Growing Through Pavements and Walls

Walking home this morning in the warm September sun after taking the car to the garage for its MOT, I was thrilled to see so many great plants growing out of pavement cracks by walls, so I thought I’d share pictures of a few of them.

The one on the left here is blood amaranth (Amaranthus cruentus) with deep red stalks and deep reddish-green leaves. I collected seeds to grow here at home next year, maybe with some sunflowers and cosmos.

The Nahuatl name from Mexico is hautli (pronounced ‘wowtlee’). Like many amaranths its seeds and leaves are edible. I love the colours!

I couldn’t quite believe this cheerful multi-headed sunflower beauty thriving here, after weeks of no rain until last week. Sunflowers are also native to Mexico and North America and happily now found all over the world.

Finally, not growing out of the concrete, but on a field verge by a local footpath, a pink yarrow (Achillea milllefolium). Also a member of the sunflower family, yarrow is very much native to the UK and other Eurasian countries as well as North America.

Yarrow is a renowned medicine plant with many qualities, one being that its leaves help stop bleeding (styptic). Whenever I get paper cuts on my fingers, which can be surprisingly painful and bleed like mad, I chew some fresh yarrow and tie it on to the finger. It really does speed up the stemming of the blood.

It was a lovely balmy morning, and I was reminded again of just how much more you notice when you walk, take a little time, and pay attention. I must not forget this – even though the car passed its MOT!

This Bubbling Jar

Kimchi ‘slaw’ and fermented squash (Photo: Mark Watson)

This is a piece I wrote for Dark Mountain’s ‘Dark Kitchen’ series, first published on Wednesday 30th April 2022, exploring the wild, nourishing alchemy of the microbiome.

‘Plant activist Mark Watson gets his hands salty, tracking a transformative journey into the lively world of cabbage leaves and microbes, in the company of maestro fermenter, Sandor Ellix Katz.’

I made my first ‘herbal mead elixir’ nine years ago, inspired by reading about the late plant pioneer and ethnobotanical explorer, Frank Cook, in Sandor Ellix Katz’s The Art of Fermentation. I loved the way you could mix flowers, herbs and fruits in a jar with some raw honey and spring water, stir daily, and be enjoying all these diverse flavours, fragrances and colours in under ten days. Roses and strawberries, blackcurrants and fennel, sea buckthorn and mallow…. It was an intense and thrilling  way to connect with the character and medicine of the plants, and convivial too. Everyone loved them!

It wasn’t until later, when I began to ferment raw vegetables into sauerkraut, kimchi and curtido (recipe below), however, that the wild alchemy and beauty of fermentation completely revolutionised my attitude towards food, microbes (and life!).

Fermentation is the action of millions of bacteria and wild yeasts breaking down vegetables and fruit (and other plant and animal matter) into forms that not only can be digested, but also rendered less toxic. Without fermentation, foods and drinks like coffee, tea, chocolate, cheese, tofu, beers and wines simply wouldn’t exist. What excites me about DIY fermentation, is that it allows us to wrest at least some of our food production out of the industrialised food system and back into our own hands.

Wu Tai Xiang’s fresh homemade tofu, Xi Mi Cun village, China
(photo: Sandor Katz in ‘Fermentation Journeys’)

Getting out of your mind and into your hands

March 2022 I stand with the large bowl in front of me and with my bare hands mix chopped red and white cabbage with thinly sliced carrot, chopped onion, salt, a few chipotle and jalapeño chilli flakes and some dried oregano. I pour a cup of salted apple juice mixed with water into the mix and then massage and rub the ingredients together, before stuffing them into a Kilner (or Mason) jar, pressing down hard until the liquid covers the vegetables. Then I use some folded cabbage leaves and the stump of the cabbage to keep the juice above the vegetables when I close the lid. I put the jar on the  living room table so we can watch as the microbes do their break-down dance, taste the ferment as it develops, and open it regularly to keep it well burped and avoid explosions due to the build-up of gas. We’ll probably start eating this curtido within a week, whilst it’s still fizzing. A jar usually lasts us no more than a week – the strong, salty, acidic flavours are compelling and extremely more-ish.

I wasn’t always this enthusiastic about the bubbling jar. Not so many years ago I would try to hide my panic when faced with the home-made ferments others had made. Terrified of ‘germs’ and being poisoned, I missed out on a lot of mouth-watering, gut-benefitting, life-enhancing delights – quite embarrassing when I look back.

Cover of ‘Fermentation Journeys’

But I’m no longer that person. And a major part of this radical shift in attitude is due to the work of ‘fermentation revivalist’ Sandor Katz and the books he has produced: Wild Fermentation (2003), The Art of Fermentation (2012), Fermentation as Metaphor (2020) and Sandor Katz’s Fermentation Journeys (2021), all published by Chelsea Green.

The first two books are the ones I’d recommend if you want to get started on hands-on fermentation at home. A self-described generalist, Katz’s enthusiasm is infectious, inclusive, and his knowledge wide and hands-on. It’s as if he’s standing beside you in your first attempts, cheering you on: ‘That’s right, get your hands into those vegetables. Just remember, “chop, salt, pack!” And love those bubbling microbes!’

[feature-blockquote id=”Light” title=”Light”] It’s as if he’s standing beside you, cheering you on: ‘That’s right, get your hands into those vegetables. Just remember, “chop, salt, pack!”  And love those bubbling microbes!'[/feature-blockquote]

In amongst all the bubbly descriptions of fermented food from all over the world are some sober and powerful insights about our essential relationships with earthly life.  One of the many radical threads woven into the pattern of Katz’s work, along with preserving cultures (sic) and becoming more intimate with the food we eat, is the challenge to the modern obsession with being pure, clean and uncontaminated.

Whereas his other books focus mainly on the practical, cultural and experimental sides of fermentation, in Fermentation as Metaphor, Katz discusses the more metaphysical aspects of this ancient art. How with social fermentation old human structures are broken down in order feed new manifestations of the human experience, how even the boundaries of our bodies and skin are more fluid than we think, constantly interacting with the world. So if we can’t purge ourselves of the microbes, because ‘they’ are ‘us’, ‘we’ need a whole new approach to ‘them’.

Microbial biodiversity is the matrix for all life. It is neither possible nor desirable to escape it … We live our lives in a sort of microbial forcefield, a complex community of bacteria, viruses, fungi and other organisms that live upon and within us…1

This microbial field is porous and interacts and communicates with the other beings, both human and non-human, wherever we are. Active wild yeasts exist in the air all around us as well as on cabbage leaves. We are not as individual as we like to believe. And we are definitely not alone. Working with ferments makes you question whether individuality even really exists, and realise that the massive focus on individualism has led to a chronic disconnection from the forces that make us truly alive. When this hit me, my former tendency for over-zealous handwashing disappeared almost overnight.

Colourised tempeh fungus with scanning electron microscope
(photo: Sandor Katz).
Cover image of ‘Fermentation as Metaphor’

I had never thought about it before: there is an entire community of microorganisms living in our guts, including bacteria and yeasts, which is referred to as the gut microbiome. The trillions of bacterial cells in the large intestine alone are vital for the healthy regulation of our immune and digestive systems. What? You mean it’s not just me and my body? That’s right, folks. We’re hosting shapeshifting multitudes.

According to baker Vanessa Kimbell, in The Sourdough School of Sweet Baking, our industrialised, monocultural, sugar-heavy, low-fibre modern diet reduces the diversity of the gut microbiome (by as much as 50% in the UK population). This affects our physical and mental health adversely, leading to autoimmune, digestive and psychological problems. Live fermented foods help replenish and support this microbiome – and being hands-on and making your own, whether it’s sourdough bread or sauerkraut, is part of the reconnection. And the process of fermentation itself, contrary to popular imagination, actually ensures the safety of the food or drink being fermented because of the actions of the acids created in the process.

The change that fermentation has brought about in my attitude towards what’s clean or wholesome has been radical. Our ‘culture’ is always telling us to get rid of and destroy all kinds of ‘germs’, be tidy, tidy, tidy, be in ‘control over’ rather than in ‘relationship with’ life. We’re educated to be super clean and so we connect that with optimum health. But there is a very unhealthy side to too much obsession with cleanliness, which might point more to mental health suffering and OCD than to godliness. Now, when people say to me nervously, ‘But is fermentation safe? Is it clean?’ I quell the impulse to say, ‘Oh, get over yourself!’, try to recall my own nerves in my pre-fermentation days, take a deep breath, and see if I can come up with something a bit more friendly.

Pulque in gourd vessel, in the Mixteca Alta, Oaxaca, Mexico, 2019. Image by Lyzy30 (Wikimedia commons)

Rehabilitating pulque

In the 80s and 90s, I spent a lot of time in Mexico. I drank many different types of tequila and mescal (both fermented alcoholic drinks from the maguey or Century plant [Agave ssp]), but I only ever tasted pulque once. Also a fermented drink from the Agave, pulque was ignored and disdained by most modern people as a poor man’s drink, unclean and unappealing. This attitude, Sandor Katz writes in Fermentation Journeys, was deliberately fostered by politicians and soft drink corporations in the early 20th century. Modern, ‘hygienic’ ‘[f]actory production of Western beer and Coca-Cola was touted as safer than traditional small-scale pulque production.’

But like many ferments, pulque has a rich cultural heritage and in some places is considered as a living being in its own right. Every pulque maker (tlachiquero) has their own method of harvesting and preparing the drink, and though tlachiqueros have traditionally been men, there is now an increase in women tlachiqueras, including a collective, the Mujeres Milenarias,2 all dedicated to rehabilitating pulque to its rightful place in the culture.

When we get hands-on into fermenting food ourselves and within our communities, it helps to dislodge the hegemony of the industrialised food system within the imagination and show there are alternative ways to approach food, where we can actually get involved in the process rather than being removed from it or handing it over to faceless organisations.

[feature-blockquote id=”Dark” title=”Dark”] When we get hands-on into fermenting food ourselves and within our communities, it helps to dislodge the hegemony of the industrialised food system within the imagination
[/feature-blockquote]

There is also something innately social and cultural about fermenting food. It makes you want to share the know-how (and the ferments) with others, pass it on, and not ‘be an end user’, as Frank Cook used to say.3 This is the spirit that bubbles throughout all of Katz’s work. In his latest book, Fermentation Journeys, he documents his travels and meetings with fermenters over the years everywhere from Indigenous Alaska to Italy to China, with the help of many wonderful photos of plants, people and life (and bubbling jars). His discoveries and recipes are brought right to our kitchen tables, so wherever we are, we can be stirred (sic) to begin our own fermentation journey – and watch the transformation!

^

The red and white cabbage curtido was opened and tasted after three or four days, still fizzy, with a light crunch and the bold flavours of the cabbage, onion and oregano. We left it on the table for a couple more days, then transferred it to another jar and put it in the fridge. A week or so later, there’s just a small amount left. I think I’m going to mix it with some eggs and make an omelette for breakfast…

 

Red and white cabbage ‘curtido’, (photo: Mark Watson)

A recipe for curtido

This is a ferment popular in Central America, similar to (but not the same as) European sauerkraut or Korean kimchi. Like other ferments, this one never comes out the same way twice, but it always tastes great, and can be ready within three days for a fabulous, gut-friendly relish! Enjoy it with eggs, rice, potatoes, fritters, on its own, or whatever appeals to you…

There are some tasty commercial curtidos available in the UK, but it’s more rewarding and less expensive to have a go at it yourself. Here’s how I made today’s jar:

Ingredients

1/3 medium white cabbage (one of the denser varieties) chopped/shredded
1/3 medium red cabbage, chopped/shredded
1 carrot, julienned
1 onion, thinly sliced
1 level teaspoon chipotle chile flakes
1 level teaspoon jalapeño chile flakes
1 tsp of Mexican oregano (Mexican oregano is in the verbena rather than the mint family, and is stronger than the regular oregano we’re used to in the UK, but you can substitute this for two teaspoons of regular oregano)
2 teaspoons freshly ground cumin (I heat the seeds in a dry frying pan before I grind them)
2 teaspoons sea salt
1/2 cup of lightly salted water and apple juice mix (50/50)

Method

In a bowl mix the cabbage, carrot, onion, salt, chile flakes, oregano and cumin until evenly distributed. (You can massage the cabbage first if you want to.)

Pour in the apple/water mix.

In a 1 litre Kilner/Mason jar press the vegetables down hard. I use the end of a rolling pin for this, and that gets the juices flowing. You can also use a few whole cabbage leaves to cover the vegetables.

You need to make sure the curtido is covered with liquid, so if necessary, use the cabbage heart to hold the vegetables down firmly when you close the Kilner jar.

Keep in a warm place out of the sunlight (in the winter I use the airing cupboard) and place the jar in a bowl to catch any of the liquid that might (and probably will) escape. These ferments can get fizzy quite quickly. Open the lid once (at least) or twice a day to burp the jar.

This ferment can be enjoyed after as few as three to five days. After about five days I generally place it in a new jar and keep it in the fridge, where it doesn’t remain long!

 

I will be teaching How We Walk Through the Fire’s fourth workshop, Plant Dialogues, with Charlotte Du Cann, marking the beginning of the summer around May Day. We will focus on connecting with the plant kingdom in times of ecological crisis, and how we might re-entangle ourselves with the intelligence and beauty of wild plants, working with the key leaves, flowers and trees of the season. This workshop forms part of a year-long creative exploration, tracking the ancestral, solar year.

 

 

Credits and references

1 Sandor Elliz Katz, Fermentation as Metaphor, Chelsea Green (2020) pp. 34–37

2 Sandor Katz’s Fermentation Journeys, Chelsea Green (2021), p.10

3 Sandor Ellix Katz, The Art of Fermentation, Chelsea Green (2012)

Sandor Katz’s website: Wild Fermentation

Mark Watson’s (intermittent but sometimes fizzing) blog: MarkInFlowers

Dark Kitchen: Making Friends with Microbes

(Originally published by , 12th February 2018)

This week we continue our Dark Kitchen exploration of food and eating in times of collapse. For our second course in the series Mark Watson interviews Norwegian artist Eva Bakkeslett about the ancient and modern language of fermentation.

Eva with rommekolle

‘It’s the next big thing,’ said Alexis, and handed me a jar of home-made kimchi.

‘Is it safe to eat?’ I asked, nervously peering into the pungent and compelling Korean ferment.

It was a very modern reaction: industrially processed, refrigerated, microbe-free and squeaky clean (dead) is good. Everything else is dangerous.

For thousands of years the arts of fermentation have transformed and preserved raw food in cultures across the world. Yet even though some of our strongest and most loved flavours – coffee, chocolate, cheese, salami, olives, as well as soy, miso and tempeh, wine and beer – are still alchemised via the life-death-life process of bacteria and yeasts, live, fizzing vegetables can be a challenge.

It was reading Sandor Katz’s encyclopaedic The Art of Fermentation that turned things around and got me hooked, with its hands-on approach to reviving the practice of fermenting just about everything. The house started filling up with bubbling Kilner jars of fruit and flowers and vegetables –mead elixirs in the summer, kimchi in the winter – as my distrust gave way to bold, and delicious, experimentation.

Eva Bakkeslett is an artist, teacher and microbial cultural revivalist from Northern Norway. I came across her work with sourdough cultures and kefir in Lucy Neal’s Playing for Time: Making Art as if the World Mattered. Later we met and she gave me some Ivan Chai (an intense black tea of fermented rosebay willowherb leaves) made by wildcrafting colleagues  in Russia.

I wanted to ask Eva about how she got into fermentation and microbes, and how they relate to current planetary, ecological and social conditions.

***

MW: What’s going down in your ‘dark kitchen’ right now, Eva?

EB: Well, I’m tending to about six different ferments, so loads of little creatures are living on my kitchen bench: very old Scandinavian rømmekolle ferments, various kombuchas, Bulgarian yoghurts, kefir from the Caucasus, and an amazing sourdough from Russia. I’ve also started fermenting earth, using a Japanese composting method called bokashi, where you add microbes to your food waste. It speeds up the process and you get great compost for growing vegetables.

I started with bread. I always say the bread was talking to me. Fermenting bread has a very quiet language of its own. Put your ear against the rising dough and you hear these clicks and bubbles. I really wanted to learn about this extraordinary language. I wanted to befriend these guys. So it all started through language.

When I was growing up we fermented milk and bread, so when I started discovering the bacterial processes behind it I didn’t really have to overcome any distrust. I just remember being delighted at discovering this community of microbes I could make friends with. I started making kombuchas and vegetable ferments, then explored the rather funky outer edges, like fermented shark in Iceland or kimchi with fish. That really tests the friendship – can I really be friends with somebody, you know, that funky?

MW: In Playing For Time you discuss rootlessness, and the relationship between place, belonging and fermentation. How can remembering the stories behind fermentation reconnect us?

EB: For some years now I’ve been exploring this yoghurt-like Norwegian milk ferment called rømmekolle. In my childhood everybody fermented it – in certain areas people wouldn’t have survived without it. And the culture that develops between the place where the bacteria come from, and the material you ferment, in this case milk, and the humans that then share the culture, makes you very rooted to a particular place.

We now know from neuroscience research that there’s a huge connection between the bacterial flora in our guts and the way we think… so if everybody in a particular village is eating the same rømmekolle, you’re sharing that microbial community within your bodies; people would somehow be bonded through bacterial flora within a community, and to the place. And this was happening all over the world.

Also, people would closely guard their ferments and bring them wherever they went. A family from Finland emigrating to America, say, would dry their milk cultures on handkerchiefs, put them in their pockets and set off. When they settled, they’d put their handkerchiefs in milk and revive the bacterial culture.

Nowadays, with everyone constantly moving around and not connecting to places, we often feel fragmented. One way of rooting yourself is to befriend the local bacteria by growing vegetables and connecting with the soil. Ferment those vegetables and you’ll definitely communicate with the microorganisms in that particular place!

Pumpkins_kefir_and_kombucha lowres And the further you go into it the more you get excited about the taste, texture, colour – all the aesthetic elements of food and place. It’s a very rooting experience, as well as an antidote to industrialised food with its processed salts, fats and sugars: you start reconnecting and engaging with your food, the seasons – and time.

Fermentation has its own world and timeframe, and it can really help move you out of the hyped-up, driven pace of the modern world. You don’t even have to think about it. The relationship with the microbes just has that effect on you.

When people say they don’t have time for sourdough bread-making, I tell them it’s about working with time, replacing one way of thinking about time with another.

I see three elements to fermentation – time, conditions and ingredients – and the balance between those three. A vegetable ferment going for six months can be super-strong, a six-day one will be very mild. Time sits in the taste. It’s implied and embodied in the ferment and your experience of it.

Like growing vegetables, where you can’t rush your carrots, you can’t work against the fermentation process, you have to work with it. You heighten your awareness of what’s happening and your relationship with time changes. It roots you in the fabric of life.

MW: How can we learn from microorganisms?

EB: Bacteria communicate with each other with an incredible alertness, and they’re like magicians of adaptation. The hundreds of thousands of members in a culture communicate through this language called quorum sensing. And if something’s not working they’ll suddenly take a different course.

At an earlier time on the planet, bacteria eliminated all their food resources. They had to invent a way of processing the sun and transforming it into a new life substance through photosynthesis. I feel we can learn a lot from them, because we’re very set in our ways. It takes humans a long time to change.

MW: Right now we seem to need more time to get back on track with the planet, but don’t seem to have that much time. Can humans both bring time into the way we go about things and change swiftly enough? Also, so many of our collective stories seem outdated and resistant to change. Does fermentation have a story to counterbalance that?

EB: Well, we’re generally so removed from natural processes and going so fast, it seems almost impossible to slow down to a pace where we can have a natural relationship with time.

But I think through a close relationship to bacteria and to our earth, without us thinking that we have to change, it will happen naturally, through gentle action and collective absorption. If you create those relationships.

I’m fascinated by the sharing aspect of fermentation, when people give cultures to each other – especially through milk ferments and sourdough. There’s the sharing of the physical substance with the bacteria, which keeps it going, along with the sharing of cherished knowledge. With that goes the sharing of stories, which accumulate within the bacterial cultures as people form their own relationship to them. Somebody gives you some, and it already has a story; it enriches your life, and another layer of story is added to it. These stories create a different bond between people, the bacteria, and the Earth itself.

Fermentation is a beautiful way of transforming the way we live and communicate with each other. It’s an incredible thing that happens when your kefir is thriving, producing more and more grains, and you’re thriving from it, and so you go and meet your neighbour and tell them about kefir. Or like me you incorporate it into art events and share it publicly with people.

My favourite Christmas card this year was from a lady who came to an event I held in England in 2012. I gave her some of an old Romanian yoghurt culture that had travelled to a little Jewish café in New York. She’s been cultivating it ever since, and there it was in the photo, sitting amongst her Christmas decorations!

MW: What kind of art do you do with fermentation?

EB: A recent exhibition I gave in  Bodø in Norway was with rømmekolle. It had disappeared, but I managed to find some eventually and I’m cultivating and sharing it now in all my events. I gathered archive photographs of people’s relationship to their milk animals. Milk can have a bad reputation nowadays, but many people have traditionally had a close relationship not only with their cows, but also reindeer, buffalo, goats and sheep. The modern milk industry is another chapter entirely.

Sunday Best Rommekolle

The rømmekolle culture was very sociable. On Sundays people would share a huge pot up in the mountains dressed in their finery. I interviewed old people about their relationship to this ferment for a radio programme and video. So I’m bringing rømmekolle into the public sphere through these stories.

This exhibition included a bucket of worms with scrap food and a video camera and microphone attached. You could hear the worms talking – they have an amazing language, and when they’re happy they talk a lot. So I’m sharing the wonderful world of fermentation in a bucket, in the production of earth through worms.

I often do talks about bacterial connections, starting with when the Earth was formed, and about bacterial language – these always include some physical fermentation of milk or vegetables. I’ve also held a festival of different bread traditions. It takes different forms.

MW: It’s a lot about what’s worth keeping, isn’t it, particularly now when so many things are disappearing? A kind of cultural preservation.

EB: When you pay attention to these bacterial processes, you see we have to get to the roots in order to go forward.  It’s like etymology. Often a word will go astray and start taking on a totally different meaning. But once you start looking at the roots of the word you realise there’s something fundamental in here that’s been lost. The bacterial world teaches me a lot about the way forward, because it has so much to do with the essence of life. So that’s the preservation part for me, more to do with not losing contact with the processes of life than preservation.

People often go ‘Eeeugh!’ when they see a bucket of compost, or smell one of my stronger ferments. Many people live in a very clean bubble where life processes can’t come in. I think it’s really important to stick our fingers in the earth, and for our kids to as well.

I bought a piss bucket recently and shocked my family: ‘You’re not going to make us piss in that are you?’ they cried. ‘Well, yeah,’ I said, ‘because piss is an amazing fertiliser, and nowadays we just think it’s something horrible and smelly. But it’s a life-giving property, right here in our system, and we just waste it.’ I want to bring back into the life-cycle all those vital things we just keep getting rid of.

I like this idea of the uncivilised. Many young people who come to my events are fed up with modern lifestyles. They’re get really excited about hands-on life processes like fermenting. When I get overwhelmed by the horrors of our fragmented world, I remember so many people have a real need for uncivilising, for seeing a different way. Things have been sterile for too long – we need to get grimy again.

MW: What about the future? Given our bodies are host to so many microbes, might we be our own microbial revolutions?

EB: Well, the current misuse of Earth and its resources is leading us to disaster. But many small groups of people are experimenting in living and doing things differently. They don’t believe in the predominant systems and want to uncivilise themselves. So from that disaster a lot of social fermentation is happening, bubbling in the corners, creating another type of atmosphere, temperature and timeframe for other things to blossom and thrive.

And I think learning about fermentation and bacterial communication, and exploring the way bacteria have adapted and survived, is a huge beginning.

The word culture comes from the Latin cultivare: to prepare the ground for something to grow. The word is used for everything now, including TV shows. But its original meaning implies a sense of mutual nurturing: we prepare the ground and the ground gives to us. And of course bacteria is alive, and makes up the earth, and us.

***

A Red Cabbage Kimchi ‘Slaw’

Kimchi-Squash fermenting

INGREDIENTS (Organic, local and home-grown vegetables if available)

1 small red cabbage or ½ large one
1 large carrot
Japanese or daikon radish (mooli), equivalent size to carrot (optional)
Handful chives or small bunch spring onions
½ cup sea salt (not table salt)
5 cups filtered water (ratio = 1 part salt to 10 parts water)

1 small or ½ large pear, peeled, seeded, chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled,  roughly chopped
1 thumb ginger, peeled, cut into small chunks
1 or 2 fresh red chillies, deseeded if too hot
1 tablespoon raw organic cane sugar OR 1 tablespoon RAW honey
½ – 1 small cup stock: liquid from 5-6 shitake mushrooms soaked in warm water plus 1 level teaspoon kelp powder (optional)
1 dessert spoon Korean red pepper flakes/chilli flakes OR level teaspoon smoked paprika powder

Note: for some ferments I omit the red pepper/chilli flakes/paprika, and use one or two homegrown ‘Ring of Fire’ chillies in the sauce This gives just the right heat, definitely hot without going into overburn!

METHOD
Chop/shred red cabbage. Remove hard centre and keep intact for use as plug in the jar.

Place shredded cabbage in a bowl with water and sea salt. Stir and put plate on top of the bowl so all cabbage is submerged. Weight plate down with something heavy. Soak for 2 hours (at least), stirring and turning the cabbage thoroughly a few times.

Meanwhile soak five or six shitake mushrooms in warm water for 20 minutes.

Julienne carrot and daikon/mooli. (I often soak the carrots with the cabbage in the salt water.)

Rinse cabbage a few times and let drain in a colander.

In a liquidiser/food processor place pear, roughly chopped garlic, sugar/raw honey, chives/onion, ginger and mushroom and kelp stock (without the mushrooms). Blend to smooth sauce.

Place prepared vegetables in a bowl, pour the sauce on top and add red pepper flakes/smoked paprika. Gently and thoroughly mix in all the ingredients.

Place ‘kimchi slaw’ in a clean jar (mason jars are great) and push down firmly. Fold a few outer leaves of the cabbage and cover the slaw. At this point you can put the cabbage heart on top to hold the vegetables down further. The vegetables should be submerged under the liquid. Close the jar, or cover with a cloth.

IMPORTANT: Keep in a cool visible place. If you’ve put the top on, you must burp the jar frequently to prevent it exploding — seriously! You can start to eat this delicious ‘slaw’ after three days. Mine rarely last longer than a week before they are eaten up!

Next course:

The Dark Kitchen series will run throughout February, but will continue as an occasional series when the new-look Dark Mountain website is launched in April. If you would like to contribute in the future, do get in touch with a short description of your piece to series editor Charlotte Du Cann (charlotte@dark-mountain.net) Thanks all and bon appetit!

Images: Eva giving a workshop on the art and culture of viili, Finish live yoghurt, at Halikonlahti Green Arts in Salo, Finland  (photo: Tuula Nikulainen); pumpkins, kefir and kombucha in Eva’s kitchen (photo: Eva Bakkeslett); sharing rømmekolle in the snow, northern Norway, 1940s (archive photograph); fermenting pumpkin and red cabbage kimchi (photo: Mark Watson); Mark shaking it up at a raw food demo, Bungay Suffolk (photo: Josiah Meldrum)

Eva Bakkeslett is an artist, filmmaker, curator and cultural activist exploring the potential for social change through gut feelings and gentle actions. She creates spaces and participatory experiences that challenge our thinking and unravels new narratives that connect us to the earth as a living organism. Eva lives in North Norway and shows, lectures and performs her work worldwide. evabakkeslett.com

Oct2015MeadMark Watson connects people, plants and places through walks, talks, teas, meads and other ferments. He has led medicine plant walks at Dark Mountain gatherings, and demonstrated how to make mead in five minutes at the launch of Dark Mountain: Issue 8. As well as proofreading and downshifting, he is also part of the Dark Mountain production team and writes this occasional blog.

More Baked Onion Bhajis – with Potato and Beetroot

This post is a few years old, but I’m reposting now (30th November 2021), because these are a great and timeless winter snack!

This is a variation on the bhaji dish I posted here a few months back. I made them today for a late lunch, and they came out a treat. The beetroot adds a vibrant colour whilst the potato lightens everything up (just remember to rinse it a few times through a sieve after grating, and squeeze the excess water out).

As ever, they are disappearing fast from the plate…

Ingredients:

3oz/80g Hodmedod’s yellow (or green) pea flour (you can use the more traditional gram flour, but I love the lightness and taste of the ones using the pea flour).
1oz/28g brown rice flour
1 medium onion, sliced finely
1 small beetroot grated
1 small/medium potato, grated and rinsed through a sieve 3 times with excess water pressed out

1/2 to 1 Ring of Fire chili chopped up very finely (Note: these are very hot. If you can’t stand the heat, stay in the kitchen, but use one or two milder chilis).
2 tablespoons fresh coriander leaves (chopped roughly)
2 tablespoons tender kale leaves, destemmed

2 tsp roughly ground organic cumin seeds
2 tsp organic coriander seeds
1/2 tsp ajwain seeds (optional)
1/2 tsp ground tumeric (plus 1 tsp grated fresh turmeric – optional)
1 tsp sea salt, ground

up to 75ml water (or equal parts tomato passata and water up to 75ml)
olive oil

Method:

In a bowl mix the flours and the salt together, making sure they’re evenly distributed.

Heat the cumin, coriander and ajwain seeds in a pan to release the flavours, then ground with a pestle and mortar (or a Mexican molcajete if you have one). Add to the flour and salt.

Now add everything else except the water (but including a tablespoon of olive oil) and mix together. Then add up to 75ml water (or a mix of water and tomato passata), bit by bit, and keep mixing until you have a slightly wet (but not at all sloppy), sticky mixture, with all the ingredients evenly distributed.

Using a tablespoon of mixture for each bhaji (this should make at least 10 decent-sized ones), place on a baking tray greased with olive oil, and bake in the oven at 180C. After 10 – 15 minutes, take the bhajis out, turn them over and drizzle each one with olive oil. This is key, as it gives the bhajis a deep-fried texture (but without using so much oil). Bake for another 10 minutes or so.

The ones I made today were delicious on their own, though you can eat them either hot or cold with pickles and chutneys.

Note: Bhajis are a versatile dish and you can add or subtract spices according to taste. I often add a teaspoon of paprika, and today I substituted Thai chili flakes for the fresh chili, and added some freshly popped black mustard seeds.

When We Eat, We Are Eating the World

A conversation with Soto Zen tenzo Valerie Duvauchelle

What happens if you are a cook and a tsunami is coming your way? In our third post for the Dark Kitchen series, Mark Watson interviews Soto Zen ‘tenzo’ Valerie Duvauchelle about cooking in a storm, paying attention and cultivating right relationship with food and community.

Valerie with three-bowl oryoki (Photo: Sophie Lavaur)

(Originally published by , 7th July 2021)

I first met Valerie in March 2020 when we both joined a new weekly online meeting of people exploring what ‘contemplative activism’ might look like. The Covid-19 pandemic had just begun to run riot worldwide, and most of us were in countries in lockdown. Contemplation, with its connotations of medieval monks and nuns in silent and private devotion, suddenly seemed more relevant in the face of the fear and confusion brought on by the pandemic.

How can contemplation be a form of activism in the face of ongoing collapse? This is one question that has been at the base of our very modern, vocal and open meetings for over a year now, as we have held a space to actively contemplate many existential subjects – from powerlessness to death to failure. The group is made up of people with differing life practices and ideas, with several practising Buddhists among us (though I am not one).

Valerie practises Zen Buddhism of the Soto lineage. Born and raised in France, she spent many years in Japan, where she eventually took the Buddhist vows and became a nun, though she is secular and not attached to any monastery. Her specific role as tenzo, or cook, within a community, has a more multifaceted meaning than is ordinarily understood by the word ‘cook’. A tenzo is responsible for providing meals by working with ‘just what there is in front of them’, and also, through the food, for being ‘a bridge between the external and the internal’ and for mirroring and balancing the emotional state of the community.

In the meetings, what stands out are Valerie’s spontaneity and directness, her knowledge of food and Zen traditions, and the way she can bring you right into a story, so you feel you’re there experiencing it alongside her.

This May we spoke about her role as tenzo, the Japanese earthquake of 2011, paying attention to what is, and what contemplative activism has to do with the food we cook and eat.

Mark Watson: Did your interest in food come before your involvement in Zen Buddhism?

Valerie Duvauchelle: Well, first it’s always about lineage, whether spiritual or familial. My mother is a great cook – she’s probably the biggest tenzo I know – she’s still cooking at home in Brittany for everybody at 83! When I was growing up she taught yoga in the evenings, so I was often alone, with both parents working. But she cooked all my meals in advance, and every night I had her food. Then at weekends we’d always cook together and make chocolate mousse and desserts. So I never really felt alone. The relationship was through the food, and for me it’s always been about joy and love.

MW: What led to your involvement with Zen and becoming a tenzo?

It was by chance, really. I was working in Japan promoting movies for the French Ministry of Culture, and around the time of the 2008 economic collapse, something strange happened.

It suddenly didn’t make sense anymore. I’d previously been a short film producer, which involved physically being around people, and also cooking and making sure the crew had decent meals during very long working days. Now I was promoting and writing contracts and talking with other producers on the internet. It was just admin. And then one day I couldn’t do it anymore.

I couldn’t sit down at the computer. I let the date of the annual Clermont-Ferrand short film festival (where I’d look for new films) go by. I just couldn’t register. I couldn’t present anything to my sponsors, and so I knew it was over. I thought I’d gone crazy.

At the same time I had this intense urge to cook. I baked so many cakes I started donating them to local homeless people. Then some Japanese friends suggested I run cooking classes. So that’s how my life changed through cooking without even deciding it. Around that time I felt very oppressed and paralysed, and I decided to sit, even though I wasn’t attending any Zen temple yet. After a while I decided to go to a temple.

At my first Zen retreat, I was fascinated by the approach towards food – which was exactly the same as for the meditation. We also ate in the same place we meditated, and I was right in front of where all the food was placed and served. The monks would appear and put everything in a certain place with these beautiful gestures – like a choreography for serving, which included the people receiving the food.

Then there was the oryoki ritual, where we have our three bowls, and a certain way to deploy them, which is the same for everybody. And something just happened. I went every Sunday, and I continued to do retreats. I was so in love with the mystery of this food, that after about a year, I’d become closer to the tenzo of Sōji-ji, Koganeyama Roshi.

Three-bowl oryoki (Photo: ©Philippe Lissac/Godong)

MW: So you learned hands-on from a tenzo?

VD: Strangely, he didn’t talk to me directly at first. But at some point he asked me: ‘How did you eat tonight, Valerie?’ I was surprised he’d even seen me. He ran a monthly cooking class for people outside the temple, mostly grandmothers – two of them were real guardians of old Japanese recipes, like uzubeshi, uzu (a citrus fruit) topped with miso, nuts and sugar that you dry for three months and then cut in slices. They also knew how to make umeboshi (salt fermented prunes) and omochi (steamed rice filled with azuki bean jam). So I became friends with them.

Once, in a sesshin (retreat), when we did the ritual of putting the rice at the level of our mouths, then eating three spoons of it – it tasted and smelt exactly like this delicious cake my mother used to make when I was a child. I thought: I’m in a temple, it’s white rice, what’s going on? I had another spoonful, and again the smell and taste of this cake, just out of the oven and still warm. I asked the cook if he’d done something to it. He said no, he’d been doing the same rice the same way for years. That’s when I understood that something mysterious was there. If the rice was the same, what had happened for the flavour to change so much?

Later I moved from Tokyo to work in a deli with two other macrobiotic cooks, where I made vegan food with ingredients from the temple and began to teach cooking classes. I’d make ginger chocolate truffles from the red bean azuki used in traditional Japanese sweets – the Japanese people loved them.

Summer plate ‘de la bienveillance’

MW: You experienced the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake, didn’t you?

VD: Yes, I was working alone in the deli at the time. In Japan they don’t hide the electric wiring, and I hated that, especially when there’s so much other beauty. It was Sunday, three o’clock, the shop was quiet, and I decided to do something about the wiring. As I moved the fridge, everything stopped, and I thought I had broken something. Then I felt the earth start to move. The deli was on the seafront, it was quite scary. That day felt like a week, no electricity, nothing. I was alone, it was cold, and so I emptied the fridge, which was full of food, and decided to take it all to another café on the seafront – the last place you’d normally go in an earthquake. But often when you’re in danger, you look for companionship.

What a surprise when I arrived at the Magokoro café to discover a dozen others who’d had the same idea, including people who couldn’t get back to Tokyo because there were no trains. Shin-ji the owner started cooking all the food, because there was no fridge to keep it from spoiling.

We couldn’t see anything and it felt very intimate, like we were alone in the world, with all the fantastic food. The feeling faded when the electricity suddenly came back on. But we carried on eating.

The government sent a text message to everyone warning of an aftershock in the Tokyo area with risks of a tsunami. And we were on the seafront! I jumped up to go, but nobody else moved. After a silence, someone said, ‘Mmm, those look tasty,’ and people started talking about the food and their memories of particular dishes. I thought at first, ‘These people are crazy. Don’t they realise?’

And then it occurred to me: ‘Escape to where? And from what? If something happens, then it happens.’ So we just sat, and in the event there was no tsunami.

The aftershocks continued for several days, and you never knew whether there’d be another big earthquake or not. It was like a complete confrontation with the fear of death. At some point you go, ‘I’m just going to live my life. Yes, I might die, but if the earth is moving, it could move here, it could move there. And what am I running for?’ A lot of people went through that process.

When the news reached the West, we were bombarded by everyone’s hysteria and worries. I went to Nagasaki, more to calm my family down than myself. Then we heard about Fukushima. My father phoned and said I must leave because the second reactor had gone into meltdown.

I’d only gone to Nagasaki because of other people’s fear, I actually felt very anchored in my life. So I decided to go back and reopen the shop, and the Japanese all reopened their shops, because the most important thing was to really be there. It was crazy, but that was the spirit – you’re human and you can only live your life, whatever the circumstances.

MW: This practice of just living your life feels like a physically embodied, grounded and existential awareness of actually being alive right in the moment. Something very different from the tropes of the industrial-consumerist machine constantly repeating Live your Life, Be Yourself, Fulfil Your Potential etc. as a kind of cliché or cheap commerciality.

VD: Yes, they are two very different attitudes.

MW: How would you describe the basic role of a tenzo?

VD: A tenzo is one who ‘ordains the seat’, and their main function is to help everyone find their place, to find harmony, organic adjustment to what is, and acceptance of all phenomena as they occur.

Firstly, there is the posture of ‘just sitting’ and then ‘just cooking’ with what there is. So the practice of the situation. That’s why a tenzo never judges what they have – they just work with what there is in front of them.

The tenzo nourishes the practice, meaning (s)he protects the capacity to be porous to all the ingredients of the world. So, as a tenzo cooking for the community you go out and sit with the heat, the joy, the tiredness, you tune into the weather, what’s going on in the season, what’s happening with the heart of the most vulnerable person in the group. A tenzo will always sit in order to be attuned to their community, and then through the food, try and help balance any situation.

Also when we receive the food we are literally eating the world, so we let the world become us, let life be us, let the Earth be us, let the ancestors live with us.

When they compose the menu for the community, a tenzo will basically try to mirror the outside, try to bring whatever there is around onto the plates in terms of flavour, colour, texture. In Zen cuisine it’s through variety that we arrive at the centre. So we pay attention to acidity, for example, and bitterness, and salt. And from all these different flavours comes the centre.

We do the same with the colours, always paying attention to the main tonality of the season, whether that’s green (spring leaves) or red (summer berries) or orange/brown (autumn). And also the texture, always making sure there’s something raw, something cooked, something steamed. Of course at every meal there might not be all these things, but the tenzo just pays attention including as many as they can, with the intention of protecting the flavour of reality as it is.

It’s above all about the practice of the situation and not a culinary dogma. During retreats or funeral ceremonies, we take care of the flavours, we do not use garlic or onion, but in our daily life we simply aim to remain in conversation with what there is.

So through this variety the body finds its own equilibrium. And as it is always a body-mind posture, the mind follows the general centred posture of the sitting, which the food also brings.

MW: What about oryoki – the practice of the bowls?

VD: It’s a very beautiful practice. The first bowl always has the cereal, for example rice, which is never seasoned. There are two reasons for that: one because this bowl represents our awakened selves when we are fully alive, the pure taste of our life, as it is. And two, a non-seasoned cereal is very useful to a tenzo, because you can use it for porridge the next morning!

The second bowl is for a soup, or a mix of things, and the third one is for raw food, a salad or something lacto-fermented.

Zen desserts

MW: Are there any gender barriers to becoming a female tenzo?

VD: In the Zen monastic tradition there is no difference between men and women in terms of enlightenment, although different monasteries exist for women and men. There is no discrimination other than in a socio-economic context – in Japan, women’s temples have no land or cemeteries and often have no other resources than catering.

Zen is as much secular as it is monastic, though – it’s simply the dynamic contemplation by which we live. It’s about cultivating a space of deep relationship to what we are, to what is – on one’s cushion, yes, but then in the kitchen and in the subway, in the temple chanting a sutra or in the street demonstrating, one cultivates openness to what happens, from which right action arises (meaning adjusted, tuned to the moving situation).

As a Frenchwoman, I’ve chosen the secular path, and my aim is to extend this practice to anyone who wants to live cooking as they live their lives, with what is, and without being attached to an identity, without crystallising things, and to allow everyone to realise that each kitchen is a temple, the most precious one, that of our life.

MW: Finally, in the face of the collapse of the world as we know it, what would be the one thing you would most like to see make it through to whatever comes next?

VD: Basically, cooking and eating together. In the end of the end of the end people will always sit and cook and eat together, even if it’s one grain of rice, because this is where their existence comes from.

Assiette de la bienveillance – literally ‘plate of benevolence/kindness’

The Practice

Everything in the Zen practice of eating is an invitation to be with life:

Sitting: with all that is continually happening, committing to be at the heart of sitting

Cooking: adapting to the situation, reflecting life as it is, not wasting, protecting the silent taste (awami)

Eating: unfolding and closing the oryoki, washing bowls, eating with alternating bowls

Acknowledging: recite the five contemplations before meals:

I contemplate all the energy and efforts it took to get this food to me;

I contemplate how I honour this gift of life on a daily basis and how I give back for what is offered to me;

I contemplate how this food protects me from the greed of anger and the illusion of being separate;

I contemplate how this food nourishes my body and maintains my health;

I contemplate how this food awakens me to my life and instils in me the joy to keep walking.

 

A summer oryoki menu

1st bowl: Coriander quinoa

A non-seasoned cereal with fresh herbs: for example local quinoa (white +boiled) with coriander (green)

Prepare the quinoa in twice the volume of water. Cut herbs and mix into the quinoa.

2nd bowl: Fried (deep texture) aubergine (violet + salty) with sautéed tofu (white/yellow + salty) and vinegar (acidic)

Ingredients : aubergines, sunflower oil, cider (or rice) vinegar, agave syrup, salt , hard tofu, sesame oil

Cut the aubergines into 2 cm strips along half their length and fry them in sunflower oil until they are soft and golden. Season with vinegar and agave syrup (or cane sugar) with a little salt.

Cut the tofu in cubes and sauté in sesame oil.

3rd bowl: Ginger (yellow + hot) and carrots (raw + orange + sweet) with pink peppercorns (dry + pink + sweet and bitter)

Ingredients : carrots, ginger, pink pepper 

Grate the carrots, slice the ginger very finely, season with salt and put pink peppercorns on top.

In this menu we have a diversity of colours, flavours and textures, with a bit more acidity than other seasons.

Dessert suggestion: Take soy yogurt and mix with a little cashew nut purée. On top add some fresh red fruits and agave syrup.

Here too we have the complementary contrast of colours and flavours. Or even more simply, just slice a melon and let it sit for 15 mins in salted water before serving.

Five-bowl oryoki (Photo: Marc Cherruau)

Contemplative activist and secular nomadic Zen nun (Soto lineage), Valerie Dai Hatsu shares the tenzo path of Zen community cooking wherever she goes. She is a member of the Collective Intelligence Cooperative in France, teaches The Work That Reconnects, and is an advisor to communities on food practices. Her book Le Goût Silencieux: la pratique zen de la nourriture was published by Actes Sud, France in 2018. For more about Valerie’s work, see her website La Cuisine de la Bienveillance (in French).

Mark Watson will be teaching plant contemplation and practice as part of the upcoming Dark Mountain online course ‘When the Mountain Speaks With Us’, hosted by Schumacher College this September.

 

Midsummer Herbal Refresher

Midsummer Herbal Refresher
Makes 1 litre

Some suggestions for ingredients
Bunch of lemon balm
One fragrant rose bloom (wild or cultivated)
Small sprig of lemon verbena
Small sprig of mugwort
One ribwort plantain leaf
A few St. John’s Wort flowers
Sprig of self-heal
Sprig of peppermint
Juice of half a lemon
Local honey to taste
Organic/Fairtrade raw cane sugar to taste (or similiar)

Method
Boil water, let stand for a minute or two. Put lemon balm, rose and mugwort into teapot and pour on water.
After some minutes add lemon verbena
Steep about fifteen minutes (I sometimes let it stand longer)
Strain
Add the honey, sugar and lemon juice slowly, stirring and tasting until it’s just right. Don’t overdo the sugar/honey, you want to be able to taste the subtlety of the flowers.

When cool enough pour into litre bottle, pop in the peppermint, put in fridge and enjoy later with friends and fellows after letting stand at room temperature for a while so it’s cool but not ice cold.

First Spring Tonic Forage of the Year

Nettles pushing through, Suffolk, England, March 2021

The changeover from winter to spring has really got into gear over the past couple of weeks here near the Suffolk coast. The first thing I noticed were the nettles pushing through in the back garden.

But this doesn’t mean a whole lot of weeding! My immediate impulse is to make a great spring tonic soup, like nettle, leek (or wild garlic!) and potato (I did this on Tuesday evening, the first spring wild green soup of 2021, and it was so good – really simple, too). And I love to make fritters with nettles and herbs (like these baked ones), and steam nettle tops as greens.

After ingesting all those winter-warming fats and starches during the winter months, a good spring slough-off of bodily lethargy and reconnection with the life force is what I’m ready for, and for this, nettles, along with other spring greens such as cleavers and dandelions (leaves and flowers), are really our very good friends.

I’m planning on hosting some online workshops this year, starting in the spring, where we’ll explore native wild plants and how amazing they are: as food, as medicine, as pollinators for insects and as beings in their own right. We’ll also be looking at how getting to know the plants growing right where we live can work wonders for our sense of well-being and leave us feeling more connected, less isolated and more in tune with the planet.

Watch this space for more details! Coming soon!

 

For all inquiries, please contact me here. Thanks!

Text and Images by Mark Watson under Creative Commons with Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivatives license

Spicy ‘curtido’ – a Central American delight

Curtido 16th December 2020 with Crown Prince squashes in the background

‘Curtido’ is a ferment popular in Central America, similar to (but not the same as) European sauerkraut or Korean kimchi. I’ve been making jars of it over the past few months, mostly based on red cabbage along with onions and carrots, chiles and herbs. Like other ferments, this one never comes out the same way twice, but it always tastes delicious, and can be ready within three days for a fabulous, gut-friendly relish!

There are some tasty commercial ‘curtidos’  available in the UK, but in case you’d like to have a go at it yourself (highly recommended), here’s how I made today’s jar:

Ingredients
1 medium white cabbage (one of the denser varieties) chopped/shredded – you can also use red cabbage, or a mix of red and white (my favourite)
1 carrot, julienned
1 onion, thinly sliced
1 level teaspoon chipotle chile flakes
1 level teaspoon jalapeño chile flakes
1 tsp of Mexican oregano (Lippia graveolens) Note: Mexican oregano is in the verbena rather than the mint family, and is stronger than the regular oregano we’re used to in the UK, but you can substitute this for two teaspoons of regular oregano)
2 teaspoons freshly ground cumin (I heat the seeds in a dry frying pan before I ground them)
2 teaspoons sea salt
1/2 cup of lightly salted water and apple juice mix (50/50)

Method
Curtido P1070449In a bowl mix the cabbage, carrot, onion, salt, chile flakes, oregano and cumin until evenly distributed. (You can massage the cabbage first if you want to.)

Pour in the apple/water mix.

In a 1 litre Kilner/Mason jar press the vegetables down hard. I use the end of a rolling pin for this, and that gets the juices flowing. You can also use a few whole cabbage leaves to cover the vegetables.

You need to make sure the curtido is covered with liquid, so if necessary, use the cabbage heart to hold the vegetables down firmly when you close the Kilner jar.

Keep in a warm place out of the sunlight (in the winter I used the airing cupboard) and place the jar in a bowl to catch any of the liquid that might (and probably will) escape. These ferments can get fizzy quite quickly. Open the lid once (at least) or twice a day to burp the jar.

This ferment can be enjoyed after as few as three to five days. After about five days I generally place it in a new jar and keep it in the fridge, where it doesn’t remain long!

From ‘Xochimilco’ Pallet to Wasteground Patch of Plants

‘Floating’ pallet garden 2019

Last year, I put a wooden pallet on a patch of grass in the garden and covered it with pots of plants of mostly Mexican origin: chiles, anise hyssop, marigolds (Tagetes) and others. I called it ‘Xochimilco’ after the floating gardens in Mexico City, although they were ‘floating’ on a wooden pallet rather than water.

In winter I cleared the pots but left the pallet, and when I removed it in the spring there was a bare patch of earth 4ft x 2ft, which I sprinkled some grass seed on and left.

Waste ground patch 7th August 2020

By summer, the grass hadn’t done so well, but all sorts of waifs and strays began to appear in the patch that were nothing to do with my planting intentions. And I left them to do their thing.

As of 7th August, as well as the various sparse grasses, I can count at least 23 types of plant in this tiny patch, and whilst it doesn’t seem quite so romantic or exotic as a Mexican floating garden, I’m very fond of it (it looks lovely close to, the photo doesn’t do justice to it at all). The plants are mostly native or naturalised.

Here are the denizens of this tiny waste patch, among them quite a few edibles: various grasses, white clover, ribwort plantain, horsetail, rocket, lemon balm, dandelion, Good King Henry, small-flowered willowherb, marigold (Calendula), fat hen, nipplewort, fennel, yarrow, vervain (Verbena officinalis), nettles, chard, wild carrot, evening primrose, sorrel, bramble, ground elder, bristly ox-tongue and wild lettuce.

I’ve been cropping the fat hen to include in a summer version of these delicious fritters, and it grows back in no time.

Not such a waste ground, after all!

P1070704

Wasteground patch 10th August 2020

Growing Out Of The Wall

From 7th July 2017

Passing by the wall of an old Suffolk church today, we were called to attention by an amazing display of St. John’s wort growing out of the cracks, so we stopped to pay a visit…

and found a whole array of burgeoning wild blooms, including harebells,

and yarrow,

along with the more familiar kinds of wall plants, like ivy-leaved toadflax,

and pellitory of the wall itself:

Let more wild plants cheer up old walls!