Archives for category: Historical Food

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Last weekend I was incredibly moved to be in the presence of seeds descended from those which Vavilov and his colleagues saved under wartime duress (i.e. a Stalinist prison, and starvation).  These were exhibited as part of the Artes Mundi exhibition at National Museum Cardiff in which the Futurefarmers collective of artists installed visuals to their “Seed Journey” exploration of the history and future of seeds as part of our common heritage. Amy Franceschini explains some of the project in this video below:

A few days later I found myself working at an event where Anne Parry of Felin Galon Watermill was speaking on behalf of her visionary efforts to network farmers, millers, brewers and bakers around “Welsh Grain.” We talked a bit about the Cardiff exhibition, and she shared that some Welsh grown wheat had gone off on the sea-faring adventures of FutureFarmers.

So exciting! I went home and wrote to Anne, asking if she could write a paragraph for this blog, sharing the story.  And she responded:

“As part of their Seed Journey the Flatbread Society were meeting with Andy Forbes of the Brockwell Bake in London. The Welsh Grain Forum has been collaborating with Andy, who is wonderfully knowledgeable and committed, to reintroduce the wheat Hen Gymro back to Wales….so since The Seed Journey group were travelling to Cardiff it seemed appropriate that we celebrate this by them symbolically bringing us a sheaf of Hen Gymro from Andy when they came up to Cardiff. (Pics from the Brockwell Bake gallery here). About half a dozen WGF members were able to be there and it turned out to be a simple, inspiring and encouraging event where we received the wheat, gave them samples of Hen Gymro grown once more in Wales, and other Welsh grown heritage cereals, to take on their journey and then shared bread and cakes baked with our locally grown and milled flour. There’s something about the it by Artes Mundi here , and stuff on our Welsh Grain Workshop page and on Rupert Dunn’s Torth y Tir page.”

Really wanted to share this wonderful story which gives Hen Gymro an epic adventure, its itself part of the whole global Story of seeds, grain, people, history.


And now, a moment with Johnny Cash, and an affecting photomontage:

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A medieval garden – from British Library MS Royal 6 E IX f. 15v

The Healing Power of a Garden – A Medieval View.  Came across this article this morning and felt a surge of springtime joy, reading about Henry of Huntingdon’s Anglicanus Ortus, a Verse Herbal of the Twelfth Century.

“This is no ordinary herbal: the work is staged first as a discussion between a master and a student walking around a garden, inspecting the plants in their separate beds, and then as an awkward performance by the same master before Apollo and a critical audience, seated in a theatre at the garden’s centre. Beyond its didactic and performative aspects, the entire work is framed as a prayer to God’s generative capacity and the rational order of nature.” –http://pims.ca/pdf/st180.pdf 

Check out this link for enticing excerpts pertaining to oregano, strawberry, dill, horseradish, and more.  Am a bit sad it’s a $175 book — doesn’t it feel like historical cultural production like this should somehow exist in the commons, for all of us to learn from and enjoy? Maybe this is a book Google might buy and put up on the web…

For those of us with a habit that pre-dates internet bookmarking: tearing an article from a magazine and stashing it either somewhere random or somewhere sensible — in this case, for me, the latter — my copy of Claudia Roden’s The Book of Jewish Food.

So I was easily able to find “The Ones that Got Away: A Field Guide to Rare and Extinct Varieties of Jewish Fish” when, a few weeks ago, I read a poem that recalled the writer’s immigrant Jewish grandfather and  “the fish that we called “yum yum fish”/ (What WAS it?) /A mystery lost to time.”

There’s a sad nostalgia for me, thinking of the times in my life, mostly as a child around the deaths of my mother’s thousand relatives, when the food centrepiece would be a platter piled with fish, colours of salmon-orange-pink, skin-silver-bronze, white and bone-grey with bagels, slabs of cream cheese, wedges of wet tomatoes and thinly sliced onions.  These were fatty, smokey, pickle-y delicious flavours, salty, strong, and specific to a time that to me feels past.  I can’t imagine my own children enjoying this food, and I can’t imagine a social occasion at which I’d find myself now in which it would be offered– that lot of folk has died.

Remembering the generations of people who ate this way, and the knowledge and experience they held, across cultures, is one of the ways that the Slow Food Ark of Taste enters the discourse about lost and struggling traditions, in an effort to celebrate legacies of culinary diversity, and renew them.  I’m also really pleased to see Slow Food entering the important discourse about food and climate change.

Roger Mummert wrote something truly fascinating with “The Ones that Got Away,” way back in 1993; he tied together much that is fun and foodie yet also so much about loss (of people, of foodways, of fish), beneath a humorous interview with the proprietor of a famous New York City fish delicatessen. Together they paint a beguiling and informative picture of old world food traditions within contemporary global markets and ecological overfishing. Read the rest of this entry »

Bonjour and Bore Da, Johnny Onion, selling your wares from a bicycle, your blue eyes twinkling as you offer me a head of garlic.   You’ve come all the way from Brest in Brittany to spend these months in Wales, basing yourself in Cardiff, trekking around selling strings of onions, shallots and garlic.  You are part of a long tradition of French onion sellers spending autumn months in Britain.  It’s an absolute pleasure to buy these onions from you.

In the old days, if you were from Roscoff and a speaker of Breton, perhaps you and Welsh speakers would have been able to figure some things out together.  Today, as it was, we spoke in English as I didn’t dare venture with my bad French.

Thank you for these lovely strong onions.  They are beautifully coloured with pink, have a potent smell and peppery taste.  You can see in the photograph below they are very fresh, glistening with moisture.  I get a good, proper welling up of stinging tears when I chop them.

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Had a small piece myself that day, and it was delicious.  And what an impressive griddle they’ve cobbled together there in the community garden.

This is the kind of lovely community event that happens around the small but bustling Saturday Market in Llanidloes, Powys, Mid-Wales. There are loads of friendly sellers and great stalls: baked goods, cheeses, vegetables, plants, vintage, charity and community set-ups, and my favourite, Jason, who sells quality “seconds” socks at discount prices. My feet have never been so happy, warmly clad in soft wool, since he has come to town.

Welshcakes are really nice to eat too, lightly warm with butter.  Here’s a recipe I plan to try one of these days.

It’s thrilling though rare to learn about traditional fermenting with vegetables in Britain, and in Wales in particular.  This Beetroot Stout is a healing recipe that is totally new to me. Read the rest of this entry »

Marguerite Patten has died.  I cherish my copies of her Coronation Cookbook and We’ll Eat Again: A Collection of Recipes from the War Years (Rose-Hip Syrup; Potato Pastry two ways) with its insights into ration cookery and government advice. Her Basic Basics Baking Handbook is also a treasure of fundamentals from which one can vary and play– no food-porn pictures, just practical descriptions that really could make a modest domestic goddess out of anyone.

Watching and listening to her when she’s an old lady, you see she’s really got the long view as a food educator and, indeed, activist. Love that she’s such a pressure cooker aficionado.

When you get a chance, and if you can, have a listen to the Woman’s Hour radio show featuring her wise, comforting voice as it was in 2009.  RIP, Marguerite Patten.

 

A friend just posted this marvellous how-to video on Facebook.  Such a pleasure to watch and listen: the ancient, fiery oven, the kneading, the young people, the old people, the singing, even if your Spanish is as bad or worse than mine.  What really thrilled me though was learning the word for “sourdough” in Spanish.  Levadura Madre.  Yeast Mother / Mother of Yeast.  Or perhaps a better translation would be Leavening Mother, referring more to quality of help to raising the dough. But the madre is madre whatever the case, and I like the way our teacher in the film refers to it as “Masa Madre” –fermented flour Mother– and sometimes just “Mother” by itself being the colloquial. Maybe in English we only remember this concept of generation and regeneration in terms of Kombucha, and vinegar. Can you think of anything else?  Or any comparable phrases in English that refer to bread?

 

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St David’s Day can feel like “Wales Day”, with children in Welsh Lady costumes and rugby shirts and woolen caps making daffodil crafts in school, shops trying to sell Welsh Cakes and Bara Brith, and plastic dragons made in China roaring all over the retail sector.  Yet the kitsch doesn’t feel sarcastic, or shallow, but rather an affectionate nod to the obvious signs of Welsh identity.  People dress their kids up as Welsh as they dressed up as Welsh and back and back, and in fact the early Welsh Ladies themselves were dressing up as Welsh Ladies as a way to go to market.   Much that is specific to Wales is invisible and elusive– a quality of heart and poetry and singing and performance and community. It’s hard to specify, this thing called “Welsh”– within it there’s the warm cuddliness of a cwtch combined with the hard-scrabble get-on-with-life of rugged hill people, and miners.  At least that’s how I see it after seven years here.  Any Welsh friends are welcome to correct me! Read the rest of this entry »

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