At a recent workshop when serving up some soup and bread for lunch I was asked what it was, and when I heard the words coming out of my mouth I kind of realised how unusual it was. I was almost embarrassed by how much effort went into the humble bowl of soup and slice of bread. Then later, in the feedback those participants shared their thoughts on the workshop, and most of them mentioned the food too. They told me I needed to tell people just how special it was. OK, I agreed. I’ll let people know. I could have dropped this into a facebook post, add a pic of the soup and a bit of back story. But then when I actually started thinking about it I realised it’s not so simple. My relationship with food is a complex one, and the food I like to serve is special for a few different reasons. Now, I know that people reading this blog aren’t all going to get to come over to the yurt and have some lunch here. So the intention of writing this down here is really more about sharing some of my views, and perhaps starting a conversation about what we eat and where it comes from.
Such a complex topic has to be broken down into bullet points. so, in no particular order, here we go; I’m coming out as a foodie…
The food I cook is made from scratch, most soups start with a splash of olive oil and an onion. Vegetables get sauteed, herbs and spices added, then tomatoes or stock. Maybe some pulses. Soup is almost always vegan, although I do personally eat dairy, fish and meat (local & organic) not everyone does and a simple soup or stew can be universally accepted. This basic level of cooking isn’t unusual, although I guess not so many workshops provide home cooked lunch. I do also love a pot-luck meal, where everyone brings a dish to share – which, with a bit of can create an incredible feast, otherwise known as a pot-lucky!
- Eat in season
The important thing about ingredients is where they come from, specifically when we are talking about vegetables. Although supermarkets stock most vegetables all year round they’re often been grown in depleted soil out of season, so don’t have the right taste, nor nutritional value. All fruit and vegetables have to have a label saying where it came from, snap peas flown over from Guatemala are not going to be as vibrant as ones grown locally. The problem is that it hard to know what’s in season. One way around this is to use a seasonal food calendar, or you could get a veg box delivered from your local farm. The thing we do a lot of is growing our own.
- Home grown
This is probably the my most proud thing about the food served here: most of the ingredients are home-grown in our organic garden. We follow a no-dig technique, in our raised beds, to preserve the soil ecology, promoting healthy soil and biodiversity. Most of the planting begins in early spring, with seeds going into seed trays before being pricked out into bigger pots then out into the polytunnel (warmth loving plants like tomatoes, peppers, aubergine and chillies) or into the soil. Some seeds go straight into the ground where they’re going to grow (e.g. carrots, beans, parsnip). The planting is rotated every year so plants get to grow on fresh ground. Summer is the busiest time with weeding and keeping on top of everything, many herbs need to be harvested before they flower, then dried to give us tea all through the winter. I’m very proud of my year-long course the Way of the Witch group who planted herb seeds (calendula & chamomile) this spring, then harvested and dried them in this summer for winter enjoyment.
Autumn also means lots of work harvesting and processing so the harvest can be kept for as long as possible. This year we bottled over 100 jars of home-grown tomatoes! When winter comes the garden is much quieter, but there’s still lots of winter vegetables growing quietly, mostly lots of different greens and leeks. Other seeds are in the ground already, waiting for the first warmth of spring so they can burst into life as soon as possible.
- Seed saving
Also many of our home-grown vegetables and herbs are grown from our own seed that we have saved. This preserves the genetic heritage and also makes for more vibrant and healthy plants as they come from plants that have thrived in this soil, in this exact climate. We’ve found that the strongest plants are most resistant to attack by predators or disease, as well as giving the bigger crop. I like seed saving because it also feels like a political act, especially in the age of genetically modified sterile seed which means that farmers are trapped into buying seed every year instead of being self-sufficient. By growing my own plants, and saving that seed I don’t need to buy seed ever again. When I do buy seed (some are very tricky to seed save) I love The Real Seed Company who actively encourage seed saving and send out tips when you buy their seeds.
- Wild yeasts
Baking sourdough bread is a weekly routine for us. ‘Bertha’ the sourdough starter lives in the fridge, and comes out when it’s time to bake. She’s made up of organic flour and wild yeasts captured from the air, literally making this starter totally unique to our kitchen. We’ve been doing it for so long now that we get good bread every time. The whole process from starting to baked bread takes about 36 hours.
There were lots of flat, brick like loaves in the early days! What transformed our bread making experience was taking a course at St. Sidwells centre in Exeter with the excellent baker Iona. Sometimes there’s nothing like getting hands on experience from someone who really knows what they’re doing. I highly recommend her course.
- Food as medicine
I believe that food is our daily medicine. It provides the energy, vitamins and minerals our body needs to stay fit and healthy. Combined with a healthy lifestyle food is the best preventative for illness. For example if I’m feeling the edges of a cold coming on, I’ll avoid eating all dairy products for a few days to rid my system of mucus producing foods. This seems to help stop a cold progressing to the snotty phase. But if the body does get ill, food is an excellent way to help it heal. We’ve probably all used hot lemon & honey to sooth a sore throat. I also use a lot of herbal teas as part of the day-to-day food as medicine approach, especially when hosting a women’s circle I love to give everyone a cup of tea when they arrive. Usually these are herbs I’ve home grown, or foraged locally, and prepared especially for this circle. When everyone drinks the unique blend, it feels like the energy begins to harmonise the group before we even sit in circle together.
- Energetic imprinting
The other ingredient that is special, and important for me, is the energy put in when the food is made. I like to fill my meals with love, using Reiki energy and prayer to imbue the food with good energetic imprinting. If I’m not feeling well in myself, either physically, mentally or emotionally, I prefer not to prepare food for others. I believe that food can carry energy and I want, even the simplest soup, to hold not only as much nutritional content as possible but also the highest resonance possible as well. I don’t often talk about this. It’s a felt sense rather than one learned from study. So when people tell me I should be writing a book with some of my recipes in, I wonder how I could possibly convey the depth of prayer that goes into each meal, the blessing of the food that makes it holy.
I hope this blog was interesting. I know I’m not the only one who prepares food in this way, nor the only person who grows & makes all their own food, and I hope we can share ideas and inspire each other to live well & eat well. My work as a childbirth educator often includes taking about nutrition, especially in the 4th trimester. And if you’re lucky, a workshop with me will include a home grown, home cooked, steaming hot bowl of vege soup and thick slice of sourdough bread baby from Bertha.