Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Food For Free #2

Cherry-plum Prunus Cerasifera

Locally common in hedgerows in a few scattered areas of England. The twigs are brown, not dark-grey like blackthorn, and without thorns. The fruits appear rather earlier than sloes and are reddish-yellow in colour.

Bullace Prunus Domestica

Occurs occasionally in hedgerows throughout the British Isles. Fruits like large, egg-shaped sloes, though of variable colours.

The bullace was the domestic plum before cultivation produced the more succulent varieties. Its fruit is not quite as sour as the sloe, but is still normally left on the branch until the early frosts have reduced some of its acitidy.

From Food For Free: A guide to the Edible wild Plants of Britain by Richard Mabey,
Wm Collins Sons & Co. Ltd, 1972

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Food For Free #1

Dittander Lepidium Latifolium

Dittander is a hot, pungent root, and was gathered from the wild and occasionally grown in gardens as a condiment before horeseraddish and pepper became popular. It is a perennial and has an obstinate and aggressive root system like horeseraddish, yet in uncommon in the wild. Only beside a few estuarie on the South and East Coasts can the tall, elegant leaves still be found.

Marsh Mallow Althae Officinalis

The plant that gave the sweet its name. Today marshmallow is made from starch, gelatine and sugar. But once it was produced from the roots of Althaea Officinalis, which contain not only their own starch, but albumen, a crystallisable sugar, a fixed oil and a good deal of geltinous matter. They were gathered by fishermen's wives in the dykes and salt marshes of the East Coast, Where the plant still grows, in soft branched clumps with velvety pink flowers.

Pignut Conopodium Majus

The Custom of Grubbing for pig or earth nuts seems to have died out now, even amongst children. There was a time when they were one of the most popular of wayside nibbles, even though extractineg them from the ground was as delicate a business as an egg and spoon race. They cannot be pulled out, for the thin leaf talk breaks very quickly. The fine white roots must be unearthed witha knife, and carefully traced down to the tuber.

The 'nuts' can be eaten raw once they have been scraped or washed, though one early botonist recommended them peeled and boiled in broth with pepper. The plant, a slender, feathery umbellifer, is still common in June and July in woods, meadows and sandy heaths.

From Food For Free: A guide to the Edible wild Plants of Britain by Richard Mabey,
Wm Collins Sons & Co. Ltd, 1972

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

food in fiction # 2

In our house George Orwell has become a bit of a hero.
Here are some quotes from Keep the Aspidistra Flying and The Road to Wigan Pier. The first one feels particularly relevant when I walk past the food wrappers and still blooming trees on City road.

'For what difference does spring or winter or any other time of year make to the average civilised person nowadays? In a town like London the most striking seasonal change, apart from the mere change of temperature, is in the things you see lying about on the pavement. In late winter it is mainly cabbage leaves. In July you tread on cherry stones, in Novemeber on burnt-out fireworks. Towards Christmas the orange peel grows thicker. It was a different matter in the Middle Ages. There was some sense in writing poems about spring when spring meant fresh meat and green vegetables after months of frowsting in some windowless hut on a diet of salt fish and mouldy bread.
If it was spring Gordon failed to notice it.'

Orwell, G. (2000) Keep the Aspidistra Flying, Penguin Classics

'at the end of his lecture he would suddenly turn to us and demand, ‘What’s the most important thing in the world?’ We were expected to shout ‘Food!’ and if we did not do so he was disappointed.'

Orwell, G. (1958) The Road to Wigan Pier, Mariner Books