The Story of Frog Hollow's Stinging Nettle Pesto

The Story of Frog Hollow's Stinging Nettle Pesto

Developing a new product for Frog Hollow is often an adventure and definitely a team effort. I never know when inspiration will hit and where it will take me. A typical day might start like this:

Wearing his trademark overalls, Farmer Al walks into the office to talk with our Marketing director, Pearl, about mail order sales and new marketing initiatives. As he is leaving the office, he sees me and his thoughts shift to new products.

“Anna, what can we do with nettle? We have a lot of it!”

"Well," I say as I run through options in my mind, "we could make it in to a pesto, put it in a soup... I’ve made it in to a tea before, but it has kind of an earthy flavor, and I am not sure if it would sell that well. It’s really good for you, because it's high in antioxidants, iron, and can even help with arthritis if you use it topically. Can you sell it fresh at a farmers' market? I’ve definitely seen people do that before."

“Sounds great. Make something good. Can't wait to taste it!"

Farmer Al leaves the office and I immediately get distracted from whatever I was working on and start thinking of nettle. Okay, we have a lot of nettle. We also have arugula, kale, and parsley in the garden. A pesto will be the best way to use all of these greens, and will probably be popular, too.

The next step is to make a plan with our vegetable gardeners Kristin and Marlene for the best way to harvest this wonderful weed growing abundantly in their garden. “Hey ladies, Al wants me to make a product with the nettle. Can you harvest it for me? Please make sure to only harvest the young tender plants or cut near the tips – I don't want the stalk or roots."

“Why don’t you use the entire stem," asks Marlene. "It's so much easier for us.”
“It’s just a little woody and fibrous. Plus, there is a ton of dirt that sticks to the bottom of the stem, and it’s hard clean. If you don't get every bit of dirt then the pesto gets a little gritty. I know our soil is super nutritious, but I don’t really want to serve it to our customers."

Now that I have conversed with the farmers, it’s time to clue the kitchen staff in on our new project. I walk into the kitchen with a giant bucket of stinging nettle and the ladies look at me as if I were mad. Why is she cleaning weeds in the sink? Curiosity draws them closer. A couple of the ladies examine the nettles a little too close.

“Esta pica!” ("It has spikes" in Spanish)

"This is stinging nettle. It’s really good for you, and we are going to make it into a pesto. It’s a little painful to work with at first, but you get used to it after the first time, and it’s great for arthritis. You will learn to love it."
They look at me like I am loco, but we carry on. Despite Marlene and Kristin's best effort, there is still a lot of dirt to get off the nettles and it's no walk in the park handling the plant. Once they are clean, we blanch the nettles and portion them into little bags to store in the freezer. When we are ready to make a batch of pesto, we just take out a bag and blend it with parsley, garlic, arugula and extra virgin olive oil. It turns a beautiful green and has a bright herbaceous flavor.
This stinging weed which was growing in surplus on the farm is now part of some of our best selling and popular products. We are using the pesto to garnish our café menu items such as soup and pizza.

I leave the kitchen and run into Kristin.

“How did it go?” asks Kristin.

“Good, but I am sore from cooking and moving around all day.”

“Do you want me to whack some nettle on your shoulders?" Kristin smiles. "I did it the other night. At first it tingled and was a little painful, but my muscles were relaxed for the rest of the night. It’s pretty awesome, actually.”


-Anna Buss, Culinary Coordinator, Frog Hollow Farm
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