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NETTLE SOUP & LILAC CORDIAL
(& OTHER THINGS MUGGLES OUGHT NOT TO KNOW ABOUT)
Although Valentina now had two jobs, the money was so little and her bills so great in relation –the vet and the electric company were both threatening to sue again if she didn't pay up an amount which was far more than she could afford each month and wouldn't see reason– she struggled even to pay for food with what little was left. She had finished the remaining, 'last resort' foods in the cupboards a while back (except for the chutney, which she decided she would rather go hungry than eat any more of). It was fortunate spring had arrived, because she was able to supplement her meagre diet quite well and not feel too sorry for herself by collecting lots of wild things, which she would have been happy to eat in the good times anyway.
She made salads of young hawthorn leaves, sorrel, and the first primroses and dog-violets poking out, garnished with goose eggs and a dressing of olive oil, wild garlic and lemon juice and a tiny bit of the dreaded chutney, which actually tasted very nice disguised in that way. She pickled stalks of thistle, and made stinging nettle cordial, and dug up dandelion root and dry roasted it to make a sort of coffee. She also luckily found a crop of potatoes, in the small abandoned greenhouse in the tire planters she had made a couple years back as an experiment. By some great stroke of luck, they had seeded and grown by themselves and had either stayed fresh in the soil over the entire winter, or had grown incredibly early as it was still only the beginning of spring. She picked a load of stinging nettles and many days made nettle and potato soup. Even with the increased nourishment, Valentina still looked worryingly unwell and felt weak and tired all of the time.
Lucius found the girl's diet very strange, but intriguing. It was the sort of fairies' food the ancient ones ate in their traditional stories. At his next Muggle immersion outing, Lucius made a point of asking at the market for: «chardon marinées, racines séchées de pissenlit, baies d'aubépine, soupe aux orties et sirop d'ortie» (pickled thistle, dried dandelion root, hawthorn berries, nettle soup and nettle syrup) but only received strange looks from the vendors. Although, one vegetable seller did have some sorrel. At the book shop, he handed them his list and enquired if there was a book with recipes for any of the things on it. The shop assistants looked down with mild astonishment at the neatly folded piece of snow-white parchment with quill writing in scented, aqua coloured ink. They hadn't heard of «salade de feuilles d'aubépine, primevères et violettes, chardon marinées, sirop d'ortie» or any of the things on the strange list and couldn't suggest a book that even had similar recipes.
Lucius went to the kitchens at home later that evening. He scanned the pantry and brought out several urns and jars: salad thistle with herbs in olive oil, dried nettles and dried hawthorn and various slender bottles of cordials from Doucereux et Fils: nettle, lilac, elderflower and linden. He took out the small box of nettle tea he had purchased from the health food store during his outing and opened one of the bags out onto a plate, which he compared with their own dried nettles. He smelled each specimen carefully and tasted a bit of each for comparison. The Muggle nettle didn't taste of much.
As he was opening the bottle of nettle cordial, Sander came in. He was peckish and pleased Lucius had taken out the salad thistles. As Sander went about making himself a warm salad, Lucius busied himself making a glass of nettle cordial, which took him an inordinate amount of time considering he only had to pour a rough measure of cordial into a glass and dilute it with water. Sander was sitting at the centre island eating his salad with a piece of bread, while Lucius was still measuring the cordial out, squinting carefully and stopping as he poured little by little.
"You want me to make that for you?"
"No, of course not. It's just a glass of cordial."
"Oh. Well is it alright if I make some for me?"
Lucius grimaced and passed Sander the bottle and in a few seconds they both had a tall glass of the fragrant cordial in spring water.
"I had forgotten this is one of my favourite cordials. Doucereux makes it very well."
"Linden or elderflower were generally my favourites since childhood, but I think lilac and nettle are both equally as nice – tasting them again,"
"Do you know, the Muggles do not have nettle or lilac cordial in the stores? I checked – during my immersion today... for my studies. I did hear the English Muggles are familiar with using elderflower, so that's something."
"I suppose they eat different things."
"Mmmh... it is strange though. I cannot imagine why they would make use of some plant crops and not others?"
"...Do you know if the Muggles use nettles at all – in other things? I saw they have this tea here."
Sander considered the question for a little while: "The Muggles of Italy make the soup... And I believe, the Spanish also."
"Oh?? That's interesting," said Lucius casually.
After an awkward silence, Lucius went back to the pantry to find the cheese wands he had seen as well as a hard boiled duck egg, to eat with some of the marinated thistle and Sander made them both another glass of nettle cordial.
Lucius rolled his egg in sea salt with great precision, careful to get just the right amount and then began casually: "And uhmm... what about spiders?"
" 'Spiders' My Lord?"
"Yes. With – M-Muggles, do spiders have some significance?... For example could they help them in some way?"
"Uff! I do not believe so. Of what I know, most Muggles are afraid of spiders."
"Really? Oh...Well... Could they talk to them?"
Lucius's innocence about the rest of the world, caused Sander to smile very briefly "No My Lord, I am certain Muggles cannot communicate with an ordinary spider any more than we can," he said fighting the sides of his lips from curling up into a grin.
"Ohh," Lucius said awkwardly. He had finished his duck egg, thistle and cheese wands. "Thank you Sander, " he added politely.
After both had made the usual, appropriate subtle nods and bows, Lucius turned to leave, but Sander called him back.
"Uhh, My Lord forgive me I forgot to say: Ma Dame Fearchar was looking for you earlier. She asks for you to call to her."
"Oh... Well I have been available all day," said Lucius with a mild an air of misgiving in his voice. (Quietly feeling an irrational prickle of jealousy that Justinia had contacted Sander, he couldn't help but wonder if she had contacted him before.)
"Uff, probably the new armoury charms. They are blocking the connection most probably," Sander offered casually.
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