All in a Day's Walk

A month-long slow food walking performance

Archive for cooking

Visions of sugar plums… (or organic medjool dates)

Christmas (walking) stockings

Christmas Eve and a new meaning to hanging up stockings by the fire…

Christmas stockings 2

So, time for some reflection, before the Twelve Days of Christmas Countdown begins…

I’m enjoying this. (Now). I took such a calorific nosedive at the start of the project that my brain stopped working and I went into some kind of survival mode (the freezing weather didn’t help). As someone who knows how to cook (and on wood!), and eat well using mostly vegetables, I’m baffled by the sudden-onset cluelessness as to how to walk and feed myself properly on local food in December, simply because I was adapting to a diet that was slightly less varied, unable to rely on the the convenience products – soya milk, rice cakes, peanut butter, cashews, dates, bananas – on which I realise I’d come to depend for instant energy (and protein). I also realise how much unseasonal, unlocal produce has crept into my ‘staples’ list in recent years – avocados, spinach, red peppers, romaine lettuce, cucumber. And most of all, I realise that my relationship to food had become all about speed. Allowing myself to get very hungry, feeding myself as quickly as possible, hurtling off to the next thing. Fast (wholesome) food for fast living. I had to  s l o w down, but the transition was painful…

I’ve learnt how to live  s l o w l y. The hunger and loss of strength has died away now replaced with a twinge of embarrassment that I was initially so pathetic. There is plenty of food I can eat, it was just learning how to cook and carry it. It’s also interesting how much less I’m eating than normal – the food is less palatable, so I’m less bothered about it. How much of hunger is actually just a relationship with taste – and wanting to taste – rather than what we truly need to consume? Now I’ve learned how to feed myself, how to maintain a leaven, how to cook properly on wood, and most of all, how to slow down. Slow (wood/cooked) food takes time and planning and I can’t let myself run out…(no speed pun intended)

I feel very well. Unpolluted by refined food, sugars, salt (none of which I eat much of normally anyway but still…), I feel very clear-headed and clear-bodied and in a better place to ‘listen’: to myself (my body) and other people.

I haven’t walked as much or as far as I’d like, because initially I couldn’t feed myself enough to sustain the long distance endurance-tramps I’d intended. It’s also very very very wet which slows me down and takes up far more energy. But most of all the process of surviving takes more time: the business of living, bread-making, cooking, wood-fetching, water-heating and horse-feeding. Now I’ve got a comfortable routine, I’m hoping that the weeks that follow will allow me to address this. But my desire to push myself – and the sense of ‘cheating’ if I don’t (otherwise it’s not a performance, right?) also makes me laugh at myself – so determined to make my walking practice  h a r d  because I’m so sold on the specific notions of achievement and endurance I seem to admire in the work of the solitary male walking artists, when really, I’m a female walking artist after all: it’s all about conviviality and connection and ‘knit[ting] together people and place’ (Heddon and Turner 2010). And you don’t have to walk hard and fast and competitively and show-offingly to the edges of your personal food horizon to do that.

I haven’t talked as much as I’d like. Apart from the encounters I’m orchestrating (with people who are already proponents or producers of local food), I’m just not really meeting that many other people – it’s hard to bump into people in the pouring rain on obscure and muddy Herefordshire footpaths in December. But I also have to admit I have been deliberately missing opportunities, especially when I’ve been hungry – it’s too vulnerable-making to initiate a conversation with a stranger when hungry: I’ve felt too distracted by this more pressing need. So I feel like I’m failing in this regard from an activist perspective, because then it’s just all about me. But it’s not over til the fat lady sings… or the skinny girl finishes walking.

But I’ve met some amazing people. I feel filled with love for the local food producers, makers and movers of South Herefordshire and the web that connects them – partly constructed, now, of my footprints. There is a real awareness bubbling away in the countryside here, like a healthy leaven.

I’m mostly missing oats but also bananas, mango, soya milk, rice cakes, peanut butter and tulsi tea. But the VERY first thing I am going to eat at the end of this performance is a single, delicious, fresh, organic medjool date. And be grateful for every single mile it travelled to get to me.

Reference
Heddon, D. and C. Turner (2010) ‘Walking Women: Interviews with Women on the Move’ Performance Research 15 (4) 14-22

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!