our efforts were rewarded with all produce sold, and many tasters were handed out to the great and good of Mapesbury. As one local resident declared, “hey pesto!”
See photos here
You may like to read about last year's foraging here.