Life in rural Devon: The Chagford Show

A prize-winning cabbage at the Chagford Show

Prize-winning onions

On Thursday, Howard, Jenny (my lovely mother-in-law), Tilly and I went to the 115th Chagford Agricultural and Horticultural Show, one of our favorite events in the local calendar, where we watched dog, pony, and horse trials, admired tractors and vegetables, listened to local music, ate locally-grown food, caught up with village neighbors and friends...and where I was able to thoroughly indulge my inexplicable passion for sheep.

Here are some of my pictures from the day. You can find many more by other folks in the Gallery of the Chagford Show website.

Prize-winning vegetables

Prize-winning peas

“Imagine if we had a food system that actually produced wholesome food. Imagine if it produced that food in a way that restored the land. Imagine if we could eat every meal knowing these few simple things: What it is we’re eating. Where it came from. How it found its way to our table. And what it really cost. If that was the reality, then every meal would have the potential to be a perfect meal. We would not need to go hunting for our connection to our food and the web of life that produces it. We would no longer need any reminding that we eat by the grace of nature, not industry, and that what we’re eating is never anything more or less than the body of the world. I don’t want to have to forage every meal. Most people don’t want to learn to garden or hunt. But we can change the way we make and get our food so that it becomes food again -- something that feeds our bodies and our souls. Imagine it: Every meal would connect us to the joy of living and the wonder of nature. Every meal would be like saying grace.” 

- Michael Pollan (The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals)

Prize-winning herbs

Home-made local wine

Prize-winning children's drawings

Prize-winning flowers in the children's section

“Community is a sign that love is possible in a materialistic world where people so often either ignore or fight each other. It is a sign that we don't need a lot of money to be happy -- in fact, the opposite.”

- Jean Vanier (Community And Growth)

Friends serving tea at Chagford Show

Husband, hound, and a vintage tractor

Steam-driven tractor

Dog competition at Chagford Show

Carriage-driving competition

The passing traffic at Chagford Show

“If we are looking for insurance against want and oppression, we will find it only in our neighbors' prosperity and goodwill and, beyond that, in the good health of our worldly places, our homelands. If we were sincerely looking for a place of safety, for real security and success, then we would begin to turn to our communities -- and not the communities simply of our human neighbors but also of the water, earth, and air, the plants and animals, all the creatures with whom our local life is shared."

- Wendell Berry (The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays)

Prize-winning young cow

Prize-winning calf

I'll be out of the studio over the next week due to family commitments, and back to Myth & Moor again on Tuesday, September 1st. Wherever you may be, I hope the end of your summer (or winter, for those of you Down Under) is a good one.

A lamb at Chagford Show

Sheep at Chagford Show

Sheep at Chagford Show

Sheep at Chagford Show

Sheep at Chagford Show

Sheep at Chagford Show

Ram and sheep at Chagford Show

Sheep at Chagford ShowPicture descriptions are in the captions. (Run your cursor over the images to see them.)


Picking Nettles

Spring is the time to harvest nettles...

Nettle path at the bottom of Nattadon Hill.Parts of this post were first published in May 2012, with additional text and photos added.

In the fairy tale of "The Wild Swans" by Hans Christian Andersen, the heroine's brothers have been turned into swans by their evil stepmother. A kindly fairy instructs her to gather nettles in a ''The Wild Swans- Picking Nettles by Moonlight'' by Nadezhda Illarionovagraveyard by night, spin their fibers into a prickly green yarn, and then knit the yarn into a coat for each swan brother in order to break the spell -- all of which she must do without speaking a word or her brothers will die. The nettles sting and blister her hands, but she plucks and cards, spins and knits, until the nettle coats are almost done -- running out of time before she can finish the sleeve on the very last coat. She flings the coats onto her swan-brothers and they transform back into young men -- except for the youngest, with the incomplete coat, who is left with a wing in the place of one arm. (And there begins a whole other tale.)

This was one of my favorite stories as a child, for I too had brothers in harm's way, and I too was a silent sister who worked as best I could to keep them safe, and sometimes succeded, and sometimes failed, as the plot of our lives unfolded. The story confirmed that courage can be as painful as knitting coats from nettles, but that goodness can still win out in the end. Spells can broken, and gentle, loving persistence can be the strongest magic of them all.

''The Wild Swans'' by Susan Jeffers and Yvonne Gilbert

Wild Swans by Susan Jeffers

I grew up with the story, but not with Urtica dioica: "common nettles" or "stinging nettles." I imagined them as dark, thorny, and witchy-looking -- and although they're actually green and ordinary, growing thickly in fields and hedges here in Devon, nettles emerge nonetheless from the loam of old stories and glow with a fairy glamour. It is a plant that heralds the return of spring, a tonic of vitamins and minerals; and also a plant redolent of swans and spells, of love and loss and loyalty, of ancient powers skillfully knotted into the most traditional of women's arts: carding, spinning, knitting, and sewing.

Urtica dioica: the common nettle or stinging nettle, native to  Europe, Asia, northern Africa, and North America

Nettle Coat by Alice Maher

According to the Anglo-Saxon "Nine Herbs Charm," recorded in the 10th century, stiðe (nettles) were used as a protection against "elf-shot" (mysterious pains in humans or livestock caused by the arrows of the elvin folk) and"flying venom" (believed at the time to be one of the four primary causes of illness). In Norse myth, nettles are associated with Thor, the god of Thunder; and with Loki, the trickster god, whose magical fishing net is made from them. In Celtic lore, thick stands of nettles indicate that there are fairy dwellings close by, and the sting of the nettle protects against fairy mischief, black magic, and other forms of sorcery.

Nettles with ferns, flowers, and dog.

Harvesting nettles.

Nettles once rivaled flax and hemp (and later, cotton) as a staple fiber for thread and yarn, used to make everything from heavy sailcloth to fine table linen up to the 17th/18th centuries. Other fibers proved more economical as the making of cloth became more mechanized, but in some areas (such as the highlands of Scotland) nettle cloth is still made to this day. "In Scotland, I have eaten nettles," said the 18th century poet Thomas Campbell, "I have slept in nettle sheets, and I have dined off a nettle tablecloth. The young and tender nettle is an excellent potherb. The stalks of the old nettle are as good as flax for making cloth. I have heard my mother say that she thought nettle cloth more durable than any other linen."

Nettles among the wildflowers.

Nettles, stitchwort, and campion.

Nettle path by an old stone wall.

"Nettles have numerous virtues," writes Margaret Baker in Discovering the Folklore of Plants. "Nettle oil preceded paraffin; the juice curdled milk and helped to make Cheshire cheese; nettle juice seals leaky barrels; nettles drive frogs from beehives and flies from larders; nettle compost encourages ailing plants; and fruits packed in nettle leaves retain their bloom and freshness.

"Mixing medicine and magic, a healer could cure fever by pulling up a nettle by its roots while speaking the patient's name and those of his parents. Roman soldiers in damp Britain found that rheumatic joints responded to a beating with nettles. Tyroleans threw nettles on the fire to avert thunderstorms, and gathered nettle before sunrise to protect their cattle from evil spirits."

Nettle tips for soup, tonic, and tea.

The medicinal value of nettles is confirmed by Julie Bruton-Seal & Matthew Seal in their useful book Hedgerow Medicine:

"Nettle was the Anglo-Saxon sacred herb wergula, and in medieval times nettle beer was drunk for rheumatism. Nettle's high vitamin C content made it a valuable spring tonic for our ancestors after a winter of living on grain and salted meat, with hardly any green vegetables. Nettle soup and porridge were popular spring tonic purifiers, but a pasta or pesto from the leaves is a worthily nutritious modern alternative. Nettle soup is described by one modern writer as 'Springtime herbalism at one of its finest moments.' This soup is the Scottish kail. Tibetans believe that their sage and poet Milarepa (AD 1052-1135) lived solely on nettle soup for many years until he himself turned green: a literal green man.

"Nettles enhance natural immunity, helping protect us from infections. Nettle tea drunk often at the start of a feverish illness is beneficial. Nettles have long been considered a blood tonic and are a wonderful treatment for anaemia, as they are high in both iron and chlorophyll. The iron in nettles is very easily absorbed and assimilated. What cooks will tell you is that two minutes of boiling nettle leaves will neutralize both the silica 'syringes' of the stinging cells and the histamine or formic acid-like solution that is so painful."

Nettle basket.

Evening sunlight through the kitchen window.

Nattadon Nettle Soup

Melt some butter in the bottom of the soup pot, add a chopped onion or two, and cook slowly until softened.

Add a litre or so of vegetable or chicken stock, with salt, pepper, and any herbs you fancy.

Add 2 large potatoes (chopped), a large carrot (chopped), and simmer until almost soft. If you like your soup thick, use more potatoes.

Preparing nettle soup.

Throw in several large handfuls of fresh nettle tops, and simmer gently for another 10 minutes.

Add some cream (to taste), and a pinch of nutmeg.

Purée with a blender, and serve.

Nettle soup.

If you happen to have some truffle oil in your pantry, a light sprinkling on the soup tastes terrific.

And here are two more good nettle recipes: nettle pancakes and wild nettle bread.

Courtyard

Courtyard

Nettles, folk tales around the world agree, have long been associated with women's domestic magic: with inner strength and fortitude, with healing and also self-healing, with protection and also self-protection, with the ability to "enrich the soil" wherever we have been planted. Nettle magic is steeped in dualities: both fierce and soft, painful and restorative, common as weeds and priceless as jewels. Potent. Tenacious. Humble and often overlooked. Resilient.

Soup is served.

And pretty tasty too.

Tilly guards the nettle crop.The illustrations for "The Wild Swans" above are by Nadezhda Illarionova, Susan Jeffers, & Yvonne Gilbert. The Nettle Coat is by Alice Maher. Related posts: "Swan's Wing," "Swan Maidens and Crane Wives," "When Stories Take Flight: The Folklore of Birds," and "The Folklore of Food."


Literary food

Once Upon a Time apple pie crust from the Food in Literature blog

A friend has ribbed me gently for writing about the magic of cooking when she knows I have a deep adversion to cooking myself (with a very few exceptions), and have been known to live on popcorn and coffee when left to my own devices. Mea culpa.

I love fine dining, I'm an adventurous eater, and I care about the ethical and ecological dimensions of the food that's on my plate...but I truly hate to cook, and do it as seldom as I can possibly get away with. (This is, er, not entirely unconnected with having nearly burned my grandmother's kitchen down when I was a kid.)

Fortunately I am married to very good cook, and our daughter is a professional chef & pastry chef in London, trained in a Michelin Star kitchen and deeply interested in food politics. Food is, as a result, a constant topic in our house -- and my love of fine cooking is not diminished by not being a practitioner of the art myself, just as my love of music is not lessened by the fact that I don't play an instrument. Some of us are musicians and some of us are the appreciative audience; some of us are wizards of the kitchen and some of us are happy eaters (and dish-washers).

Regency dish-washerThe dishwasher at work (after a Jane Austen themed dinner party).

Now, with that Full Disclosure aside, here's one last post on food to end the week: a look at blogs and websites combining literature and food in interesting ways. Here are a few of my favorites...and suggestions of others are very welcome.

* The Paper and Salt blog, by Nicole in New York City,  is "part historical discussion, part food and recipe blog, part literary fangirl attempts to recreate and reinterpret the dishes that iconic authors discuss in their letters, diaries, essays, and fiction." The Jane Austen Brown Pudding Tarts and L. Frank Baum Ginger Cake with Butterscotch Sauce below are two of the recipes on Paper and Salt, which has run for almost three years now, covering writers from the 18th to 21st centuries.

Jane Austen post on the Paper and Salt blog

L Frank Baum on the Paper and Salt blog

* In the "Fictitious Dishes" series, Brooklyn designer Dinah Fried has recreated food scenes from books ranging from Moby Dick and The Chronicles of Narnia to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Follow the link to see examples of her work, or seek out her book Fictitious Dishes: An Album of Literature’s Most Memorable Meals, containing fifty such photographs.

Below, Fried composes place settings for Charles Dicken's Oliver Twist and Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland.

Oliver Twist's meal by Dinah Fried

Alice in Wonderland by Dinah Fried

* Cara Nicoletti's Yummy Books started as a Brooklyn book club in 2008, turned into a supper club in 2009 and then a  "literary food" blog in 2010. Nicoletti (a butcher, former pastry-chef, and writer) explains her combined focus on food and books like this:

"There is nothing as engrossing as the eating of a truly great meal and nothing that nourishes my spirit quite like the reading of a good book. Hemingway himself once said 'I have discovered that there is romance in food when romance has disappeared from everywhere else.' Perhaps it is because of this symbiosis that, for me at least, some of the most romantic, most poignant scenes in literature are scenes of cooking and eating." 

Pictured below, Nicolleti's food-and-book pairing for Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami.

Haruki Murakami food-and-book paiting on the Yummy Books blog

* Eat This Poem, by Nicole Gulatta in Los Angeles, is written in a similar vein but focuses more on poetry, and on literary city guides "for bookworms who love to eat."

Gulatta says that she launched her blog in 2012 "as a way to fuse two of my passions, food and writing. I hope you'll stay a while (preferably with a hot mug of tea or coffee in hand) as we explore how poetry moves from page to plate, and inspires our palates along the way."

Pictured below, an onion tart in homage to Pablo Neruda's poem "Ode to the Onion."

An Onion Tart inspired by a Pablo Neruda poem from the Eat This Poem blog

* The Black Letters, a lovely literary blog  by the "ravening bibliophiles" Emera and Kakaner, occassionally strays into "The Bibliophile's Kitchen," where you can sample Honey Oatmeal Scones inspired by Roald Dahl's Matilda, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell Black Forest Raven Cake and other delights. I was fortunate enough to meet this blog's talented young authors in London this summer, and can't wait to see what they "cook up" next.

Matilda Honey Oatmeal Scones from The Black Letters blog

Black Forest Raven Cake on the Black Letters blog

* On her Food in Literature blog, Bryton Taylor notes food reference in adult and children's fiction, gives advice for book-themed parties, and offers literary recipes -- including the Snow White Apple Pie pictured in process at the top of this post, Ogden’s Olde FireWhiskey from the Harry Potter series, and Twice Baked Honey Cake that might have been served in Tolkien's Hobbiton.

Twice Baked Honey Cake from the Food in Literature blog

* For a more scholarly approach to the subject, try the Literary Food Studies blog by Vivian N. Halloran, an associate professor at Indiana University. The blog is devoted, she explains, to "discussing food in multiple genres -- from blogs, to culinary memoirs (with and without recipes), chefographies, fiction, poetry, investigative journalism and cook books -- and from a variety of perspectives. My approach to food studies is interdisciplinary, but this blog focuses on literary criticism; I consider how the texts under discussion embody, challenge, or expand our assumptions about what makes for beautiful, thought-provoking, compelling, and/or moving writing about food."

Also, if you love good food blogs with dazzling photographs, try A Fantatical Foodie -- which isn't a literary blog per se, but the author is a friend of the family (formerly of Chagford, now living in Bristol) and her food is just incredibly good.

Bon appetit!

Howard's Vanilla Bean & Honey Panne Cotta with Bitter Chocolate GanacheHappily eating a scrumptious dessert of Howard's concoction: Vanilla Bean & Honey Panne Cotta with Bitter Chocolate Ganache


Into the Woods" series, 40: The Folklore of Food

Walter Crane

Following on from Thanksgiving, and anticipating the various feasts of the winter holidays, I've been thinking about food and its role in folklore, creativity, and mythic arts....

In her gorgeous essay "In Praise of the Cooks," Midori Snyder combines a memoir of her father (a fine French cook) with an exploration of the alchemy of the kitchen:

"The very best of cooks are sorcerers, wizards, shamans and tricksters," she writes. "They must be, for they are capable of powerful acts of transformation. All manner of life, mammal, aquatic, vegetable, seeds and nuts pass through their hands and are transformed by spells — some secret, some written in books annotated Faeries in the kitchen by Wendy Froudwith splashes of grease and broth. For years after my father's death, I was convinced I could take my hisstained, handwritten recipes, dip them in hot water, and there would be enough residue of the dish on those pages to create consommé. Master cooks are alchemists, turning the lead of a gnarled root vegetable into the whipped froth of a purée, hazelnuts into digestive liqueur, a secret combination of spices and chilies into a mole paste that burns and soothes at the same time. From a bin brimming with hundreds of choices they can sense the ripe cantaloupe, the juicy peach and the blueberries that have lingered long enough on the bush to become sweet. I am in awe of their skill, their secret knowledge, the inexplicable way I can follow my father's recipe and not have it taste anything like his, missing that one secret ingredient, those whispered spells that transformed his dish into something sublime."

Ari Berk focuses on lore of milk, bread, and honey in his delicious essay "On Simple Things":

Troll with Bread by Wendy Froud"I am living in Devon, England at the moment," he begins, "in a medieval barn on the edge of the Dartmoor. In the small of hours of the night, in such a house, the mind rambles backwards and forwards in time, imagining the daily routines, the days and nights, the bread and butter, of the people that have lived here and used this place over the last six hundred years. A barn is a building of necessary things, of basics, life's staples about which much custom, curiosity and belief have formed; a place where a bowl of milk or a bit of bread is justly left for the little gods who watch over the farm and its immediate vicinity, but nowhere much farther than that. In the lore of offerings and sacrifice, the high rites of the gods and common custom of house fairies share a wide frontier. In studying such beliefs, we may discern that the humblest of offerings is indeed a sacred thing.

"So here is the lore of The Basics, three foods that remain effective indicators of the land's condition. If these are unspoiled, and readily available, all with the land and the people living on it is well. Here are three foods ancient and primal: one given, one found, one formed. Milk, honey and bread."

(I highly recommend reading Midori and Ari's pieces in full.)

Honeycomb and Bread by Wendy Froud

Sketch of Chocolate Pot & Whisk, mid 1660s

My friend Thomas Hine, who ran the Westcountry Folklore blog (until we lost him in 2012), passed on this bit of local lore, recorded in 1888:

"A belief was long current in Devon and Cornwall, and perhaps still lingers both there and in other remote parts of the country, that at midnight, on Christmas Eve, the cattle in their stalls fall down on their knees in adoration of the infant Saviour, in the same manner as the legend reports them to have done in the stable at Bethlehem. Bees were also said to sing in their hives at the same time, and bread baked on Christmas Eve, it was averred, never became mouldy. All nature was thus supposed to unite in celebrating the birth of Christ, and partake in the general joy which the anniversary of the Nativity inspired."

And mythologist William G. Doty notes the following in his review of Nectar and Ambrosia: An Encyclopedia of Food by Tamra Andrews:

The oldest surviving English cookbook"Swearing by onions? And leeks? Well, these were one of the earliest types of plants cultivated. Symbolism includes the (to some) offensive scents, as well as the pearl-in-the-oyster concept of enfolding major significances down theah. In fact, for the Druids and ancient Egyptians, each layer of the root represented a layer of the known-worlds, and one swore oaths with one's right hand on one, considered as a token of eternity. Today I'm most fond of slowly simmered leeks with anchovy dressing.

"Garlic had its problems because of its strong aromas: in Zoroastrian myth, the god of light, Ahura Mazda, smelled delightful, but his evil counterpart, Ahriman smelled like a garlic bulb, 'putrid and rotten.' Poor onion relatives, they have often been thought of negatively in mythological terms, considered polluting in more than one culture. Certainly apotropaic (averting evil), as I recall from my childhood in New Mexico, where during winter months, children sometimes appeared in classrooms with a large clove strung on a string around the neck.

"Ginger, on the other hand, was considered the herb of paradise, and was cultivated in the Far East since antiquity as something that brought one close to the deities, and used to flavor meats, oils, tea, and wine. It was linked with the solar fire, as was cinnamon, and it was one of the key ingredients of magical practices, including love-lore."

17th century sugar pie recipe

Paradise Now by Jacqueline Morreau

Apples, in world-wide mythic traditions, are a symbol of immortality, of knowledge, and of love in its various guises: spiritual, sexual, and romantic. They were used in Norse fertility spells (being sacred to the goddess Frigga), and in British hedgerow magic for seeking of knowledge or making love charms. The folk custom of "bobbing for apples" on Samhain/All Hallow's Eve is believed to have derived from a Druidic ritual for divination. Grain represents youth, springtime, and rebirth; and wine (called "the blood of the grape") has been a symbol of ecstasy and communion going back at least to the rites of Dionysus. In Japan, the god Inari is credited with the creation of rice, appearing there as an old man with two rice bundles sometime around 800 BC. In China, rice was placed in the mouths of the dead and sacrificed to the ancestors. Leftover rice could not be discarded, for it was sacred to the Chinese god of thunder.

There are numerous mythic taboos concerning food, such as the ancient belief that visitors to the realm of the gods or of the dead must not partake of food or drink if they ever hope to go home again. In Greek myth, Persephone, the daughter of Demeter (goddess of the seedgrain and the fruitfulness of earth) is rescued from the underworld where's she been imprisoned by Hades, the Lord of Death — but she has eaten several fateful Goblin Fruit by Dante Gabriel Rossetti,
an illustration for ''Goblin Market'' by his sister, Christina Rosettipomegranate seeds and so must return to dwell with him for a third (or a half) of every year. Similar stories can be found in myths and legends from around the world, such as a Finnish tale from The Kalevala in which Väinämöinen journeys to the land of the dead in search of the words for a magical spell. He is able to return home only because he refuses to drink a tankard of beer. In British fairy stories and ballads, human visitors to the fairy realm are warned they must not touch food or drink -- for those who do are trapped in Faerie forever, or else sent home again only to waste away and die, pining for another taste. Many are the legends of taboo foods eaten with dire consequences, ranging from forbidden fruits sacred to various gods to certain delicacies (such as rowanberries) that belong exclusively to the fairies. The most famous of these tales, of course, is the story of Adam and Eve and the forbidden fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. (Biblical scholars are divided on whether or not this fruit was actually an apple.)

Trickster tales often involve food -- forbidden and otherwise -- for Trickster is a figure of prodigious appetites. In some such stories, Coyote or Anansi or B'rer Rabbit or Loki makes use of his wits and wiles in order to obtain a nice full belly; in others, Trickster is undone by the enormity of his greed and ends the story with his hunger unmitigated.

The Bear and the Bees by Walter Crane

There are numerous mythological stories (and concurrent spiritual beliefs) involving the ritual "eating of the god" -- ranging from the ritualized consumption of the flesh of Bear, Deer, and other animal gods -- to feasting on the gods that dwell in the first harvest of grain or corn -- to the Christian sacrament of communion, partaking of the flesh and blood of Christ. (See Food for Thought by Louis Marin for a provocative exploration of this subject.) Some myths are teaching tales intended to inculcate a proper attitude of respect and gratitude for the gift of food taken from the flesh of another living creature. There are many tales of this sort in the Celtic, Aboriginal, and Native American traditions, and also among the Ainu of Japan.  The Three Bears by L. Leslie Brooke"In the Ainu world," notes Gary Snyder (in The Practice of the Wild), "a few human houses are in a valley by a little river. Food is often foraged in the local area, but some of the creatures come down from the inner mountains and up from the deeps of the sea. The animal or fish (or plant) that allows itself to be killed or gathered, and then enters the house to be consumed, is called a 'visitor,' marapto. Bear sends his friends the deer down to visit humans. Orca [the Killer Whale] sends his friends the salmon up the streams. When they arrive their 'armor is broken' -- they are killed -- enabling them to shake off their fur or scale coats and step out as invisible spirit beings. They are then delighted by witnessing the human entertainments -- sake and music. (They love music.) Having enjoyed their visit, they return to the deep sea or the inner mountains and report, 'We had a wonderful time with the human beings.' The others are then prompted themselves to go on visits. Thus if the humans do not neglect proper hospitality, the beings will be reborn and return over and over."

The Corn Muse by Donna Howell-SicklesIn addition to ritual feasting, abstaining from food is an important practice in various mythic and spiritual traditions around the world. In vision-quest ceremonies found from North America to Siberia, periods of fasting in the wilderness serve to break down the barriers between the human world and the spirit realm, allowing the quester or shamanic initiate to speak directly to the spirits or Gods. In ancient Ireland, "fasting against" a person was a legal procedure through which the faster could compel the person fasted against to grant a petition or pay a debt; we can still see remnants of this tradition in the hunger strikes of political prisoners today.  "Black Fasts" were believed to have the power to cast spells of misfortune, disease, and even death. In a famous English court case of 1538, a woman was convicted of causing a man to break his neck through the power of her fast. Food had power in the old mythic tradition...

And food still has power in sacred tales and practices found all around the world today. Navajo poet Luci Tapahanso, for example, offers the following words of advice rooted in her people's traditional ways: "Think about good things when preparing meals. It is much more than physical nourishment. The way the cook (or cooks) thinks and feels become a part of the meal. Food that is prepared with careful thought, contentment, and good memories tastes so good and nurtures the mind and spirit, as well as the body. Once my mother chased me out of the kitchen because it is disheartening to think of eating something cooked by an angry person." 

Tseping ny Roxanne Swentzell

For books about food myth, lore, history, and customs worldwide, I recommend the Tama Andrews book mentioned above (Nectar and Ambrosia: An Encyclopedia of Food) and The Rituals of Dinner by Margaret Visser. Are there any others that you'd like to add? Book suggestions welcome, as are other bits of food lore and your own experience with "the magic of food."

Likewise, what works of mythic fiction or art do you think use food lore & myth particularly well? My own favorites: Chocolat and The Lollipop Shoes by Joanne Harris, The Stars Dispose and The Stars Compel by Michaela Roessner (cooking magic in Renaissance Italy!), The Mistress of Spices by Chitra Bannerjee Divakaruni, The Kitchen God's Wife by Amy Tan, and The Honey Month by Amal El-Mohtar. If we expand the list to include herbalism and hedgerow medicines, I'll add The Limits of Enchantment by Graham Joyce. I'm also charmed by the notable obsession with food to be found in the excellent collection of Italian Folktales edited by Italo Calvino.

A 15th century herbalThe picture at the top of the post comes from "Sing a Song of Sixpence" illustrated by Walter Crane (1845-1915). The faery and troll sculptures are by my friend and neighbor Wendy Froud (a splendid cook herself), photographed by Toby Froud. The other images, listed in order,  are: a chocolate pot and whisk sketch on a 17th century manuscript, the oldest surviving English cookbook (late 14th century),  a 17th century recipe for sugar pie, "Paradise Now" by Jacqueline Morreau, "Goblin Fruit" by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882) - for his sister Christina's poem Goblin Market, "The Bear and the Bees" (from Aesop's Fables) by Walter Crane (1845-1915), "The Three Bears" by L. Leslie Brooke (1862-1940), "The Corn Muse" by Texas "cowgirl artist" Donna Howell-Sickles, ""Tse-ping" by Native American sculptor Roxanne Swentzell (from the Santa Clara Pueblo, New Mexico), and a 15th century herbal. The recipe manuscripts come from the Wellcome Library's digital collection of 16th-19th century medicinal and culinary recipes. The Luci Taphanso quote above comes from her lovely collection of tales and poems Sáanni Dahataal: The Women Are Singing.


Veriditas and the vegetable soul

Bean Longpod by Charles Jones

"The word vegetable comes from the root that means the very opposite of immobile, passive, dull, or uneventful. Vegere means to animate, enliven, invigorate, arouse. Vegete means to grow, to be refreshing, to vivify, animate. From these roots come words such as vigil, vigilant, and vigor, with all their connotations of being wide-awake, alert, of keeping watch. 'The understanding...was vagete, quick, and lively," observed one critic in 1662. Ben Jonson described what he saw as desirable characteristics in woman, 'faire, young, and vegetous.' Such respect for the vegetable soul was not confined merely to a robust sensual life, but extended into the religious dimension. 'Man is righteous in his Vegetated Spectre,' proclaimed Blake when commenting about the beliefs of the ancient Druids. Elsewhere it was insisted that 'A vegetous faith is able to say unto a mountain, Be moved into the sea.'

"The downward pull of vegetables, of the vegetable soul, has also provided exemplary images of being placed, of being grounded, of having roots. For example, Jung said, 'I am fully committed to the idea that human existence should be rooted in the earth.' He bemoaned modern culture's lack of earth-based ancestral connections. As Henry Corbin put it, the past is not behind us, but beneath our feet. What better way to touch the ground than through cabbages, which the poet Robert Bly says 'love the earth.' The word root comes from the Indo-European root ra, meaning to derive, to grow out of. To be 'radical' is get back to the roots. Radish stems from the same etymological roots."

- Peter Bishop (The Greening of Psychology: The Vegetable World in Myth, Dream, and Healing)

Cabbages (Larry's Perfection) by Charles Jones

Good People, most royal greening verdancy,
rooted in the sun, you shine with radiant light.

Hildegard of Bingen (''Original Blessing'')

Potatoes by Charles Jones

"A cornerstone of Hildegard of Bingen's spirituality was Viriditas, or greening power, her revelation of the animating life force manifest in the natural world that infuses all creation with moisture and vitality. To her, the divine was manifest in every leaf and blade of grass. Just as a ray of sunlight is the sun, Hildegard believed that a flower or a stone was God, though not the whole of God. Creation revealed the face of the invisible creator. Hildegard celebrated the sacred in nature, something highly relevant for us in this age of climate change and the destruction of natural habitats.''

- Mary Sharratt ("Eight Reasons Why Hildegard Matters Now")

Peas by Charles Jones

"I'm a champion of subtley. The subtler something is, the more you have to pay attention, and that's a good thing. Remember, it's not always the big, loud species that are the best teachers. Sometimes it's the little, quiet, humble ones.

"Plants have the ability to transmit energy. Plants draw in and transform earth and water and nutrients and light and make their bodies out of them. Plants are a manifestation of these forces being woven together, and we humans have relied on them to sustain us since the beginning of our evolution. In cultures that are close to the earth I see a recognition of the power of plants to hold and draw energy and to move it along, thereby changing in a healing way. The plant world is constantly whispering to us, if we can hear it."

- Kathleen Harrison ("Women, Plants, and Culture," Moonwise)

Turnips by Charles Jones

Onions by Charles Jones

" 'Eating is an agricultural act,' as Wendell Berry famously said. It is also an ecological act, and a political act, too. Though much has been done to obscure this simple fact, how and what we eat determines to a great extent the use we make of the world -- and what is to become of it."

- Michael Pollan (The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals)

Plums by Charles Jones

The photographs in this post are by Charles Jones, a Victorian gardener and photographer born in Wolverhampton, Staffordshire in 1866. His work was largely unknown (even to his family) until hundreds of his images were discovered in a suitcase at an antiques market in south London in 1982; since then his beautiful images of vegetables and flowers have appeared in major museum exhibitions and been published in a book, The Plant Kingdoms Of Charles Jones (1998).

More information on the artist can be found here, and additional photographs can be seen here.

McGreedy's Scarlet by Charles JonesA post related to the "roots" quotes in the picture captions: "Writing without roots" (Sept. 2014)


Want to name a goat?

Well, here's your chance . It's one of the inducements offered in the Chagford Community Farm Crowdfunding An illustration for ''Heidi'' by Jessie Willcox SmithCampaign...along with the satisfaction of supporting the Local Food Renaissance here in south-west England.

The charming video above explains the campaign...and gives you a glimpse of the countryside and community that makes Chagford such a magical place to live. Go here to learn more about the nonprofit Chagford Community Farm  (a.k.a. Chagfarm, founded by brothers Davon and Sylvan Friend)....not to be confused with the Chagfood Community Market Garden (a.k.a. Chagfood, about whom I have posted before: here and here), although the two groups often work together.

Whether you're local or not, if you have the funds and believe in the cause of "local food for local people" (and food education for children), please consider contributing to Chagfarm's crowd-funding campaign (and/or spreading the word), which will help Davon and Sylvan to improve and maintain this wonderful nonprofit community farm. You can always come and visit the goat you name (or request a picture!), and there are a number of other pledge inducements as well.

Jenny and Fran at Chagfarm

Tilly's opinion of goatsThe drawing above is an illustration for Johanna Spyri's much-loved children's book Heidi by Jessie Willcox Smith (1863-1935). The photographs: goats Jenny and Fran (from the Chagfarm website), and Tilly's opinion of goats.


The passage of time

Tilly 2009

Above, Tilly in our back courtyard, autumn 2009...when she still had her unfortunate penchant for munching on the flowers at the base of The Lady of Bumblehill, our statue by Wendy Froud.

Tilly 2013

Tilly and the Lady, summer 2013. Both have settled into Bumblehill nicely in the intervening years.

The Lady of Bumblehill

"I confess I do not believe in time," wrote Vladimir Nabokov. "I like to fold my magic carpet, after use, in such a way as to superimpose one part of the pattern upon another. Let visitors trip. And the highest enjoyment of timelessness -- in a landscape selected at random -- is when I stand among rare butterflies and their food plants. This is ecstasy, and behind the ecstasy is something else, which is hard to explain. It is like a momentary vacuum into which rushes all that I love. A sense of oneness with sun and stone. A thrill of gratitude to whom it may concern -- to the contrapuntal genius of human fate or to tender ghosts humoring a lucky mortal.”

Below, the courtyard when we first moved in -- after we'd pulled down a moldy old shed, covered in black tar paper, that took up most of its space.

Patio, 2008

And next, the same view as it looks today, table spread for lunch with a William Morris cloth.

Patio

“Every instant of our lives," said André Gide, "is essentially irreplaceable: you must know this in order to concentrate on life.”

Early summer bloom

Every moment. Oh yes, and especially these...

Lunch on the patio, 2013

...the quiet, simple, forgettable moments of salad and sunshine and convivial conversation...of foxgloves blooming and pansies unmolested, and a lazy black dog on the garden path.

“Pull up a chair. Take a taste. Come join us. Life is so endlessly delicious,” writes the food critic Ruth Reichl.

"Flowers are too," murmurs Tilly, falling fast asleep, tasting violets in her dreams.

Tilly sacked out, 2013


Flu and feasts

The Wedding Feast in a Barn

I'm down with a relapse of flu, and will be back on Monday. In the meantime, be sure to check out all the new dishes added to the "Mother Tongue" Moveable Feast, on the entwined subjects of land, language, art, and storytelling. I also recommend a lovely new piece by Mark Helprin on "Bumping Into Characters," in The New York Times.

Speaking of feasting, we're so proud of our daughter, Victoria Windling-Gayton, for being part of the talented team of chefs under Alyn Williams at the Westbury all this past year -- for their skill, dedication, and hard, hard work has just been rewarded with a Michelin star. The restaurant opened in the Mayfair section of London in the autumn of 2011, and to win this prestigious star in their first year is an extraordinary achievement. Congratulations to Alyn, to Victoria, and to the whole 2011/2012 AW team!

Art above: "Wedding Feast in a Barn" by Brueghel, Pieter (the Younger)


Moments in a Devon spring

Bluebells and willowBluebells and willow

Orchids among the bluebellsWoodland orchids among the bluebells

Eric's old shedEric's old allotment shed at the edge of the woods

Spring flowers around the stone mushroomWildflowers around a stone mushroom

Nettles in the woodsNettles growing in the woods, with bluebells

Nettles 4Freshly picked nettle tips, with columbine

Nettles2Tilly, wildflowers, and a basket of nettles in the studio garden

SunlightGolden evening light out the kitchen window

Nettles 5Preparing nettle soup

Nettle soupThe soup is ready

Nettle soup for supperSoup for supper in the gold evening light...

The back patio at Bumblehill...watched over by Our Lady of Bumblehill (a statue made by Wendy Froud)

Garden statue by Wendy Froud

* If you look very, very closely in the "pot of soup" picture, you'll see the beginning pencil lines for a Bunny Girls mural on the wall above the kitchen hearth


Food Revolutionaries

Lovely veggies (photo from the Chagfood blog)

Saturday was Food Revolution Day (sponsored by the Jamie Oliver Foundation), with people all over England joining together to celebrate the beginning of the growing season and to promote locally-grown foods, and food education. The folks at Chagfood, our local Community Market Garden, participated by hosting an Open Day, so we trundled along to visit the newly planted fields, with Howard's mum, brother, and nephew in tow....

Herb garden and veg field beyond

Herb garden

C12

Gypsy caravan

Young plants in one of the poly-tunnels

Kid's table

Wildflowers

I've written about Chagfood in a previous post -- and about Samson, a Welsh-cob/Dartmoor-pony cross, who helps to plough the fields and haul boxes of produce into the village:

Sampson and EdEd Hamer with Samson

Sampson drawing the ploughSamson ploughing, with Ed Hamer & Chinnie Kingsbury

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Food is important in our household...and I say that as someone who spent my youth basically living on popcorn and coffee, god help me. But art-making requires mental clarity, steady reserves of energy, and the physical strength for long periods of concentrated focus...all of which become a good deal harder to maintain once the blush of youth has passed (especially for those of us with medical problems to complicate the matter). As we climb into our 30s, 40s, 50s, and beyond, all that age-old, boringly practical advice takes on fresh relevance: we actually do need good food, good sleep, and good exercise to keep those interior motors humming. When we ignore these things, and run ourselves down, art-making suffers. Or slows down. Or stops.

Sometimes when young people ask me for advice about embarking on careers in art professions, they're surprised when I put "take care of your health" (i.e., don't live on popcorn and coffee) at the top of the list. But creative work takes stamina. Concentration takes stamina. And the natural stamina of youth, alas, simply doesn't last forever. If we're in the arts for the long haul (and we are, aren't we?), then we need to do all we can to make sure these good bodies we inhabit will last a long while and serve us well. Good food. Good sleep. Good exercise. There are no shortcuts.

And if the food is local, organic, and delivered by a horse named Sampson, so much the better....

Howard Gayton, Terri Windling, Sampson at Chagfood's Food Revolution DayHoward, and me, with Samson.

The Chagfood GatesThe Chagfood gates. All are welcome.

Photo credits: Some of the pictures above come from the Chagfood blog, the photo of me was taken by Howard, the others were snapped by me on a cloudy Saturday afternoon here in the hills of Devon.