A Mead of Fruits, Flowers and Herbs

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This morning I got my first mead of the summer on the go – red roses, strawberries, wild honey, spring water and a bunch of fresh herbs, most from the garden, and everything apart from the honey from no further than two miles away.

The fresh herbs include anise hyssop, apple mint, lemon balm, spearmint, yerba buena (what would we do without the mint family?), along with some sunflower fellows: alecost leaves and mugwort flowerbuds.

Over the next ten to fourteen days there will be vigorous stirrings and smellings and bubblings and fizzings, followed by very merry drinkings!

See this post for how to give it a go yourself: How to Make a Herbal Mead Elixir

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Retro Blackbird Goes 2 Tone

This year’s resident blackbird has been particularly vocal with a bold and complex song, which has been a joy to hear throughout the spring and early summer.
The thing that has struck me most about it though is a line he’s repeated frequently, which really reminds me of the first few notes of The Selecter‘s On My Radio from 1979. We’ve never had a 2 Tone retro blackbird as a neighbour before!
He’s toned it down in the past few days now that the young have fledged, but I managed to catch a bit of his song the other day in this 4 second video from somewhere behind the mock orange…

 

Goldfinches

As I write this from near the east coast of England at 2pm on 17th December 2015, the weather outside is mostly overcast with pale gold light streaking through the clouds to the south. It is also extremely mild, probably 14 degrees Celsius.

Not such a different temperature in fact to that of the early October day when I took this picture of a flock of goldfinches which had landed in the elder tree at the bottom of the garden.

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It’s not a particularly sharp or fine picture and I don’t have a very good camera; but something about the flashes of dandelion gold on the goldfinches’ wings, as if the colour came directly from the sunny flower of that plant itself, whose seeds they love to eat, made me want to post it…

Sunflowers and Tree Spinach to Brighten up the Back of the Library

A couple of years back I suggested to Charlotte and Lynne at the local library that it might be nice to brighten up the back border behind the building with some summer flowers. They thought that was a good idea, and this year I got round to it.

I felt it should be kept simple, with some tall plants to reach the top of the fence – so I started off some sunflowers and tree spinach at home, dug, sieved and prepared the soil in spring and popped the young plants in at the end of May.

Here is a collage of the border, starting in May and going up to the end of August. Unfortunately there are no pictures of the moment when most of the sunflowers were blooming – including a very large one which decided it wanted to face the house over the fence and not the libary! – because I forgot to take them.

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But as you can see, it did make a difference to that bare edge… and as of today, 8th September, the ‘China cats’ are still putting out blooms, the tree spinach has flowered, and the one here has outgrown the sunflowers:

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Hello and thanks for visiting Mark in Flowers

A few words about plants and me.

I usually call myself a ‘plant person’, which is what people who are really into plants and spend a lot of time working with them call each other in the United States. I spent a lot of time getting to know the plants in south-eastern Arizona and I’ve always loved how inclusive and open this description is. Anyone can connect with plants, we’ve been co-existing with them for ever on the planet. It’s a question of attention.

I’ve been a community activist for many years and live near the east coast of Suffolk in the UK, where plants continue to inform and occupy a huge part of my life. Throughout 2012 as part of Sustainable Bungay in Suffolk, I curated a Plant Medicine bed in the local Community Library garden, drawing attention to just how much plants actually do and how multi-faceted they are. In conjunction with the bed I organised and hosted a whole series of monthly ‘Plants for Life’ talks, walks and workshops with guest speakers on everything from hedgerow medicine to growing organic and biodynamic herbs, from book readings on the dreaming of plants to ‘medicinal’ winemaking and ‘walking with weeds’. Anyone and everyone is welcome to come to any of the events I organise.

These days I also refer to myself as a plant activist, as a lot of what I do and teach is about connecting people, plants and places. I’m particularly, though not exclusively, drawn to native, medicinal wild plants and I have a fondness for members of the mint and sunflower families and plants from Mexico, where I have lived. I work a LOT with Ribwort Plantain, and Lemon Balm and Rosemary always feature strongly. Recently I’ve been drawn to the powerful-smelling and enigmatic Epazote. And then there is always Anise Hyssop.

PFTeapot1-5And I love making (and teaching people how to make) plant teas and drinks, appearing in many places with my teapot, from Dark Mountain’s final Uncivilisation festival where I led a medicine plant walk, to Transition Town Tooting’s previous two Foodivals, where I gave herbal tea demos. I continue to travel with my teapot, making fresh delicious teas from whatever herbal edibles and drinkables are within reach. Next stop is the Two Degrees Festival on 6th June at 6-7pm where I’ll be brewing up a freshly foraged and locally gathered convivial floral summer tea alongside Playing for Time author and friend Lucy Neal.

Recently I have expanded my plant activities to include fermentation and passing on what I’ve learnt to others through demonstrations and workshops. Herbal meads are on the cards for 2015.

I am available for talks, walks, workshops and travelling teapots and charge according to a sliding scale – I charge more if you’ve got more, less if you have less.

A note about photos and text on Mark in Flowers blogposts: All text, photos and artwork are by me unless otherwise credited. I’m happy for you to use them so long as you credit them to me (Creative Commons with Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivatives)

‘Kimchi Slaw’ Variations and a Jar of Smreka

Dear Reader, this post follows the variations on my recent ‘kimchi slaw’ fermentations. See HERE for original recipe link.

11th March 2015
Kimchi-Smreka March 2015New ‘kimchi slaw’ in the jar, this time leaving out the shitake mushroom water, powdered kelp and onion and adding organic sea lettuce (Ulva lactuca). This was dried, so I rehydrated it, draining the first 1/2 cup of water away (the smell was a bit strong for me, though I may give it a go next time).

I added another 1/2 cup water, then liquidised both sea lettuce and liquid for the sauce along with the cranberry juice, garlic, raw honey (from Bungay Community Bees), 1 homegrown Ring of Fire chilli, a lot of fresh ginger, half a dried pear and the flesh of a small apple.

These pickles/slaws/kimchis are really versatile. This morning’s version has a good, fresh smell of ginger and leek – I’ll be burping the jar from tomorrow and starting to eat it in three days.

The bubbling jar in the background is fermenting juniper berries aka smreka, following a recipe from Bosnia which appears in Sandor Katz’s excellent The Art of Fermentation. It’s been on the go for three or four weeks now, I release the lid at least once daily for burping, and I’ve had a sip – very light and sweet, even though it’s just juniper berries and filtered water with nothing added.

Early Feb 2015
The bulk of my latest fermentational ‘kimchi slaw’ experiment is made up of a Chinese cabbage Charlotte brought back from a Turkish shop in Tooting (on a recent Playing for Time visit to Lucy), along with local organic carrots, leeks, apples and a little chopped red cabbage.

This time I added a dash of organic cranberry juice to the sauce and the whole jar smells completely fresh and amazing. See here for full recipe and method of my previous kimchi slaw along with all relevant references, acknowledgements, inspirations and links!).

I’ll be tasting this one on Tuesday 10th Feb (giving it a full three days in the jar) and will report on it here (below the picture) for anyone interested.

Kimchi-Slaw 8 Feb
11 February 2015
Well that is my favourite ‘kimchi slaw’ ferment so far (even though I say that every time!). I enjoyed the fresh tartness of the apple (no pear this time), and the pungent flavour of those leeks goes brilliantly with the ginger. We opened the (litre) jar last night and finished a third of it, with handcut (by me) chips (French fries) done in the oven with rosemary, green peppercorns, rapeseed oil and lemon.

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

Is it Kimchi, A Slaw, Both Or Neither? I Don’t Know But It’s Delicious

P1020654 800x600It’s a ferment; it’s alive; it’s a revelation; it’s a meditation; it’s raw veg in brine; it’s part of a movement; it’s inspired by a dish that’s a national treasure; it’s fizzy; a few days later it’s not so fizzy; it’s radical; it’s an addiction.

It’s cabbage and carrot and radish and onion and garlic and chilli and ginger.
And a pear and/or apple, and honey, tamari and sea kelp and chives and salt water.

It’s also shitake mushroom water but that didn’t scan in the verse.

Anyway I’ve been making this pickle for a few months now, based on Korean kimchi and inspired and aided by fermentation revivalist Sandor Ellix Katz’s The Art of Fermentation, and the recipes by Garden Betty in California and Holly in Argentina, which I came upon on their blogs.

I’ve introduced my version of ‘kimchi slaw’ to people in the Raw Food Demos I’ve been giving at Giddens and Thompsons local greengrocers in Bungay, and talking about it to everyone else! Fermentation is something that really seems to excite people. It’s certainly got me going lately.

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The recipe here is my version as it stands now. It appears everyone does it differently. And the ‘kimchi’ never comes out the same twice. It must be the influence of all those shapeshifting microorganisms!

A Red Cabbage Kimchi ‘Slaw

INGREDIENTS (Organic, local and home grown vegetables are always my first choice)

1 small red cabbage or ½ large one
1 large carrot
Japanese or daikon radish (mooli), equivalent size to carrot. Sometimes I leave this out if it’s not available and just use cabbage and carrot as the main vegetables.
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, diced
2 garlic cloves, peeled
1 thumb ginger, peeled & cut into small chunks
2 fresh red chillies, deseeded if too hot
1 tablespoon raw organic cane sugar OR 1 table spoon RAW honey
½ – 1 small cup stock: liquid from 5-6 shitake mushrooms soaked in warm water plus 1 level teaspoon kelp powder
dessert spoon korean red pepper flakes/chilli flakes OR level teaspoon smoked paprika powder
Note: for the most recent ferment I omitted the red pepper flakes/paprika, as I used two homegrown Ring of Fire chillis in the sauce – mainly deseeded but with just a few seeds left in. It was just the right heat, definitely pretty hot but 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 1½ – 2 hours or more, stirring and turning the cabbage thoroughly at least once or twice during this time.

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

Julienne carrot and daikon/mooli. (I soaked the carrots with the cabbage in the salt water for the latest batch).

Rinse cabbage 3 times and let drain in a colander.

In a liquidiser/food processor place peeled, seeded and diced pear, roughly chopped garlic, sugar/raw honey, chives/onion, ginger and mushroom & 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 papriika. 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 sauce.

Keep in a cool visible place. Burp the jar frequently if you’ve closed the lid (see cautionary note below)*. You can start to eat this delicious ‘slaw’ within three days. And mine never last much longer than a week before they are eaten up!

*A Word of Caution – take note but don’t let it put you off! If you are fermenting vegetable in glass jars with the lids on, you should keep them in a place where you can see them easily, because you will need to ‘burp the jar’ frequently whilst they are first fermenting. Even in a cold kitchen (like mine!) in the winter gas can build up in the jar quite vigorously. You do not want the jar to explode! The trick is to keep the lid on loosely so trapped gas can be released.

Kimchi ferment 2 [smaller]

I ferment my ‘kimchi pickle slaw’ in a mason or kilner jar. After pushing down the vegetables with the folded outer leaves of the cabbage and then with a weight if necessary to keep them submerged (the fermentation process is anaerobic), I place the the lid with the rubber seal on top of the jar leaving the metal clasp off (see pictures). This means the lid sits loosely on the jar, which can then burp itself and release the potentially explosive CO2 safely.

The picture above shows my latest pickle, bubbling happily and tasting great! (It was a full jar the day before yesterday!)

For an update (February 2015), see: ‘Kimchi Slaw’ Variations and a Jar of Smreka

Kimchi & Squash

Sources and inspirations:
The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz (Chelsea Green Publishing) for detailed kimchi recipes and methods (and everything else about fermentation). Just makes you want to try everything in the book from dosa flat breads to herbal meads. Excellent. Sandor’s book Wild Fermentation is brilliant too. Check out his website here.
Korean cook and blogger Holly at Beyond Kimchee. Lovely, very friendly and informative blog by a Korean cook living in Argentina (written in English).
Another great blog is from Garden Betty aka Linda in California. Again very friendly and informative with great pictures. The first kimchi recipe I tried was the red cabbage kimchi from Garden Betty’s blog.

Text and Images by Mark Watson under Creative Commons with Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivatives license: Fermenting ‘Kimchi Slaw’ with lid on (see *note above); Raw Food Demo at Giddens and Thompson Dec 2014, me (left) and glam-fab assistant Simon Thompson (right); keeping the lid loose with fermenting vegetables* and fizzy (delish!) kimchi slaw; red cabbage ‘kimchi slaw’ & cha-cha or bom-bom squash with sage in brine fermenting (see recipe on Cultures for Health website).