What put the ‘w’ in ‘whole’?
That’s the kind of nonsensical self-talk I get when I rise up in the predawn. Stoke the stove, shake on the clothes, fill the kettle and head out to welcome the day and ‘water the horses’. This day, we were to get triply warm. A large, bright, blazing promise built the night before. It took with the first match….
Cup of Tea. Porridge with my lover. Flickering flame chasing, sucked skyward; sun-rising and an atmosphere descending, seemingly sucked down as the flames tickle the heavens. Aye, it can be pretty poetic before 7am when you’ve woken up in a tent.
I welcome all our relations before the humans show up. That’s how we roll.
What’s this got to do with outdoor learning Rhydd? Well, you may have heard that we stand on the shoulders of giants; right? But, you may not have considered that the way to approach them is to sometimes bend down and give them a bite to eat… This is a very tacit, powerful portal to rediscovering vitality; so read on if your hungry…
Welsh rarebit is an often misunderstood gastronomic delight. A combination of both cheese and toast; it undergoes a process of grilling which fuses the primary ingredients together. To an undiscerning eye it may appear that it is simply grilled cheese on toast… However, most welsh women and thankfully, one or two men know both secret ingredient and incantation that makes it a rare-bit.
‘Tidy bit of rarebit that!’
‘Thank you very much.’
As for laver bread, I‘ve always understood it to have been taken up by my forebears as they were driven to the margins of mainland Britain; a staple that washes up from on the doorstep. More recently, I’ve started gathering my own seaweeds and drying and cooking them and I’ve come to discover how nutritious it is. The Laver bread I’ve always bought has been from Swansea market, quite the outing when I was young.
There’s no dressing it up though, its thick, viscous, mucilaginous green gloop; that’s been boiled up and down with pepper and maybe some other herbs. To taste it cold is to taste the salty smack of a serf-bored in the back of the head. Blended with oats and cooked in fat however; it’s better than any pudding’; black or white.
The main event though, has to be Rita Jones’ Welsh cakes. I’ve got a cast iron skillet so I thought I’d give it a go. Well, here’s a story…
My Nan’s welsh cakes were a childhood staple, me and the siblings never far from the round tin of sugary joy. Sometimes, she’d even cut them in half, spread a thin layer of jam and push them back together. Priceless. As a student abroad in Cumbria, I’d get the occasional round tin in the post, to the reoccurring delight of my peers. They were fit for both Kings and Butlers, even Millard’s; as I’m sure they’ll agree.
So I rang Nan up down there for the recipe, four times.
‘Can you tell me the secret?’
She’d passed on the banner.
I cried a little; (a bit elatedly if I’m honest) and felt all the better for it. Honouring the living is much easier to access than honouring the dead. And I do love my Nan to bits; as all grandsons should!
So it is that my sister is the lineage bearer; Rebecca the bannock bastion. She’d been given the recipe book ages ago and well; I gave her a call and had a chat about the whole thing. Jumped a generation it did, funny things handwritten books; they have reason of their own.
She’s great is my sister, gave me the recipe including the bit containing the words ‘water dances’; and told me it’s WAY harder than it looks. Game on, test out my skillet skill-set, I thought.
The idea of holding an event for honouring ancestors is nothing new. In my own turn, I’ve held my share of mead round the fire, awestruck at the Plaeides over the years. BUT; holding a feast where you invite everyone known and unknown and honour them as if they were your own? Well, that’s a new concept for me for sure. The act of doing such a thing? Well, that’s transforming material; which means it’s good for me and you and the blokes that recommended such an impossible task.
I was touched to hear my elders speak with such fervour and emotion when it came to their telling of what is fast becoming their longstanding tradition of holding ‘Ancestor Suppers’ at this time of year. Certainly, I felt tangibly fortified this morning, far more than just calorific; and I trust that all our guests have gone into their day feeling that way too. That said, Laura and I are inspired to take the tradition forward into our future together too. Hope to see you for a bogle breakfast in 2013!
With thanks to Dave Shaw for curing ‘culinary block’ and the topsy-turvy inspiration of having breakfast and Fire when freedom allows. My prayer goes out to his people who are troubled by an oppressive regime which prohibits fire as part of community celebration. Thankfully, there’s a resurgence of wildfire happening in Scotland, these days. Free to worship around your own hearth, you can take your Pict.