Anyone for dock pudding? (25 days to go…)

by Max Akroyd

I’ve not even started yet and it’s apparent this subsistence thing is like crossing a big, hungry river on wobbly stepping stones.

I’m sure it’s all the same flow in reality, but it helps my brain to organise edibles into conventional categories of animals, vegetables, fruit and wild foods. The organisation – chronologically and otherwise – of the first three things has been an obsession of this blog over the last couple of years: when to sow seed to get cabbage in June and that sort of thing. And, as the ultimatum draws closer, the animals become less and less like pets and more and more like starvation insurance. (I found myself seriously contemplating eating a goat today, but she had broken her tether again).

But even more profoundly peasanty is deciphering the back-story that is the hedgerow harvest. Could there be an unbroken, three-season narrative to uncover, starting with the wild garlic and ending with wild mushrooms? I’ve already discovered that the main attraction of this food sauvage is to take the pressure off the cultivated stock. Poignant when your peas are piddling and your first potatoes paltry.

But, after being plundered these last six weeks, the wild garlic is now looking a bit glum and the nettles… well, despite several attempts, I’m still waiting for the right recipe. So, what’s the next dish on nature’s menu? The elder is about to flower and plans for cordial and other concoctions are afoot. Less familiar to me, however, is dock pudding – this despite our shared provenance. Not that dock, by the way, but common bistort, polygonum bistorta. Here’s the Yorkshire version. The last time I saw something like that, the dog hadn’t been very well at all. But needs must.

Back in the mainstream, and this book has become increasingly referred to, splashed with sauces and generally loved. If you want to know how to make a rhubarb dumpling or chestnut soup – both could become regulars around here – look no further.

Coincidentally, after spending two years trying to define the difference between this and that, I find the perfect definition in the introduction to a cookbook of all places:

” … it’s an attitude of mind: the peasantry can be defined as those for whom agriculture is a livelihood and a way of life, not a business for profit.”

Et voila!