I really did wish I'd had a sausage. And/or a camera.
We were thrilled. We'd brushed with some mythical creature, like a Tasmanian tiger or a unicorn, this doggy beast, not much bigger than our (admittedly enormous) cats, dusky auburn furred with a dark brown tip to her tail and dark brown legs, who'd paused long enough and close enough that we could see the smile of her foxy mouth, skinny, unworried, out on the town, looking for - I don't know - the odds and ends of people's fish and chips? the good-tasting things that get dropped near public bins? rats? We probably shouldn't have been thrilled, given our duties to our chooks (although it's hard to imagine such a skinny little carnivore making much headway with the 4kg (+ beak) of Esme or Shirley Australorp). I know they're killers (who isn't, really? not even the veganiest of us can survive without displacing someone else from their habitat). Sometimes they kill creatures whose deaths in turn affect whole systems and their inhabitants. On the other paw, those systems are themselves so irreparably disrupted that in some cases a fox might have a stabilising effect. I'm thinking of rabbits, of course. Another dear carnivore friend of mine, Harriet Cat, amazingly caught herself a sparrow yesterday morning, then dismembered it on my Nepalese felt rug. Bad cat, sweet sparrow, but then, too many sparrows aren't so sweet, and a cat.owes it to herself to eat, and better to eat free-range sparrow than fish trawled out of the ocean and sold in tins, so good cat.
So we were thrilled. I love a feral.
Last year a nettle sprang up unbidden in one of our veggie patches. Nettles are infamous for the formic acid they carry in their hairs, and it's true, if you touch a bare nettle with your bare skin, there will be itching. But! the dudes are edible, and high in iron and calcium! And it is the firm belief of my beloved, an amateur cheesesmith, that they can somehow be used as a kind of rennet-substitute to assist in the coagulation of milk (as, allegedly, can fig-sap and mallow). The thought of growing something as notoriously badass in our vegetable patch appealed – the vegetable-growing equivalent of whatever we experienced in socialising with last night's fox – so we let last year's nettle go to seed, and this year have had ten thousand nettle seedlings to contend with.
We've been chucking nettles into soups with such abandon you'd think we hadn't heard of other greens. They're best harvested by someone adept in the use of scissors and plastic bags, or someone with a pair of gloves, although the people who talk about grasping the nettle (presumably bare-handed) always say it like it's a good thing, so you're welcome to conduct that experiment in your own time. Once they've been cooked they're 100% sting free, and taste ... sort of underwhelming ... and look sort of emerald-fading-to-khaki and soggy. I have been talking bold talk about nettle pesto and nettle gnocci and nettle spanakopita, but these pleasures are yet to transpire. I think I'm more wrapped in the idea of my own derring-do than the actual culinary experience. Prickly ferals on a plate, ftw.