It was a varied week, I was immersed in kitchen lore, hidden within the 'stills books' of times past, when the ladies of estates , the green fingered ladies with a care for preserves and cooking, ladies who made up their own cosmetics full of the fresh phyto essentials that today command premium rates would keep beautiful notebooks to be passed on or to keep well tested recipes for later use; in the days when hedgerow knowledge was commonplace and so were hedgerows, when everyone had access to the countryside and unpolluted plants and gathering had not been rendered unsustainable by modern farming techniques and profit biased developers. I was reading kitchen lore seeking a few homegrown touches to mix into the session I'll serve in Edinburgh next month http://issuu.com/edinburghfestivals/docs/edinburgh_international_science_festival_2012_, those tips that hint at a knowledge held before science discovered it.
I was also going storytelling in an estate grounds: Pollock country park, former home of Sr John Stirling Maxwell, chairman of the forestry commission and founder member of the National Trust. Inevitably I like the servants quarters best with its layers of shelves for preserves, its china rooms and scent of fresh cake, but best of all is outside, away from the house, away from the formal gardens, searching through the trees and finding hidden pathways. Least seen of all is its wildlife garden, where fantastic herbalist Dr Catriona Stewart http://scottishherbalmedicine.com/ took a group of carers on a herb walk and storytelling session. Like the stills room recipes I'm sure the big house once held in its heart, Catriona was reintroducing recipes for soaps and oils the following week, but this week I story told and got the group sharing stories. Sometimes this is hard to get going, but there is one story most of us can share and will start many groups off on a journey of thought. Its like the stills room books: what was your favourite dish when you were little? Did your Granny cook you trays of tablet that didn't free you 'til they vanished, treat you with Gujhia at Holi, or Simnel cake yellow with saffron at Easter. Regardless of culture, country or class; food and especially herbs and spices with their distinct aromas and promises, their allure and properties: create a bond that crosses languages and divides and provides a subject we are naturally inclined to share, after all the ability to swap recipes, share knowledge of food and medicine sources and relay local gardening tips has inevitabley played a role in ensuring mankind's survival at key stages in our evolution.
Back indoors the tale of my Granny picking hawthorn leaves 'bread and cheese' to fill her plain bread on her way to school got the group started then as the group swapped food, and tips: an Indian recipe for Kaddu, for digestive trouble, replenishing rice puddings from India to Scotland and back again, homemade hazelnut and chocolate spread (: food to make you clever and happy at the same time!), I was reminded of something a group of Aunties….back to my Granny once more…over tea in bone china and layers of biscuits, my Granny and her close friends and distant relatives would gather when I was little and exchange gossip and stories, tips and dramas.
So what else did the week hold…more tea and cakes, more thoughts on the natural way people, women especially, have traditionally shared stories and knowledge, as we celebrated a friends daughters 1st birthday and swapped news and anecdotes.
Then an invite to lunch, a unexpected treat, an email not offering unreliable cheap holidays or unfulfilling last days of sales, but a friend I haven't seen for a few months, whats more a quick witted funny friend and a free lunch! If I'm occasionally mistaken for a lady that lunches it can be forgiven, self employed impoverished hardworking single parent that I am, I'm also outrageously skilled at being a lunching lady, I can handle lipstick and meringues simultaneously whilst engaging in hilarious conversation and coveting vintage china without even having to stop to reset the mode!
So the text, did I want to meet my friend for lunch at the Hidden Lanes tearooms, she was going to review it for The List magazine
….too right I did, ooooh and what a gem…..very nice it was too, lovely china... sneakily hidden amongst rainbow bright tin sheds, cakes like pictures from a fairy tale feast (and I just cant resist a battered hatbox as set dressing) I am totally in my comfort zone in a place that sits meringues next to pine cones and has mint tea in a vintage teapots. http://thehiddenlanetearoom.blogspot.com/
I don't know whether it was the anthocyanins in that vaccinium laden meringue, all those blueberries and raspberries slurping up the free radicals and combining with the clarifying mint tea making my brain immediately ten years younger, or whether I just really have a thing about vintage china and chatting about food with my friends that translates into inspiration, but I left totally excited and buzzing with a variant of an idea my Mum phoned me about a while ago. I guess its been growing since my birthday party blog: http://www.botanicafabula.co.uk/blog/2011/12/30/B-and-C-are-for-birthday-cake-cooking-breaks-a-writers-block.aspx
Tea time tales: From the pine needle tea drunk by Sami reindeer herders, a traditional healer of upper respiratory infections, to the decoctions of lemongrass and tea tree favored by Aboriginal Australians, past the now widely popular South African Rooibos, to the globally accepted Camillia Sinensis we all know and love. Tea is universally adored and renowned for its restorative and nutritious properties. As for cake...well need I say more? Legend has it the seeds in a slice of caraway seed cake could make it a love philtre or keep away thieves, or maybe the Mayan story I tell of how Kukulkan gifted chocolate to the people would go down well with a brownie and whet your appetite for more stories.
I'm thinking I might combine these stories over a tea time setting, I'm thinking tea time meetings with stories: for new parents wanting a relaxed get together, for reminiscence sessions, perfect for working with my mum http://www.jeanstoryteller.co.uk/ especially on intergenerational projects, maybe we just all need tea time tales... I can bring the china, or maybe meet in a tea rooms……I'll put a proposal session up on the products page this week and see what it brings in….and keep you posted, lets have tea parties and stories about the wonders of teas from around the world ….(comments and feedback would be great. )
And finally….I have a lovely story about tea from China…but when I was researching it earlier I came across this lovely blog and it has a very good tea story on it too, so I'd like to share it http://cracklemountain.blogspot.com/2006/06/ancestor-of-tea-chinese-folktale.html read it with a nice cuppa and a piece of cake!