Posts Tagged ‘celebrations’

How to make a Herbal Mead Elixir

This month the 8th issue of Dark Mountain (and first themed book and paperback) was published. Titled Technê, it is a wide-ranging collection of essays, reflections and maker guides on all aspects of technology and tools. At its launch at the /i’klectik/ art lab and cafe in Lambeth, I demonstrated in six intense minutes how to make a wild autumn mead, whilst Charlotte gave a slideshow of some of the artworks and photographs in this densely illustrated volume. I also joined the crew for this issue as proofreader and Charlotte co-edited the book and wrote two of its pieces. This is the first, a short practical one about making mead, which also appears on her own blog:

How to make a Herbal Mead Elixir – by Charlotte Du Cann

This is a mead made for a talk about Dark Mountain at the 2 Degrees Festival at Toynbee Studios, Whitechapel, last June. My fellow editor Steve Wheeler and I had been invited to present our talk without any technology or power, as part of a ‘de-industrialising‘ workshop called ‘Breakdown breakdown’, organised by the artist and activist Brett Bloom.

I took a jar of mead along as part of the performance.

Honey and water infused by botanicals make the simplest, most off-grid, hands-on, archaic, indigenous drink you can find anywhere. You can conjure mead elixirs from any fruit or leaves or roots, depending on your intent or sense of adventure. Fragrant elderflowers, bitter dandelion roots, birch bark, hawthorn berries; the mead circles of rural Tennessee, according to master fermenter Sandor Ellix Katz, make them with just about with anything. Ours had a fruity theme: conference pear, lemon balm, apple mint, lime blossom honey. The key ingredient in mead is raw honey. The honey has to be non-pasteurised, so it contains the wild yeasts that make fermentation happen.

Midway through the presentation, just after Steve had whirled about the circle of people, reading from his Dark Mountain piece, Ragnanok, about modern warrior training in Sweden, I passed the mead around to see if anyone could guess what it was. No one did, although a girl from Finland did say it reminded her of something her people made with raisins.

‘Well, if you know your Nordic mythology,’ I said, ‘you’ll know that when Odin and his sky warriors weren’t preparing for the Last Battle, they were drinking mead!’

The first time I encountered mead, I was investigating plant medicine in Oxford. One night, I dreamed my head was covered in bees. It was intense. The second time was at an editorial meeting in London. Six of us had been running a newspaper against the odds and were closing shop after three years. We sat in a circle, feeling The End drawing nigh, when the managing editor exclaimed, ‘Let’s have some mead!’ and brandished a Kilner jar containing an elixir of rose petals, redcurrants and windfallen cherry plums. Five minutes later we were all falling about laughing. I thought I was going to burst with happiness.

‘It might be the end of the world as we know it,’ I declared to the audience. ‘but at least we can have a good time!

INGREDIENTS:

1 handful each of mint and
lemon balm leaves

1 ½ litres of pure spring or
boiled water

1 pear (organic), chopped (or
any unsprayed seasonal fruit)

½ jar of raw honey (small
local producers rarely process their honey)

1 ½ litre Kilner jar

METHOD:
Pick a good handful of lemon balm and mint leaves from a garden or unpolluted location, and make them into a strong tea with some of the water (just off the boil). The water needs to be pure non-carbonated spring water. If you use tap water make sure it is well boiled, or left open overnight, to rid it of chlorine (although it may still contain chloramines depending where you live). Let it cool.

Dissolve the honey with some of the cooled tea in the Kilner jar, then add all the rest of the ingredients, plus several fresh lemon balm leaves.

Leave the jar somewhere warmish and visible. Every day take up a wooden spoon and swirl the mixture briskly anti-clockwise and then clockwise.

It doesn’t matter if you keep the jar open or closed, but if you close it you need to ‘burp’ the jar every day. It will make a satisfying hiss as the CO2 escapes and froth vigorously. Each day the mead will look different. The colour and fragrance will change. Transformation is happening!

After about 10 days it is ready to drink – though you can bottle and keep it for years. It is particularly delicious mixed with wine, fruit cordial, apple juice and/or sparkling spring water.

All the ingredients in this mead are traditional herbs for relaxing and cheering you up. Contrary to expectation, facing the end of the world as we know it can be a cheerful thing, as every attempt to deny the situation, or to keep things going against the odds, disappears. It opens up a space you didn’t think was there. Suddenly you can see what or who was around you all the time, but you were too fraught to notice. 

The alchemical mead jar at the centre of the talk was a kind of metaphor for the Dark Mountain Project. I wanted to show hown if you gather some creative uncivilised ingredients (people) together, they can made a heady, healing and joyful brew. What is happening in that Kilner jar is the magic and medicine of fermentation – communities of microorganisms working together, exchanging material, creating new forms, making life happen. All the active ingredients in honey are dormant until you mix them with water, and then everything wakes up. The yeasts that live on the surface of leaves and the skins of fruit add to the live action and flavour. The sweet nectar of flowers gathered and processed by millions of bees feeds them, and then us. Rewilding in a jar.

Sip, share and enjoy!

Images: front cover of Dark Mountain 8 designed by Andy Garside; a late summer mead with cherry plums, rowan berries and mallow (Mark Watson); Mark in action at recent Raw Food and Drink demo at Giddens & Thompon’s Bungay (photo by Josiah Meldrum)


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Making Tea in Tooting – Foodival 2014

Tooting FoodivalI was delighted to be invited back for the second time to take part in the 7th fabulous Transition Town Tooting Foodival, which took place this last weekend.

A total celebration of locally grown and cooked food, involving many different people and organisations from the local community: individuals, restaurants, the community garden, the Friends of Streatham Cemetery bee group… it is a most joyous affair, with performances by neighbourhood musicians and artists and a Top Tooting Cook competition to boot.

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I was there making and demonstrating fresh herb teas and like last year I was struck again not only by how much everyone enjoyed the teas, but how interested people were to know about the plants.

IMG_1158I collected 25 or so different types of leaves and flowers from the garden here at home in Suffolk, and was brought lovely bunches of lemon balm, sage, marjoram and thyme by Jenny from Tooting Community garden and Malsara from the Foodival organising group. And on Sunday morning Lucy took me to a spot on Tooting Common where she’d seen yarrow growing after we found the community garden wasn’t yet open. And there it was! The day was saved.

It was in fact a brilliant day and I didn’t stop making, pouring and talking about the plant teas from the time the event began at midday until about 4.30pm. I hardly left the table. Thanks to Charlotte (the day’s ‘food tsar’) and Lizzie at the food table, I got to taste some of the wonderful food – including delicious aubergine fritters, spicy vegetable stew and poori masala.

My only regret at being so busy is not having had more time to visit the other stalls at the Foodival. I need to factor that in for next time. But it was a great day and I spoke with many people. Some hadn’t realised they could grow herbs themselves and didn’t have to get them from the supermarket; others wanted to know what to do with all the lemon balm in their garden; still others had no idea that there was a community garden they could join in with in Tooting. One woman who had no growing space where she lived was delighted to find out about it.

IMG_1168One of my favourite things was seeing people’s responses when I offered them to smell the mixture of plants in my herb basket. And the openness many showed for trying something different. The small pieces of Aztec Sweet Herb flowers and leaves went down particularly well. As you chew the taste just gets sweeter and sweeter. I’ll write about this extraordinary plant in another post…

Meanwhile thanks to all the Foodival crew at Transition Town Tooting for welcoming me up from the country for the event! And of course to Lucy and her husband Simon for having me to stay and being great hosts.

Foodival

Delicious teas

PS If you would like to host a plant medicine talk, walk or workshop with me please see here for details.

Images: Foodival banner by the Phantom Knitter of Tooting; Setting up the herb tea table; talking with people about the plants; tea-tasting; the foodival in full swing; a lovely bit of twitter feedback Photos by Simon Maggs, Transition Town Tooting, Mark Watson and Chris at NappyValleyNet

Text and images: Creative Commons with attribution, non-commercial, no derivatives

Surprise Gifts and Visits: Lemon Cheesecake, Tortoiseshells, Ice Plants

This delicious lemon cheesecake was made for me by fellow-in-Sustainable-Bungay Margaret after she heard me saying how much I loved lemon cheesecake and hadn’t eaten it for years.

When Lesley (also a fellow in Sustainable Bungay) paid us a suprise visit on Sunday afternoon she brought some of her homegrown raspberries. Charlotte had just cooked up a whole vat of Victoria plum jam from windfalls down the road. So we decorated the cheesecake in yellow and red, and enjoyed tea and conversation in the ‘porch’ of our old tent in the garden. Beautiful.

Monday brought a different delight with the appearance of over two dozen tortoiseshell butterflies on the ice plants in our neighbours’ garden. After so few butterflies for most of the summer their appearance really warmed our hearts – even on an ice plant!

Images: Margaret’s Lemon Cheesecake with Charlotte’s Victoria Plum Jam and Lesley’s home-grown rasspberries; Tent conversations (or therapy for the hard of hearing); Small Tortoiseshells on Ice Plants

Because the worlds are round… and wavy

For the Summer Solstice and 24 Hours of Possibility I stayed offline and concentrated on connecting with the living systems of the earth, beginning with a visit to the beach at four in the morning to see the sunrise half an hour later.

It sounds like the simplest thing in the world to just remain offline for twenty four hours. The truth is I can’t remember the last time I had an internet-free day. Much of Transition communications is a web-based business. Just the previous day I’d been emailing and tweeting everyone in Sustainable Bungay about Green Drinks that evening and updating a post on the website about it. I went to the Green Dragon with a host of flowers in jars to speak about plant families for the second Plants for Life event in three days.

It was a misty dawn just off the sunrise coast here in Suffolk and I settled for sensing the moment of the sun coming up over the sea rather than seeing it. It can be just as exciting, that moment when you FEEL it and become aware of other senses than the visual at play.

But the coast was clear, the tide was out and the sea was calm! And here’s what it looked like a few minutes after the sun rose.
The photograph gives only the merest impression of the stillness and the quiet fullness of everything. No one else was around. The tide was out. The wind was occasional and light. I stilled my thoughts and tuned in with my feet on the ground. Everything felt big and wide and yes, if I had to put it in words, filled with possibility. My body felt relaxed and alert all at once. The sun seemed like a being, something like a person.

Back home

I set about making a midsummer birthday herbal drink for Charlotte to take on her journey to the Transition Tin Village at the Sunrise festival later that day. It was some time before seven, the sun well risen and the whole garden alive and shining with its mix of wild and cultivated plants and bushes. Plant and flower time can be a very different experience from clock time and when I glanced again at the kitchen clock it was way past nine o’ clock!

By then I had gathered 47 different plants for the midsummer herbal cocktail, and they were infusing in the teapot. You could smell them throughout the house: a whole array of mints, English and Japanese mugwort, elder, heartsease and marigold flowers, two types of fennel, lovage (one small leaf!), anise hyssop, giant mexican hyssop, lemon balm, salad burnet, southernwood, lemon verbena, two sages, chia, epazote (very small leaf!), lavender, vervain, alecost, plantain, white deadnettle… and twenty-odd more. I added some fresh organic lemon juice and some fruit syrup (we’d run out of honey, which tastes better, but the syrup was okay) et voila!

When I asked Charlotte to guess what plants were in the drink, she named at least twenty five that I hadn’t put in along with the ones that were there!

Now it was time for the tortilla, or Spanish omelette, all local eggs, potatoes and onions, Norfolk tomatoes and homegrown parsley, basil and Greek oregano. The birthday, solstice and cross-country journey food and drink were prepared.

So when Simon arrived from Norwich with two friends just after midday to pick Charlotte up for their shared car journey to Somerset, I thought, now I’ll do my reconnecting with the living systems.

Then realised I’d been doing it all morning.

One thing that struck me during these 24 screen-free, pixel-free hours of possibility: How wavy the living world is. And how round.

Photos: Summer Solstice Foxgloves at sunrise, Southwold; Talking plant families at Green Drinks, Bungay June 2012; Summer Solstice Sunrise, Southwold June 2012; Garden Shining, June 2012; midsummer birthday 47 herbs for infusion; mostly local Spanish tortilla (all by MW)

First published on the Transition Norwich Blog – This Low Carbon Life and the Transition Social Reporting Project on 22nd June 2012