All in a Day's Walk

A month-long slow food walking performance

Archive for rye

Oats (on cheating and eating)

Oat cakes 1 Oatcakes 2

Reader [if there are indeed any out there], I’ve cheated.

I’ve flagrantly, badly, hungrily, unwisely cheated. I have, (only in deeply hungry moments), eaten food that I shouldn’t. That was grown outside of Herefordshire, and quite possibly the UK. Mostly it was as local as I could make it, but sometimes, in the spur of the moment, it wasn’t.

I am sorry.

The clues were all there when I was talking about how challenging it was living with the food and gentle concern of others. I’ve made an important realisation that maintaining and defending a serious, quasi-political performance practice in a domestic setting with others requires a difficult balance between light heartnedness and commitment. I seem to have failed on both counts over the past few weeks. I think to myself, I bet Tehching Hsieh never had this problem.

By way of excuse and explanation, I’ve been getting ridiculous, bent-double, Ministry of Silly Walks stomach cramps (in fact, for about 3 miles solid along the Stank between Hampton Bishop and Mordiford the other day). Seemingly my metabolism is not cut out for surviving without some form of starchy carbohydrate. The last performance, being vegetarian and dairy allergic (I thought), I staved off total starvation by allowing myself flour locally milled from a local wheat grower (even though they’d run out of their own and were actually milling grain from Doves Farm in Hungerford, as I explained at the time). This time, thinking that eating both meat and dairy would give me more than enough variety and calories to survive on, I haven’t allowed myself flour. So, no sourdough, no mumpets and really, no complex carbohydrates. A recipe for disaster.

The last, winter performance was all about the eating, even if I felt too weak to walk that far. And my weight fell under 7 stone. This summer repeat has been (excuse frivolous language) all about the cheating. It’s been more walking, less starving and less tolerance of voracious hunger in the process. My body doesn’t want to return to that extreme of leanness, clearly.

I could console myself that any accomplished improviser ultimately plays with subverting the score. And as friends Rob and Sally said ‘if we weren’t meant to cheat, we wouldn’t have a word for cheating’. But it’s how you cheat that matters. So, drilling down to the essence of activism in tracktivism as being about consumer choice as a gesture of protest, then I allow myself one clear consumer choice to prevent any future frivolous cheating: o a t s.

Pimhill organic oats are the only traceable complex carbohydrate that I know that is grown and processed in (and I seriously hope) distributed from a single place in neighbouring county (Shropshire) and sold in local shops. Oats are incredibly versatile and once I’ve given myself permission to use them, I make porridge, oat cakes (local butter) and flapjacks (local butter, local honey) and, my partner’s idea (I’m such a bad meat-eater; it doesn’t occur to me to cook it) beef-oat-herb burgers with the Hope’s Ash mince.

Instant carbohydrate. Instant ability to walk in an upright position.

What remains mad and bad – and that all this confessional waffle about ‘cheating’ is ultimately hiding – is that I’m walking through acres and acres and acres of wheat, oats, barley, maize. The wheat and oats are nearly ready to harvest, so where do they go? And why can’t I buy or eat them? Is it really more economic sense to ship them elsewhere? And if food processing contributes to the embedded carbon footprint of foods and means that a focus on food miles alone ‘is missing the point‘, how do we reconcile all this into a food system that makes social, environmental and economic sense?

Maybe that – our skewed rural infrastructure – is where the cheating’s really at.

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

‘So that we don’t carbon ourselves into oblivion’

Yare Farm

Walking to Yare Farm

This morning, I walk over to Yare Farm again to pick up some more flour. It’s a beautiful day to be out but I need to rush back because I’m interviewing Gareth Williams – farmer at Caplor and my landlord – just after lunch. There’s a rainbow out as I walk over to the farm office.

Rainbow over Caplor

And I’m particularly interested in what Gareth has to say about local food, because we’ve had many informal, brief conversations about this in the past and the posters on his office wall might suggest this is something he has an interest in.

Eat local food

Buying local

But he shares some unexpected perspectives with me in these edited highlights of our conversation which ranged from food, farming, floods, economies of scale and globalisation… COMING SOON!

Pedigree Phocle Herefords at Caplor Farm…

Caplor Herefords 3

Caplor Herefords 2

Caplor Herefords 1

Old cider press in the barn…

Caplor cider press 3

Caplor cider press 2

Caplor cider press 1

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.

Daily bread

IMG_3662

I’m hungry already. I realise I will need more (and portable) calories than apple juice and carrots and stew  to sustain both walking and talking and thinking this month. I need to make bread.

{[(Grain + mill = flour) + water + yeast + oven] = bread}

From years of riding, running and walking on and around the farm where I live, I have seen wheat, oats, barley, and corn grown locally, albeit on a small scale. From the map I know that there are many water mills in the surrounding parishes that would once have milled these grains. But what is lost is the connection between them: the grain that is grown on this farm, that is dried here (noisily in the perpetual August whine of the grain dryer), that is briefly stored here (in the perpetual hum of the grain store) right next to my home, is also shipped away to be sold and processed.

A month before this project began, I joined the village (Fownhope) Walking for Health group on their November turn around Haughwoods. Walking next to Jean (also from the village’s Carbon Rationing Action Group) and describing my plans for All in a Day’s Walk to her, I was delighted and surprised to discover that, remarkably, there was a farming-baking family – Gail and Duncan Sayce – in the neighbouring village (Woolhope), who grow, mill and make bread from their own wheat, spelt and rye. I phone and Gail kindly agrees to mill me some flour. But she warns me that while they have combined, milled and baked with their own grain in the same day before now, their current grain has been bought in (Doves Farm, Hungerford – how ironic is the name to my grumbling stomach). Hungry, I decide that the cheat is a necessary one.

Sollers Hope to Woolhope 2

I walk over this morning to Yare Farm via Sollers Hope church, the low sun behind me stretching my shadow in front, like the pull of my hunger reaching ahead of me.  The same sun streams into the kitchen as Gail and her son Harvey share their knowledge of baking, milling and grains. Gail has waited until I arrive to mill the grain, which, she tells me starts to oxidise immediately after milling, losing its nutrient value. (The fresh-milling of their flour is something Gail says draws people to their bread, more so than whether the grain is local or not.) And of course, it’s not a watermill, creaking and clunking into action through a system of sluices as I’d romantically imagined, but an electric mill in a modern farmhouse kitchen.

IMG_3668

Grain

Balletons

But I can hardly be disappointed – their passion for local, sustainable food and fresh produce is infectious: they rise at 4 am to bake a range of different breads for the local farmers’ markets, run bread-making courses and Harvey is even selling his own Herefordshire bird seed mix entirely from grains sourced from within a five miles radius: all in a day’s flight…

Herefordshire Bird Seed Mix

On my way home, I walk the flour on a real journey through an imagined history: altering my route to carry it back via the nearest watermill – Alford’s Mill – I might once have fetched it from. Not surprisingly, many footpaths lead to this place including one in an almost straight line from the farm. I stop and talk to the current owner and learn it was functional from the early 1800s until it was decommissioned in the 1960s. Trudging through waterlogged ground, I record the sounds of transiently restoring lost connection through walking:

Audio Track: Yare Farm – Alfords Mill