So, my studies are complete and the results are in, I now officially hold a Gastronomy MSc. One of my lecturers, Charlotte Maberly is running some more workshops in the beautiful Newton Walled Garden (near Dalkeith) that might well be of interest to some of you (see below)…
Food Beyond The Plate is a collaborative project between food educators, foragers, chefs, artists and producers in the Edinburgh area. They offer workshops and experiences which explore the world of food in its broadest sense.
If you want to keep up to date with the events – you can find them all here on Facebook
This series of workshops will explore food culture, history and politics through some of our favourite foods. Meet producers, learn how and why to make your own, and see these ordinary products in a whole new light.(Beer and Honey dates TBD, but likely in April and June 2018)
For those looking to deepen their food education or develop a career in food, Charlotte will be holding 2-day courses from October 14th/15th until next Spring, investigating the extraordinary world of Gastronomy.
One of my Gastronomy lecturers is working on a collaborative project between food educators, foragers, chefs, artists and producers in the Edinburgh area.
They are offering workshops and experiences from July 2017 which explore the world of food in its broadest sense in the beautiful Newton Walled Gardens at Millerhill just outside Edinburgh.
You can find out more about the project on their Facebook page here
Upcoming events include Wild Crafts: beautiful botanicals with forager and herbal medicine specialist Anna Canning , Killing Cooking, Writing – a workshop with Ethical Carnivore author Louise Gray and How and Why to Eat The Wild – explore the possibilities of using wild foods with Rupert Waites of Buck and Birch, wild-chef and co-creator of Aelder Elixir – all of which sound fantastic for those with a love of the great outdoors, food and cooking, self provisioning and home crafts.
You can find more details on their upcoming events here
Guess I may well see some of you at one of these!
I found this beauty in the woods on the Newhall Estate yesterday – I wasn’t sure if it was a decomposing mushroom or a weird, yet strangely beautiful fungi.
After speaking with fellow Gastronomy student, Ally, from Beechbrae who is my go-to for all things fungi-related and some further consultation from Mark, a forager from Galloway Wild Foods we have the answer – it’s Blackening Brittlegill (Russula Nigricans)
Here are some interesting facts that I found about it.
Russula nigricans, the Blackening Brittlegill, is a very variable species in terms of its size, shape and colour: it changes in each of these respects quite markedly as it matures, eventually becoming black all over.
Common in broadleaf, mixed and coniferous woodland, Russula nigricans occurs throughout Britain and Ireland. On mainland Europe this brittlegill can be found from Scandinavia right down to the Mediterranean region; its range extends eastwards into temperate parts of Asia.
Caps of Russula nigricans are 6 to 20cm (exceptionally 25cm) in diameter, convex with an inrolled margin and then later flatter and centrally depressed, the caps are dirty white at first, turning grey-brown and then eventually blackening all over.
Culinary Notes – When they are young and still white, Blackening Brittlegills are considered by some authorities to be very good edible mushrooms; however, perhaps because they become tough and deteriorate in flavour as they blacken, the general view seems to be that these woodland fungi are at best only mediocre from a culinary perspective (and there are plenty of other mushrooms with a superior reputation). That is a shame, because not only are Blackening Brittlegills chunky and often abundant but with their thick, very widely spaced gills, they are also very easy to identify with confidence.
(German mycologist Andreas Gminder says that these brittlegills are excellent when fried with bacon and onions.)
Since starting an MSc in Gastronomy at Queen Margaret University I may not have had much time for gardening but I do seem to have acquired a lot of new books, fifty and counting to be precise.
The topics cover a broad spectrum including food culture, philosophy, history, agriculture, soil science, nutrition, rewilding, the effects of our agriculture systems on the environment, food communications, foraging and food production. I’ve not read them all yet, some are for reference and dipping in and out of and others have been complete page-turners.
Recently I’ve been asked for reading recommendations so here are some of my favourites from my newly acquired collection that relate to gardening, soil fertility, foraging and botany. In no particular order (although Feral by George Monbiot was an amazing read).
First published in 1965 this is not a new book, however, the artwork is a delight to peruse and makes it possible to identify plants at different stages of growth, along with accompanying descriptions of habitat, time of flowering etc. The drawings are categorised into plant families which can help when looking up a specimen. Both the botanical (Latin) names are noted along with their more common names. A beautiful book for those who live in the country or have a love of flora whether wanting to identify plants or simple browse the pages.
RHS Botany for Gardeners is more than just a useful reference book on the science of botany and the language of horticulture – it’s a practical, hands-on guide that will help gardeners understand how plants grow, what affects their performance, and how to get better results. Illustrated throughout with beautiful botanical prints and simple diagrams. For easy navigation, the book is divided into chapters covering everything from Plant Pests to Pruning with feature spreads profiling the remarkable individuals who collected, studied and illustrated the plants that we grow today.
The Hidden Half of Nature lays out the astonishing reality we’ve been missing in the soil beneath our feet and right inside our bodies- our world depends on a foundation of invisible life. This is a captivating story of the least-loved part of nature, taking readers through major milestones in agriculture and medicine to untangle our uneasy relationship with microbes. From the challenge of turning their barren Seattle lot into a flourishing garden through Bikle’s struggle with a surprise cancer diagnosis, the authors discover the power nature’s smallest creatures wield over our lives and stunning parallels in the relationships that microbes develop with plant roots and the human gut.
Journalist Judith Schwartz looks at soil as a crucible for our many overlapping environmental, economic, and social crises. Schwartz reveals that for many of these problems climate change, desertification, biodiversity loss, droughts, floods, wildfires, rural poverty, malnutrition, and obesity there are positive, alternative scenarios to the degradation and devastation we face. In each case, our ability to turn these crises into opportunities depends on how we treat the soil. Drawing on the work of thinkers and doers, renegade scientists and institutional whistleblowers from around the world, it challenges much conventional thinking about global warming and other issues.
If there’s one distinctive feature of the British countryside, it has to be the hedgerow. It’s not only plant life that thrives in the hedgerow – native wild animals, birds and insects are protected and nourished by them. Hedgerows can also provide fresh, wild food for us, too, Nozedar reintroduces the wild and natural hedgerow ingredients that our grandmothers used on a regular basis from angelica to borage, from pineapple weed to wild garlic, each entry is beautifully illustrated to help you identify each plant or flower, along with its history and folklore, and culinary and medicinal uses.
How many of us sometimes feel that we are scratching at the walls of this life, seeking to find our way into a wider space beyond? That our mild, polite existence sometimes seems to crush the breath out of us? Feral is the lyrical and gripping story of George Monbiot’s efforts to re-engage with nature and discover a new way of living. He shows how, by restoring and rewilding our damaged ecosystems on land and at sea, we can bring wonder back into our lives. Making use of some remarkable scientific discoveries, Feral lays out a new, positive environmentalism, in which nature is allowed to find its own way.
I’ve long been interested in beekeeping and although we don’t have enough land to have hives of our own I’d still been wanting to find out more so when we got the opportunity as part of our MSc Gastronomy course, I was on it like a buzzy bonnet.
Brian Pool is a commercial beekeeper and as it turns out he lives just a few miles from me in the Scottish Borders. As well as having hives across many sites including Edinburgh Zoo, on Edinburgh city-centre rooftops, at The Secret Herb Garden, Stobo, Biggar, on The Pentland hills and East Lothian, he also runs bee keeping classes. We visited him at Colstoun Cookery School just outside Haddington in East Lothian for an Introduction to bee keeping.
Brian has been keeping bees since he was 5 years old and is a 3rd generation beekeeper and he clearly knows his stuff, the day was incredibly interesting as we were taken through the activity and life cycle of honey bees – wow, is all I can say! Some of it was pretty mind blowing:
- A Queen lays 1500-2000 eggs a day & lives up to 5 years
- A female worker bee lives 6 weeks & produces just 1 teaspoon of honey in that time.
We covered all aspects from the components of a beehive and different types of hives, different types of bees, best plants for foraging bees throughout the year, swarm control and colony management, disease and pests management.
We also got to get suited and booted to visit the bee hives where Brian prepared the hives for the Winter season and removed the honey crop so that we could take it back and try the honeycomb. There was something incredibly dreamy about the sound of the bees in the Autumn sunshine, it made me feel quite drowsy.
This was a really special day, made even more so by the spectacular al fresco lunch that Fiona at Colstoun Cookery School put on for us. I so wish we could have bees too, we really need a bigger garden…
This week the Gastronomy MSc kicked off properly and Monday was a brilliant day – we were looking at Food Procurement – a brief history and consideration of the methods and location from which we acquire our food and how this shapes our relationship with the environment.
This included a guest lecture and foraging session with food historian and author Fi Martynoga. amazingly we found so many wild edibles within the campus environs – yarrow, hogweed, vetch, chamomile, brambles, rosehips, elderberries, barberries, beech nuts, hazelnuts, ground elder and also some leftover oats and barley – probably from a time when the land was farmed.
Tuesday began with a session in the campus allotment, it’s been a little neglected over the past year so our job will be to take it on and sort it out over the coming months. First, we got our hands dirty by examining the soil, looking for worms and testing the PH to see what we’ve got to play with.
This was followed by a lecture on understanding soil – love this quote “understanding soil isn’t rocket science, it’s far more complicated” Mark Kibblethwaite.
We also had a guest lecture from Dr Kenneth Loades from the James Hutton Institute who gave us a fascinating insight into Scottish soils, agriculture, root systems, erosion, the yield gap and other issues for soil and ultimately our food and drink supply.
We took a brief look at urban agriculture as well. So far so good, this is going to be one very interesting course. Off the back of this we discovered that Whitmuir Organic Farm, just along the road, is running a series of participative workshops with scientists, farmers, politicians and other interested parties over the coming months – I’ve applied to be part of this, couldn’t be more relevant so fingers crossed. More info here
On of my fellow cohorts, who also has a particular interest in gardening, kindly gave me some ‘Green Manure Seeds’ to try out as a soil improver through the Winter. I’ve got Red Clover, Winter Tares & Italian Ryegrass – the idea is to plant them now let them grow and in the Spring cut them back, cover with a good layer of compost/manure and sow our next lot of crops in much enriched soil. Really looking forward to seeing how they work!