New Year’s Resolutions

I hadn’t really thought about a New Year’s resolution for 2021, apart from the one that most of us have in the forefront of our minds at the moment: test negative, stay positive. (Sent to me in a Christmas card by a friend). But as we get closer to the end of January, to move forward into the year without one seems a bit neglectful.

I was therefore interested to read about the drive to encourage people to save seed and to encourage seed saving communities to develop. One of the few upsides of the lockdowns over the past year has been a huge boost in demand for seed. The argument is that this “grow your own” revolution re-diversifies seed crops and provides more security for not only our seed supplies, but food in general.

Josie Cowgill, one of the women who works with the Stroud Community Seed Bank in Gloucestershire sums up the impact of seed-saving in the context of 2020: “It’s difficult times we are living in. We have got a pandemic, we’ve got climate change, we’ve got biodiversity loss, habitat loss and economic collapse as well. It might feel quite small, just saving beans and growing your own food, but actually I think it is really fundamental. By doing something infinitesimally small like this tiny little gesture in a tiny little group, in a tiny little country somewhere, you are working towards something that makes you feel more hopeful. It’s a positive step. I’m not saying this is a magic wand or a cure-all, but it’s a positive step.”

Former ‘Bake Off’ winner Nancy Birtwhistle claims we have been ‘brainwashed’ into believing we need harsh chemicals to clean our homes. In an interview with her, what caught my attention was the amount of plant-based materials she used. It sounds miraculous, but she swears by ivy as a laundry detergent (about 60g, cut up and put in a muslin bag, then put in the drum). “It excites me so much; my husband thinks I’m crackers. I knew in the depths of my memory something about ivy and saponin [a natural foaming detergent], so I Googled it. Conkers have it as well.” (Although we should remember that ivy can be a skin irritant for some people.) In the autumn, she collects conkers and boils them up to create a creamy laundry liquid. (Nancy Birtwhistle’s book Clean & Green is published on 21 January by Pan Macmillan £12.99).I’m prepared to give this one a try, but have visions of a ‘green’ wash in a way I did not intend.

Food for thought.

Vija, January 2021

Celebrating Candlemas

This year, for the first time, I decided to put up a Christmas light curtain along the back windows of my house, never thinking that it would be such a difficult job! Having finally got the things up, with a good deal of foul language, I have felt reluctant to take them down. As well as the candles and lights around the house they have provided a welcome point of light in a rather dim January.

Imagine my delight when I heard a representative from English Heritage talking about Candlemas on the radio recently. Apparently, a tradition preceding the one which instructs us to take down Christmas decorations on the twelfth night, this allows for decorations to remain until Candlemas – the second day of February, which means that my lights can stay put for some time yet!

And snowdrops are also known as Candlemas Bells as they bloom so early in the year, and often before February 2nd. At one time it was believed that it was bad luck to bring these flowers into the house before Candlemas, but an opposing view has it that they are believed to purify the home. According to folklore, an angel helped these Candlemas Bells to bloom and pointed them out as a sign of hope to Eve and the flower is thus often seen as a sign of hope for the world.

It seems to me that everything comes together quite neatly: lights, illumination, snowdrops and hope. I think I will continue with this tradition!

Vija, January 2021

Philosophical Gardening (Vija)

Ravilious “Garden ” design for ceramics

Beginning 2021 on a philosophical note – Voltaire said that it is necessary to cultivate your garden. Andrew Marvell said that green thoughts come from any green shade. More recently, Marc Hamer in his latest book ‘Seed to Dust’ uses his cultivation of someone else’s garden as a catalyst for a range of philosophical meditations. His chapters begin with a gardening task but lead onto thoughts about life itself and his part in it.

I was reminded of ‘Plot 29’, Allan Jenkins’ book about the healing power of gardening, in which he gives an often heartbreaking portrayal of the violence and neglect of children, growing into an adult who seeks solace in tending a London allotment.

In their book ‘The Meaning of Gardens’ Mark Francis and Randolph Hester argue that gardens have meanings and go on to explore six categories of meaning: faith, power, ordering, cultural expression, personal expression and healing, each of which can operate at a social or an individual level. Jane Brown’s wonderful book ‘The Pursuit of Paradise’ aptly sums up the meaning of gardens for many of us: the desire to create something which may be not only useful, but a pleasure to be in.


Eric Ravilious: The Tortoise in the Kitchen garden

Whether your mind strays to such philosophical thoughts or not, there is a simple joy to be had in growing and nurturing and then enjoying the fruits of that labour, whether it be the beauty of a cactus dahlia or the taste of a home grown tomato, still warm from the sun.

Vija, January 2021

Eat your Christmas tree! (Kathy)

One of my presents this Christmas was a fun book called “How to eat your Christmas Tree” by Julia Georgallis. As you would expect for a book with such a title, there are some bonkers ideas in it – but there is a serious message behind it and some quite intriguing recipes too.

The statistics are quite sobering: the author calculates that if we DIDN’T cut down one years worth of Christmas trees, the carbon emissions saved would be the equivalent of banning all global air travel traffic for a year, or taking all the cars in the United Kingdom off the road for the next five years.

On a much lighter note, here are a couple of her recipes:

Christmas Tree Tea!

Apparently pine, fir and spruce contain a lot of vitamin C, although pine produces quite a weak tea. If you have a go, make sure you wash all the needles thoroughly. (And never use Yew, obviously.)

Ingredients: A handful of pine, fir or spruce needles / Juice of a lemon / 30ml (1fl oz or 2 Tbsp) Honey

Brew the needles in a teapot for 6 minutes. Add a dash of lemon juice and 2 teaspoons of honey to each cup. Pour over the brewed tree tea and serve.

Christmas Tree Cordial

This tastes a bit like grapefruit juice according to the author!

Ingredients:

Juice of 10 lemons, zest of 4 / 2 litres water / 700g caster sugar / 400g spruce and/or fir needles (you can also use some of the branches for flavour)

Sterilise a 2l glass bottle. Bring the ingredients to the boil over medium-high heat, turn down low and simmer for 2 hours. Strain through a fine mesh strainer, a few times, to make sure no needles are left and pour into the sterilised bottle. Keeps for 2 weeks in the fridge.

Christmas Tree Mimosa

70 ml Christmas tree cordial (above)/ 140 ml prosecco / Ice cubes and lemon

Combine in a cocktail shaker, pour into a cold glass and serve!

How to eat your Christmas Tree by Julia Georgallis