All in a Day's Walk

A month-long slow food walking performance

Archive for beetroot

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.

Dams and damsels

I seem to be annoyingly addicted to alliterative blog titles, but I’m just going with it for now.

A walk to Ross-on-Wye and back with my friend Jessie, who is fasting for Dharma Day. It’s the first time I’ve walked with someone else this time around and the baking heat is a total contrast to the freezing hoar frost of my walk with Alison to Much Marcle in December. It’s also humbling to walk with someone who is intentionally and ungrumblingly fasting for spiritual commitment, rather than unintentionally, haphazardly and whingeingly for eco-activist performance.

Last night we sat around the fire in the gloaming and cooked Hope’s Ash and Crooked End beef steaks, picked and ate salad and herbs from the spiral, and, in the cauldron, boiled new potatoes from the field next door. Our own lettuce is growing faster than we can keep up; peas, beans and beetroot are nearly ready.

Today, on our way to Ross we pass through Hope’s Ash Farm again and bump into Robert on the yard. He beckons us over, stops the tractor and opens the door. There’s a slightly pregnant pause and I’m starting to worry that I’ve done something wrong when he says ‘I read your blog last night and it was the first blog I’ve ever read’. He seems to approve of it, and it’s given him some food for discussion (on veganism, dairy and meat) with an A-level student who is currently with them on work experience, heading for veterinary training. He asks me if I’ll have a chat with her about veganism which, he says unlike vegetarianism ‘which is easy’, he believes ‘really is hard’. So I do – ironically, standing with her in the pens of the day old dairy calves necessarily removed from their mothers so that we can drink milk, ‘the guilty secret of the dairy industry’ rearing its beautiful bovine head again.

Jessie and I walk on, talking about Buddhism, vows, our reluctant flexitarian meat-eating and its contradictions. We sprint, squealing, along the edge of a potato field, only just timing it right that we avoid a drenching by the rotating irrigator. Then we drop down and past the massive, industrial-scale Cobrey Farm: acres of fruit and pickers’ static caravans. We pass what I assume (from their accents and dress and our exchange of smiling, gesticulating nods) two European farm workers, also walking into Ross and playing music on their phone speakers as they do. It prompts us (Jessie and me) to discuss how more and more often (as Rebecca Solnit writes) we (culturally not personally!) think of walking as waste of time, a dead space to be filled with music on iPods or mobile phone conversations, neglecting the sensual pleasure that walking has to offer, not least as a mode of engagement with environment and self. We also talk about mobile phones, EMFs and the subtle body: are we living in a massive, global experiment that is scrambling our selves and our eco-systems, our bees and our pollinators and so ultimately our agriculture?

Dropping down into Ross and I make a beeline for Field Fayre, my local, organic, wholefood shop and recent joint runner-up (with Waitrose no less) as ‘organic retailer of the year’. I explain to proprietor David that this is the summer repeat of my winter performance (during which I’d first called in at the shop) and he talks me through the baskets and baskets of local produce. Because the shop is registered with the Soil Association, their remit is to sell certified organic produce, which means using European stock at certain times of year. But now, he says, it’s like ‘a dam bursting’: suddenly all the local producers have got everything:

We call in at delicatessen Truffles too on our way home – I want to thank them for their earlier generosity. They’re actually closed, but Richard opens the door in response to our persistent knocking and talks us through the huge range of Herefordshire produce they stock.

We walk back through Kingstone and stumble upon (if that’s possible), Bollitree Castle. We’re a bit disappointed that it appears to be a façade, but nevertheless I take photos of Jessie – with her spectacular Rapunzel-like mediaeval damsel hair – knocking on the door. When we get home, my partner tells us it’s the country home of Top Gear’s Richard Hammond. Surprisingly (for an eco-aware Buddhist) Jessie is a big fan. Later, I email her the pictures, laughing stupidly at my own subject line: ‘knock, knock, knocking on Hammond’s door?’

Jessie at Cobrey - what is the crop? Field Fayre Carey cherries Local bread board Organic veg Truffles Bollitree Castle 1 Bollitree Castle 2 Bollitree Castle 3 Bollitree Castle 4 Bollitree Castle 5

Fownhope Farm Shop

Fownhope Farm Shop

The Fownhope Farm Shop has been my mainstay and local food hub since the start of this project. Conveniently located almost literally on my doorstep, there has been a farm shop selling local produce at Caplor for the past 6 years or so. Originally this was the farm’s own initiative with all the produce grown on the farm itself, supplying not only the shop but also local schools and restaurants. It then went through various iterations – including a local food and crafts shop staffed by farm residents – before being taken over this year by Dave and Elise Shuker. They now manage the polytunnel on the farm and also keep pigs and hens here, but they stock a range of produce from surrounding local food suppliers. Sourcing all the food locally is at the centre of their ethos, knowing exactly where and who it’s come from: their own eggs, honey from Brockhampton, apple juice from Carey Organics, their own veg (in season) supplemented by a range of vegetables from Aconbury, Allensmore, Bartestree, Holme Lacy and Stoke Edith. Before going for a walk with my friend Sue who is staying,  I visit the shop today. I ask Dave to draw on my map the exact locations of the places where all the vegetables I’ve purchased so far have come from, so I can plan my walks there accordingly and maybe contact the producers. Below is an edited recording of one of our many conversations as I shop…

Audio Track: Fownhope Farm Shop

Shop Open   Fownhope Farm Shop Christmas Tree   Seasonal produce calendar 1   Seasonal produce calendar 3

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!