Mallow & Monocultures

Scrap Kitchen 08

Happy Ostara to all! Also, how is it April already?

The days are getting ever longer, and my thoughts have turned to planting. But to be fair, I now work on a farm so if my thoughts weren't on planting something would be very wrong. In colder climates, those wanting to get stuck in garden-wise are holding off just a little while longer. Back in the UK (once this frost passes), you should be good to go. Now is the time is to make sure you are fully prepared, to amp up towards full-on garden madness.

One of the most important aspects of preparation is weeding, it’s universal. While I disagree with the idea of weeds, that no plant is “bad” just because it’s not where we want it, I do still have to deal with them. To put in a chosen plant, you often have to remove one that has made that space its winter home. But this doesn’t mean you can’t make the most of the extracted individual.

Mallow is one such delicious individual. The OG way to make gelatinous mixtures, mallow root creates a mucus similar to Okra. Dried root can be ground up and added to molten sugar to create traditional marshmallows (which is where they get their name). When combined with boiling water, mallow root powder can also be used to substitute egg whites in meringues. I have yet to try either of these recipes but I spent most of my Thursday evening processing mallow with them in mind. While the roots were washed, thinly sliced and dried low/slow in the oven, I hung the greens up to dry naturally. Dried mallow greens is great when rehydrated in soups, or used as tea. The fresh leaves could be used in salads or can be preserved in brine similar to grape leaves for dolmas.

In the field we were preparing there was also an abundance of Dandelions. While I have already covered some of the myriad of uses of dandelion in a previous post, I managed to concoct a quick pesto recipe. Combine washed dandelion greens, lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, nutritional yeast, salt and a recently water-soaked nut (I used almonds because they were what I had, but pumpkin seeds would probably taste delicious). With all sauces, I feel the measurements should come from the heart, so add however much of each ingredient makes you feel good. The real issue with the greens is their powerful flavour, punchy to say the least. If I made it again I might sauté them a little beforehand. That being said, the flavour mellows over time and with enough lemon and salt it certainly balances out. Since dandelion season is not here yet, there were also several unopened flowers that I picked off to make into capers. I used a slightly adapted recipe, with more peppercorns/coriander seeds/onions, because why not?

This weeks tarot, I feel, sums up the reality of being a climate activist. The Five of Cups depicts emotional loss, but not fully. While three cups have spilt over, two remain. Within loss, hope holds out, though pessimism is easy to slip into. This week ask yourself: What can failure teach you? What has worked and what has not? What can you let go of? How do you find forgiveness within yourself? What can be salvaged?

Seasonally we are beginning to see a flush of rhubarb which, though I have eaten raw, I would recommend cooking first so its acid doesn’t burn your tongue. Preserves, compotes, Clafoutis and margaritas will soon be on the menu. Young greens should also be making an appearance; spinach, spring onions and salsify are all ones to look out for.

As we gear up to begin planting, I would love to address the importance of cooperation, not only within your community but between your plants. In traditional Indigenous agricultural practices, balance was achieved and relationships were formed between the growing crops themselves and with their human guardians. A core example of this would be the three sisters: corn, beans and squash. The corn provides physical support for the beans, who in turn provide nitrogen to the soil, which the squash rapidly covers, locking in moisture. Each sister plays its role and is vital to the health of the group.

These traditional methods are drastically different to the intensive practices we see today, where large monocultures of crops dominate the agricultural landscape. Requiring yearly additions of fertiliser, along with insecticides, identical fields keep churning out food. All while they deplete the nutrients within the soil, which should ensure growth for the next generation of plants. This extractivist farming not only exhausts the land but also is dangerous for insect populations. Those that survive the pesticides are faced with a limited food supply as huge areas all flower at the same time. City bees have been recorded to have a better survival rate than farm bees, possibly because of the wide selection of nectar available all year round.

By cooperatively planting, we are able to support pollinator populations while also boosting the health of the plants themselves. Examples of this are planting herbs and flowers to attract beneficial insects and repel pests such as aphids. This idea translates into permaculture, whose teachings tout respect for “weeds”, working efficiently and obtaining a yield from growing in a symbiotic fashion. What must be remembered about this movement is that it comes from Indigenous wisdom. As Milkwood Permaculture so eloquently states “We acknowledge that permaculture owes the roots of its theory and practice to traditional and Indigenous knowledges, from all over the world. We all stand on the shoulders of many ancestors – as we learn, and re-learn, these skills and concepts. We pay our deepest respects and give our heartfelt thanks to these knowledge-keepers, both past and present”. Any permaculture site that refuses to acknowledge this is continuing colonialist violence and erasure, and should not be getting any of your time/money.

With this in mind this week’s podcast is from Venus Roots; a fascinating discussion with Kia Damon about culinary traditions, ancestral wisdom and the food industry.

I’ll be back next week with more foraged foods and scrap ideas but in the meantime, please leave a comment, throw a like at me and remember to stay scrappy.


Image Credit: tugay aydın, Eva Elijas, Kaboompics.

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If you missed last weeks’ update, Read it Here.