I've been into the nettle patch behind the sheriff's deputy's house for about two weeks now, picking weirdly early new nettle tops.
About a week ago, I'd picked up a big bag of nettles and then went out gathering scallops and clams on the beach. Oddly enough, Dan and I have discovered we're not really crazy about shellfish. I like finding 'em, but I'd rather hand 'em over to some other gatherer. So I wandered over with my little bucket of finds and offered 'em to the Quilleute lady and her grandson who were gathering chitons and sand clams on the reef.
We got to talking about the nettles. She said that her people used to eat them, but she didn't know anybody who did now. But when I described 'em -- "better than spinach" -- she said she wanted to try them. So I added a baggie of nettles to the shellfish.
Later on they showed up at our place, and asked if they could wash their hands. No problem -- and they asked if we liked fish. Oh, yeah. Fish we like.
The next thing we knew, we had a fillet of bright red-fleshed silver-sided steelhead in hand.
Whoa. If you think salmon or trout are good... and steelhead is something I'll probably never catch or eat -- too many regulations for an over-fished animal anyway. Didn't want to add to the pressure. But the First Nations, of course, have always included it in their diet. So if two of 'em wanted to share -- we weren't turning it down!
(Actually, this is a gift culture out here -- turning down a gift is -- well, imagine turning down a gift from a Japanese. On that level).
A couple days ago, the sheriff's deputy's wife, Angie, and her mother saw what I was doing and asked what the heck was with picking those stinggy plants ("stinggy" -- it's a word. People use it).
So I described how to steam them like spinach, and rub them on arthritis. Angie wanted to try, so I gave her a little plastic baggie of the nettles, warning her that she had to drop them into hot water or hot bacon fat before touching them. They will sting.
Today I was walking past her house, and when she waved, I asked her if she wanted any more nettles.
She held both hands out.
Well, it's a southern family -- and you know southerners and their greens. Her mom even pulled up a few nettles to take home and plant in her garden! Hilarious -- because Lewis county is full of nettles anyway.
We've decided that our nettles are juicier and more buttery.
Wow. Nettles aren't just good for making greens and fishing line and curing arthritic pain -- they're good for making friends.
And catching fish.