Wild Seasons: Winter - with Anna Canning
These days, most restaurants are keen to boast the ‘local, seasonal’ credentials of their menu. But why do we prize these things?
In a world where mangoes, tomatoes, asparagus – things previously exclusive to season and location - can be purchased for a song almost anywhere at any time, why should we bother with the more limited offerings around us? Surely, we should celebrate the abundant diversity of food democratically made available to us by globalization and technology?
Some might argue that eating more of what is produced close-by, reduces our carbon footprint. This is sometimes true (depending on farming techniques, transport links, and many other factors) but it would also mean eating a very limited diet for much of the year – something that requires immense culinary imagination and patience if we are to avoid mid-winter-root-veg-fatigue in places like Scotland.
Of course, thanks to incredible technological advance, we CAN grow tomatoes, etc. all year round in Scotland. But not only does this require lots of input (infrastructure, heat, fertilizers, artificial light) but the result is often more akin to projectile weaponry, rather than sumptuous gustatory delight.
But there are other reasons we might choose to eat local and seasonal. Even in the depths of winter. Even in Scotland.
Anna Canning (floramedica.org) carries around with her the kind of knowledge of natural history and Scottish flora that I have deep respect/envy for. She has studied the relationship between people and plants, and not only can she name just about any leafy object put in front of her in multiple languages (she used to be a translator), she can tell you how we have historically used it and what ailments it may cure. She also fully grasps the importance of relating to the world around us as the seasons change, and sees the ability to identify, interact with, and use plants as the ideal way of doing that. She and I collaborated to create a series of workshops exploring how the natural world can nourish us throughout the seasons, and began in January 2018, with perhaps the most challenging workshop – Winter.
Now, you may well think that in January there are precious few green things to observe, but Anna took a willing and well bundled group of students out into Newton Walled Garden, clutching cups of gallium aparine tea (sticky willy!!), and showed them an abundance. Almost everyone who attended had foraged before, with some being quite knowledgeable, but everyone learned new plants and botanical uses. As well as shoots and roots used for medicinal purposes, we found a variety of small yet potent leaves to add to our lunchtime salad (wild greens typically have significantly higher levels of vitamins, minerals and protein so can be eaten in smaller amounts), and learned about various crafts or bush-skills that enable us to make use of winter resources.
Although it was clear it would be impossible to survive from the wild in winter without some serious hunting skills, the potential for the natural world to nourish was abundant and clear. Anna pointed out that although there was little to make a full meal, nourishment is not only about food. Being able to meaningfully connect with our natural world – even just being able to recognize and know the use of different plants – can offer a connection to place, past and present, and season, which is otherwise absent from our fast-paced, internationally oriented lives of 24-hour availability and virtual interaction. From the perspective of mental health, being able to do something interactive outdoors in the fresh air and elements, can help foster a sense of self-worth and combat isolation, and is deeply important in Scotland where we suffer from lack of light in the winter.
Back in the cosy workshop, Anna showed us ways to make teas and homemade cosmetics that, although simple, made our students smile, laugh and admire their finished products. Making things for ourselves is perhaps another valuable experience we rarely have nowadays. Everyone was amazed how easy it was to make body scrubs and face-creams using natural, plant based products.
As always, lunch was the opportunity to digest what we had learned, exchange stories and learn from one another’s experience. We feasted on kale chips and a yoghurt-dip flavoured with few-flowered leeks, roast-squash soup, beet-carpaccio with walnut puree, warm roasted kale salad, and apple crumble. Seasonal, nourishing and pretty darn tasty.
Anna is going to be running workshops throughout 2018, focusing on seasonal wild foods, bush-skills and wild-crafts. These workshops are for anyone interested in becoming better acquainted with the natural world here in southern Scotland, or who wants to connect more deeply with the idea of nourishment for our modern world.
Wild Seasons with Anna Canning continues 22nd April for our Spring workshop, and 1st July for summer. See all class listings here, and get in touch if you’d like to register!
inspiring environment, Great people and conversation...
Looking forward to the next workshop!
Barbara - Wild Seasons Winter workshop participant