Venie Holmgren, the poet and mother of David Holmgren passed away recently. Together with his son and a friend, David made her coffin out of saved and salvaged wood, each piece with a memory and meaning. And then it was covered with poems.
I read somewhere that you can’t learn gardening from philosophy, but you can learn philosophy from gardening.
So, this “permaculture” with which I am so enraptured?
It is not just about gardening or sector analysis and zones. It is not just about ethics and principles and patterns and learning from ecosystems.
It is about a way of being: consciously assembling and creating the worlds we want to live in and at the same time collecting meaning and crafting it together so that the systems and objects we create are beautiful and are read as stories.
For some reason I love the colour yellow at the moment. I’m buying and scavenging and dying all the things yellow. Well, that is all the things that aren’t already teal, red, grey or blue.
When I was growing up my mum had a biscuit tin that was filled with onion skins. She had been saving them for years in order to use them as a dye. As far as I know the onion skin collection is still there.
Obviously these things run in the family as for the last 5 years I’ve been collecting brown onion skins in a tin. It takes a very, very long time to save 100g of onion skins.
Finally the time was right – not only was my tin of onion skins full, but tidying up my yarn stash revealed a skein of off-white Finnish wool that my parents-in-law gave me after our travels coincided in Helsinki back in 2013.
I followed a couple of blogs‘ advice about onion skin dying.
It was a three day process! I mordanted the wool with alum (boiled and then cooled) to make the fibre more receptive to the colour. I boiled, cooled and strained the onion skins. Then once again I boiled the wool in the dye, then cooled it off and rinsed the now yellow wool. There was still a lot of colour in the onion skin pot, so I dyed a pale pink linen tshirt that I’d bought with the intention of dying and threw in some grey linen scraps too. I then added another piece of white linen that I’d previously dyed bright yellow with Procion MX. After all those years of saving onion skins and the days of boiling and cooling there was no way I was going to pour the remaining dyed down the sink after 100g of wool.
In the picture below you can also see a poly-cotton bedsheet and another piece of scrap linen that I dyed with Procion MX earlier in the week.
I loved the anticipation and process of dying with onion skins and I’m interested in trying out other natural dyes such as black beans (blue) and turmeric (yellow). That said, it is very labour intensive – so I’m definitely not giving up on my Procion MX experiments any time soon.
I mentioned the other day that besides the calendula that I dried and zucchini that I fried I had a bunch of other things from the garden that needed processing? Well amongst my harvest were beetroot and their leaves as well as some rainbow chard.
Normally I love sauteed chard and beet leaves – with the addition of lemon juice, garlic and maybe some toasted almonds they are delicious. Or maybe used as part of a spanakopita style pie? But on Sunday my normal desire for greens failed me and I needed to do something different with the leaves – and fast, the weather was hot and they were beginning to wilt.
The obvious answer was to get all wild and hippy and ferment the damn things.
Over the last year I’ve been playing around with wild fermentation and making things like kombucha and elderflower wine. I’ve successfully made traditional sauerkraut and fermented my own beetroot with great results.
But some things just don’t work out the way you think they could.
Today’s exhibit? Rainbow chard and beetroot leaf… slime.
I went the normal route of salting and “massaging” the leaves to break down the cell walls and release the salty plant juice. And then – I carefully packed the shmooshed up leaves into a jar and weighted the leaves down and added a touch of brine to the top to make sure all the leaves were submerged.
And then I waited.
The last couple of days have been very hot in Linz and as a result my kitchen was close to 30° – things began to happen to the jar of leaves straight away. By the next day there was some foam and a strong odour of pond.
Pond – that’s really the only way to describe it – a little like the smell of our sailboat’s hull when she comes out of the Winterhafen. Pond – in the right place (i.e. near a pond) it is a smell that makes sense and can be not unpleasant – but in my 30° kitchen it was not something I was handling well. The normally earthy flavours of beet leaves had combined with water to make the wet earth flavour of mud.
Generally you have to wait a couple of days for more advanced fermentation to kick in and with it the nice souring that comes from the good lactic bacteria of successful fermentation. Maybe if the weather was cooler and I was more patient this could have happened. In the end though the combination of a very hot kitchen and the persistent smell of slime meant that I had to apologise to the food gods and take the experiment out to the compost bin.
I finally got my favourite sewing machine, a vintage Husqvarna Viking 2000 – 6440, repaired and it only cost €50. I’d been putting it off sending it to the mechanic for over 2 years. So I went out and celebrated by visiting Textil Müller in Wels. I’m pretty sure that 90% of the fabric in stock was there when I last visited in 2012.
A couple of years ago I unsuccessfully tried to clone a scoby from a commercial kombucha (Carpe Diem) that turned out to be pasteurised. Recently I attempted it again with an expensive bottle of very hippyish looking kombucha and was finally successful.
Since then I’ve made three batches of kombucha, each of which has been secondary fermented with dried and fresh fruit to add flavour and carbonation. This latest bottling coincided with some pretty warm weather and some very, very fizzy bottles which had to have the excess gas released to prevent explosion!
Tim’s been making Blunzngröstl lately – refried bloodsausage with fried potatoes and freshly grated horseradish. And invariably we drink a Most (Austrian Sour Apple Cider) that’s mixed with soda water.
It might be worthwhile forgetting what I wrote about salads a minute ago – pigs’ blood fried up with onion and potatoes is the bomb.
I rarely drink beer and The Maths Captain invariably dry retches after the first sip – but despite this I received a beer brewing kit from him for Christmas 2014. We bottled our first brew – a standard Coopers Brewery Lager – in January and in April I mislabelled the bottles that we gave to a friend for their 40th.
In Australia homebrew is totally normal – but here in Austria people either thought we were idiots or akin to crazy gods.
Recently some of the most satisfying meals I’ve eaten have been mixed up hippy salads. Here are lentils, refried potatoes, a local sauerkraut, self fermented beetroot and hidden underneath is feta too. Delicious.