All in a Day's Walk

A month-long slow food walking performance

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Mumpet nostalgia

Beetroot patch kid

Some of you (if anyone’s reading this) may remember the infamous mumpets, the improvised fat-less, sugar-less stove-top beetroot cake of the last performance. I have since made and taken a batch of mumpets to every talk I’ve done about All in a Day’s Walk around the county and country: Putley, Manchester, Ledbury, Staunton-on-Arrow. While the usual comment is that they match the colour of my hair, the response to mumpets has been mixed…

At the Manchester activism event, someone thought I was subversively handing out raw liver.

My supervisor said they could do with some sugar.

A brave visitor in the spring requested to try some and politely, euphemistically described the experience as ‘like eating a garden’.

At Ledbury Ox Roast someone came up to me afterwards and said that, despite really not liking beetroot, they were very tasty. Others have been less enamoured. But I – locked in with my hunger as I was in winter – have a kind of Stockholm syndrome style relationship with them: to me, they are and always will be utterly delicious.

So, imagine my delight that our first crop of beetroot is harvested and ready. May the mumpets commence (when I can get my hands on some local flour again…)

'It's hard to tell which is which...' Hm, Jess or beetroot?

Meanwhile, with the garden so productive, it’s only a domestic dog walk and some oat-based baking today.

Double, double toil and trouble…

IMG_5481

Unleashing my inner witch, I learn how to cook in the cauldron over the garden firepit. We have been told by a local farmer that we can dig up some potatoes – large enough now, to be cooked as ‘new’ – and so we make a broth under the nearly-full moon.

Make and take with a pinch of salt and revel in your creativity with food and (waste) wood-fire, rising to the challenge of totally on-foot food miles…

Cauldron broth

Ingredients
10 new potatoes (next door field)
2 onions (Over Farm, 12.2 miles)
10 pea pods, shelled (Over Farm, 12.2 miles)
10 broad bean pods, shelled (Over Farm, 12.2 miles)
1 cauliflower, broken into florets (Over Farm, 12.2 miles)
3 courgettes, thickly sliced (Over Farm, 12.2 miles)
Selection of herbs: mint, basil, parsley, hot oregano (herb spiral in garden, 2 paces)
Knob butter (Netherend Farm, 15.5 miles)

Method
1. Lower the cauldron nearer the fire until piping hot and add butter
2. Lift cauldron a few chain notches and add onion; fry until clear
3. Add potatoes for a bit, fiddling with chain to get the right kind of heat (not too frazzly)
4. Add enough water to cover; bring to the boil (fiddle with chain as appropriate)
5. Simmer until potatoes nearly tender and add remaining veg and herbs
6. Simmer for another 5 minutes only
7. Taste and serve

Serves 2 for 2-3 days.

NB UNLESS THE GREEDY, NAUGHTY DOGS PUSH THE LID OFF THE CAULDRON THE NEXT MORNING AND EAT IT ALL UP *angry*

IMG_5484 Vegetables and herb spiral IMG_5480 IMG_5478 IMG_5473

Personal horizon (or Stoke Edith in search of swedes)

New Year's Eve sunset

A New Year’s Eve walk in torrential rain to Stoke Edith (or, just beyond, to Newton Cross) where the swedes I’ve been buying from Fownhope Farm Shop come from. Today’s walk is just about walking (and talking if I encounter anyone, which seems unlikely in this deluge). Twenty-six days after I started and I’m only just now getting back to my original curiosity and key intention behind the project: to measure through the medium of walking the limits of my existence, beating the bounds of my ‘personal horizon’. For J. G. Ballard, who coined the term, this was based on sightlines (the limits of where he was able to see from the ground outside his home): only three quarters of a mile for him, in flat country. (According to psychogeographer Iain Sinclair, Ballard spent his year on a driving ban at home in Shepperton, refusing to take public transport and only walking three quarters of a mile in all directions, which meant he got to know his local area very well, and also that he ‘wrote more and better’, Sinclair says.) But for me it was more about ‘effortlines’: how far I was able to walk away from home and back in a day – preferably within daylight. (My original idea was to follow a simple formula of calculating how much light remained between setting off and dusk, then walk as far as I could in a more-or-less straight line for half of this time, then turn around and come back home.) This would of course depend not only on the time of year but also on the terrain, topography and, as it turns out, finding enough calories to sustain me.

It seems laughable now that, at the outset, I saw the local food I’d be eating as largely incidental – the walking would drive the work (and the talking, about food), but I had not considered quite how vital the food would be to fuel the walking. It has turned my idea of what a sustainable – and sustaining – art practice really is, completely on its head (as discussed in yesterday’s blog.)

So it’s both a revelation and a relief to have finally found a balance between calories in and calories out, and to understand in a very profound way how the landscape I’m walking and moving across is literally supporting me, nutritionally as well as ‘gravitationally’ (?). It seems a genuine embodiment of the former Countryside Agency’s Eat the View initiative, which was about connecting consumers to the countryside that provides for us.

This last week stretching ahead of me feels too short – there is too much to do, too many more people yet to talk to, in the food web that my encounters with others has uncovered. I also need to catch up and start ‘walking the food miles’ (as a friend succintly described the project) to all the places where some of the food I’ve been buying elsewhere (or on the farm shop here) is actually grown. So it’s also a relief to strike out away from home with a very physical purpose and rediscover the sheer exhilaration of crossing space. My determination beats even the weather, which is relentless. (My first exchange of the day is on the farm yard with monosyllabic but expressive cow-man Tom, who is also, like me, peering out of a small gap in his head-to-toe waterproofs. He gestures at the sky with his walking stick and says ‘Don’t think it’s going to stop’.)

I have almost given up taking photos of the mid-field rivers, floods, puddles and lakes that have appeared all across Herefordshire… almost.

Saturated plough on the footpath to Wessington Farm Really? New rivers Different muds running together

But after a few miles, even I’m defeated. If I take pictures of them all, my obsessive documentation will slow me down even more than the mud. I also pass (depressingly) intensive broiler chicken sheds in Woolhope, the grain hoppers (unlocal grain? who knows) feeding straight into the windowless sheds in an automated system, so that even that simple connection between feeding – and acknowledging in the process – the animals we eat is lost. I walk over 9 miles beyond Stoke Edith to the main Hereford-Worcester road along the verge in incessant and depressing traffic to Newton Cross, then I turn around and come home. I didn’t see the swedes. But I was grateful for their sustenance and the miles they’d travelled. Every muddy last one of them.

Broiler (intensive chicken) sheds 1 Broiler (intensive chicken) sheds 2 Footpath bridge nearly flooded Perton Quarry Stoke Edith Church Gargoyle at Stoke Edith Stoke Edith Estate Stream in spate A4103 Stoke Edith

And then, after witnessing the beautiful sunset, I buy luxurious duck eggs, Once Upon a Tree juice and vegetables from the  Alumhurst Veg and Egg Shed

IMG_4212 IMG_4214

My knapsack full of sourdough

Leaven

The rye sourdough leaven gifted to me by Gail Sayce on Saturday is refreshed and ready! The yeast – naturally occurring on rye grains – is busy bubbling away. This means I can make proper, leavened bread.

I follow Dan Lepard’s 100% sourdough recipe from The Handmade Loaf (2004, p. 31), making a gelatinised rye mix from hot water and rye flour, whisked into 200g of the leaven and then forming a dense dough by adding more dry rye flour (no salt). I roll it into a baton as instructed before, too late, I realise it won’t fit in my pot. So I turn it into a crab.

Dough baby

I then realise it’s meant to rise for 5 hours. Disaster! My walk of today is 8 miles into Hereford this evening to visit friends, so I won’t have time to let it rise and cook it on the burner. Then I realise I can take it with me. So, some hours later, I swaddle up the still-rising dough like a baby (crab) and put it in my rucksack, packed against my back for warmth. Then I walk through a cloudless, moonless gloaming which becomes proper, full-blown, dark, subzero night at Mordiford along the Wye Valley Walk into Hereford: along the stank with the Lugg invisibly rushing to my right and then, crossing at Hampton Bishop. The dough-baby-crab arrives looking somewhat premature: a bit grey and not quite well-risen. We bake it in Lucia’s kitchen and I eat my first leavened bread.

There is initial excitement when we think that I can have it with her homemade damson jam because the fruit is from a nearby farm at Martley. Thankful for the deliciousness, it goes on the dry and somewhat unsuccessful bread until 11-year-old Esme comes home and asks, with uniquely youthful attention to the rule of the game: ‘But what about the sugar?’

Oops.

But it’s good to know that I’m making other people think about where their food comes from.

Mumpets and miracles

Mumpet - cooking

It’s the sabbath, and so (going with the environmentalism-as-religion theme that seems to be emerging) I rest.

But a friend is visiting and I want to be hospitable – a strange conundrum for an environmentalist at the best of times when the desire to produce generously large quantities of food for guests is set against the idea of preventing waste and avoiding excess. Inexplicably, I’m still struggling to understand how to feed myself properly and palatably let alone anyone else. Inexplicably because, while I’m picking up delicious vegetables from the farm shop, they alone don’t seem to be giving me enough energy or texture or flavour – especially in the absence of herbs and spices, salt, pepper and anything else that is not strictly local. Yesterday, Woolhope baker and miller Gail Sayce gave me some of her rye sourdough leaven. I refreshed it when I got home (100 ml of water at room temperature, 100 g of rye flour) and will again today, but it won’t be ready to use to bake leavened bread until tomorrow.

I settle on a menu of  root stew with rye/spelt flatbreads followed by an improvised attempt at fatless beetroot cake (fatless because I’m allergic to dairy and while oilseed rape is grown on the farm, it is pressed and processed elsewhere; beetroot because it’s sweet and pretty).

My friend arrives when I’m midway through making (up) the beetroot cake, beating in eggs to the mixture. Already, my tastebuds are grateful for the slightest flavour, colour, texture, calories: the sweetness of raw carrot, the richness of egg yolk. I say I’m reminded of one of my favourite lines in a book  (Judy Budnitz (2000) If I Told You Once) ever and I get it off the shelf to read, realising it has more resonance to my current situation than I’d realised:

‘My family had lived in the same village for as long as anyone could remember. It was a place that lay buried in snow for nine months out of the year followed by three months of mud. It was the most desolate spot on earth and my family did not even realise it, because for generations they never ventured more than 40 km from the place. They were stubborn people.

It was a place where someone had forgotten to add the colour: low grey clouds, crooked houses of weather-beaten wood, coils of smoke rising up from cookstoves and rubbish heaps. All the wives of the village cut from the same dull cloth to make clothes for their familites. We ate grey bread. The men made a fermented liquor so colourless it was invisible, nothing but a raging headache stoppered in a jar.

People were simpler then. They kept their desires within reach. They had few possessions: a goat, a half-dozen chickens, a brass teapot, a cat so ugly it could kill mice merely by looking at them.

That was enough. After days cutting wood in the black forest with ice clogging their nostrils, the smell of a goat was a welcome thing.

In a place like that, the colour of an egg yolk was something of a miracle’

We go out for a walk anyway, but I ride Merlin. Cantering up the track back home, I realise this is the fastest I will travel this month. And suddenly the speed of a horse is a miracle too.

We return and eat more woodburner beetroot cake, agreeing that the texture is a cross between a muffin and a crumpet. We have, my friend triumphantly proclaims, invented  m u m p e t s.

Mumpets

Ingredients
1 medium beetroot (Merrivale Farm, Aconbury (via Caplor Farm shop): 7.5 miles)
2 large eggs (Caplor Farm: 0.01 miles)
2-3 tablespoons honey (Dockhill Well, Brockhampton: 0.79 miles)
dash of cider/perry (Dragon Orchard, Putley: 6.53 miles)
spelt flour to create correct cake mixture type consistency (grain from Doves Farm, Hungerford 73.6 miles yikes, but milled at Yare Farm, 1.9 miles)

Mumpet - ingredients
Equipment
Wood burner
Cast iron lidded cooking pot or Dutch oven, lined with baking parchment

Mumpet - prepare your dish

Method
1. Peel and grate the beetroot (save the peelings for your eats-anything horse or compost bin)
2. Add eggs and honey and a dash (to taste) of cider; mix well
3. Add enough spelt flour to create a correct cake-mixture type consistency; mix well again
4. Marvel at the beautiful colour
5. Pour into lined pot, add lid and place on top of woodburner at medium-high heat
6. Leave there for at least 20-30 mins or until you smell cooking/slight burning – DO NOT LIFT THE LID BEFORE THEN or all the heat escapes.
7. Your mumpet is ready when the base is not-quite-burned and the top is no longer sticky.
8. Marvel again at your stove-top ingenuity…

Mumpet - mixture 2

Mumpet - mixture

Mumpet - in dish

Mumpet - finished!