All in a Day's Walk

A month-long slow food walking performance

Archive for cooking

Hearth is where the home is…

Knacker's Hole Grove Bonfire at the Falcon

A walk from Lea to Ross-on-Wye and back to Caplor via Deep Dean woods at Howle Hill, to interview woodsman Dan. I get lost on the way there and run through deep leaf litter along mediaeval holloways in a floundering panic to be on time to meet him. We sit on a flatbed trailer in the chestnut coppice for me to catch my breath a while as Dan talk about the wood and its history…

Audio Track Dan at Deep Dean – on coppicing & woodland management

before walking on through the plantation so he can show me how it is managed in practice.

Audio Track: Dan at Deep Dean – a walk in the wood

Audio Track: Dan at Deep Dean – on old logging methods

Audio Track: Dan at Deep Dean – on monoculture

Dan is quietly and humblingly articulate about the importance – and skill – of using wood to heat water and home, cultivating an understanding of natural processes and slower rhythms that connects us not only with the natural world but also with history: fire as a thread that burns through our evolution and culture.

Audio Track: Dan at Deep Dean – best wood for burning

Audio Track: Dan at Deep Dean – on local wood for local people

Audio Track: Dan at Deep Dean – on the ritual of fire

He is also very much a rural worker, aware of the pleasures and pressures of local living in a rural county, including the role of walking as a necessary mode of transport, and the historical role of work – in the woods, on the fields – as the original form of ‘exercise’ which, in an office-driven culture, we have lost and now seek out elsewhere (including through recreational walking!):

Audio Track: Dan at Deep Dean – on walking

I walk back through market town Ross-on-Wye, which feels like a metropolis after the last few weeks. It’s two days ’til the end of the project, so in readiness I buy medjool dates (California – ouch) and porridge oats (Shropshire) from organic wholefood shop Field Fayre. I am amazed by my restraint that I don’t eat them on the way home (or, writing this retrospectively, until the end of the project).

The sun is setting as I follow the Wye back. And, as I pass the Falcon a couple of miles from Caplor, there’s a wood fire burning outside; dancing fire demons to welcome me home and then, in the glow of my headtorch, the white face of a Herefordshire bull.

Hen at Cobrey Phantom train sign, Ross-on-Wye Orographic (?) clouds on the Black Mountains from the A449 Brampton Abbotts Another flood Oak near Hole-in-the-Wall Sunset above Hole-in-the-Wall Wye below Lyndor Wood River Wye below Lyndor Wood 2 Windmill at Ingestone Sunset over River Wye at Ingestone Sunset over River Wye at Ingestone 2 Pilgrims Way, How Caple Oilseed rape (?) at How Caple Sunset at How Caple  Bull looms out of the dark at Capler Camp

Home is where the art is…

Beetroot and apple mumpet Mumpet - cooking Sourdough heart

Just two months ago, a visit to my hometown Aberystwyth fortuitously coincided with a talk at the university by John Fox (formerly of Welfare State International, now of Dead Good Guides and  ‘a total legend’ as an awestruck someone sitting next to me at a Tipping Point Newcastle described him as he got up to speak there…). John’s two-act lecture The Poetry Under our Feet was a reverse journey through his own constantly evolving and inspiring life-art practice in which, amongst other things, he asked ‘why do we make art?’. Showing a slide of his neatly-stacked wood store (he and Sue Gill now live in a beautiful self-build eco-house on the shores of Morecambe Bay ), he explained how he now derived as much creative satisfaction from the process of creating this ‘sculpture’ as from his woodcuts and other formal art work. (He also talked about how, in the process of stacking the wood, ‘the materials themselves help to find the solution’ and I liked this; that the wood ‘knows’ how to be stacked.) He described this as ‘a creative way of living’ and this has resonated for me more and more through this project.

My hunger and tiredness has thrown into focus an interesting realisation about my relationship with walking. Much of my interest in walking as an artistic practice has derived from the kinaesthetic, muscular satisfaction I get from pushing myself to travel hard across space: it’s an interest in finding the edges of (dis)comfort,  about what Tim Edensor has decribed (in the context of recreational walking) as ‘specific notions of achievement’ (2000: 93) and what Dee Heddon and Cathy Turner might describe as a more stereotypically ‘solitary male’ approach to walking (2010: 22). I realise, with a jolt of embarrassment, that I’ve been out to prove something through my ‘art’, if not to others then certainly to myself. But this approach to my practice has always been supported by a comparatively thoughtless relationship with food and how it is acquired: a banana here, some (organic dark) chocolate there, a handful of (organic) nuts or dates, a bowl of (organic) soya milk porridge to set me off in the morning. Fast food eco-hippy-vegan style.

Now I am  s l o w.  And, unpolluted by sugars or pretty much anything else, my clear head opens up to the wholeness of a practice brought home. It’s a profound (if profoundly obvious) epiphany: how the art of being at home (in one’s body too, as the somatic practices have taught me but I have somehow failed to translate to the domestic) is necessary to support a whole creative practice and thus becomes an inherent and absolutely essential part of it.

It is domestic performance art, or the performance of domestic art (as a friend recently said to me ‘can you BELIEVE that they ever called it “science”?!!!’)

it is in the JUGGLING of kettle, stew, eggs and bread on the woodburner
the CHOREOGRAPHY of choosing, mixing, stirring ingredients
it is the stacking of an AUDIENCE of wood, to dry around the burner (and contemplate its fate)
and the SCULPTING of bread (a particular pride in my sourdough ‘crown’ that cooks better on the burner for being hollow in the middle)
and the PLAYING of the wood burner airwash lever like a trombone slide (controlling to increasingly subtle degrees the temperature)

Too close to HOME, so I had to come back HOME to find it.

Eggs and kettle on burner Sourdough leaven Weighing leaven for bread Kettle keeping warm on logs drying next to burner Fully open...quickly boil a kettle Partly open - bread, stew, cakes Shut down ticking over at night or when out Clearview thermometer

Edensor, T. (2000) ‘Walking in the British Countryside: Reflexivity, Embodied Practices and Ways to Escape’ Body & Society 6, (3-4) 81-106

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

Little green shoots of change

Aspen House

A walk through the morning to Hoarwithy, where I’ve arranged to interview Sally Dean and Rob Elliott, who run the appropriately sub-titled ‘Real Food’ B&B Aspen House [which has since closed, in 2015].

I walk over Capler Camp and through Brockhampton, hemmed in by high hedges, passing polytunnels (which Gareth talked much about), puddles and  floods and being passed by the four-wheel drive convoys of the pheasant shoot… I stop to record the racehorses on the gallops at Aramstone (a racing yard) Audio Track: Aramstone gallops and later (because I’m earlier than expected for our meeting) to record the flooded wye forcing its way under the bridge at Hoarwithy Audio Track: River Wye (in spate) at Hoarwithy bridge. Then I visit the remarkable (and unexpected in this small village) Italianate church, before heading down the road to Aspen House.

Sally and Rob are more than ‘just’ B&B proprietors: they are passionate advocates (and activists) for local, seasonal, ‘real’ food. Sally, a nutritionist, is also local chapter leader for the Weston A. Price foundation (an organisation organic dairy farmer Will Edwards also spoke passionately about). Rob is a writer (The Food Maze and How to Eat… Like There’s No Tomorrow) and blogger. Both are extremely knowledgedgable about nutrition, local infrastructure, farming, growing and how our rural eating-living needs to work in order to be sustainable and just as well as genuinely nutritious. They are hugely inspiring and uncompromising in how they live and their desire to communicate what they do to as many people as possible. We have intense, wide-ranging discussions which I’ve edited only a selection of highlights below, as they are both best represented in their own, articulate words:

Audio Track: Sally and Rob on the importance of slowing down: slow food and slow cooking

Audio Track: Sally and Rob on meat and balanced food production

Audio Track: Sally and Rob on localised food infrastructure

Audio Track: Sally and Rob on local food activism: ‘little green shoots’ of change

A huge thank you to them for their time and sharing their knowledge so passionately..

Capler Camp flood Capler Camp gorse Capler woods Wye floods from Capler viewpoint Hoarwithy Holly hedge 4WD flood Oh no, I have to walk through this... Not as bad as it looks Strawberry polytunnels Flooded Wye at Hoarwithy bridge Flooded Wye - Hoarwithy tollhouse Flooded footpath at Hoarwithy Hoarwithy Italianate Church 1 Hoarwithy Italianate Church 2 Hoarwithy Italianate Church 3 Hoarwithy Italianate Church 4 Hoarwithy Italianate Church 5 Hoarwithy Italianate Church 6 Hoarwithy Italianate Church 7 Hoarwithy Italianate Church 8 Hoarwithy Italianate Church 9 Hoarwithy cider press  Soda bread and sourdough Kefir Kefir grains Hoarwithy mill race? Strawberry plants

And then later in the evening, because it’s Friday, I walk (4 mile round trip) through the dark to the pub with friends for local bitter

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!