Category Archives: food

Food systems are adapting to the pandemic … so far

Following the Nourish Scotland conference in November 2019, the Living Field began thinking about how it might best support those working towards a sustainable future for food and agriculture [1]. Then early in 2020 the pandemic hit, raising searching questions as to whether the food system could cope.

In March 2020, Pete Ritchie from Nourish Scotland, wrote a blog [2] putting the case that once the initial panic has receded, the international food system would adapt, the empty shelves would be re-stocked and no one in this country ought to go hungry. Nourish, through their blogs, web sites and conferences are at pains to point out that no one should go hungry in the UK because of shortage of food. Where they are hungry or malnourished, it would be due to other factors, such as social inequality, not the amount of food available.

Nourish were correct, but they were not giving the thumbs up to the current state. The blog writes that the food system – “ … generates massive environmental damage, monumental food waste, exploitative work practices and a disastrous mismatch between what we need to eat for health and what we are being sold.”

Dysfunction and mismatch are not simply other people’s problems. The blog continues – “ …..it would be good if Scotland were to produce more of what it eats, and eat more of what it produces.”

The argument raises the greater issue of the choices that can be made – whether to create a more equitable food system or stay with the current dysfunctional mix of hunger and plenty. Analysis by the Food Foundation [3] indicates the pandemic is driving more people into malnutrition and hunger: the food is there, but unaffordable or out of reach.  

Yet on the continuity of supply during the pandemic, the food system has adapted. Would the same be true following any global emergency?

The food-feed system is resilient ….. but it could fail catastrophically

The food system supplying Scotland and the UK was able to recover because of particular features of this pandemic. Farming and food stocks in most parts of the world have been little affected so far. With some exceptions, channels for imported food have remained open. It is too soon to say whether more will be restricted if lockdown and social distancing continue, but the chances are they will not be. However, other global crises could have far greater consequences.  

Imagine if imports had been shut off. The Food Atlas [4] produced by Nourish Scotland in 2018 shows the country’s reliance on imports. While some food supply chains can be satisfied by local produce, those supplying the staple carbohydrates, plant protein and vegetables are particularly vulnerable.

  • Scotland almost entirely relies on imports for staple, healthy carbohydrates. (The UK is less reliant but still has a major deficit.) The main local crops providing carbs are oats and potato, but on current areas they could not ensure sufficiency. Bread in particular – almost none of the bread we eat in Scotland is grown here. Nearly all other cereal carbohydrates are grown outside the UK (pasta, rice). Yet the country’s arable land could grow all the staple carbs needed.
  • Pulses – peas and beans – are, with cereal carbohydrate, the staple food of all settled civilisations. As for cereals, most pulse food is imported (e.g. canned baked beans) as is most pulse feed for livestock and farmed fish (e.g. soy bean from the Americas).
  • Vegetables – about half the vegetables eaten in Scotland are produced in the UK, most of the rest being grown in the EU or elsewhere.

If imports had been closed down, the country would be in trouble. Could this happen? There are two main possible causes: the food is there but imports are stopped, for example, by blockade due to international hostilities; or the food is not there to buy, because the countries producing it keep it themselves or have suffered a catastrophe in their producing regions (e.g. ash from volcanic eruption). Both have happened in the past. They will happen again.

It’s the balance that preserves

After the food insecurities the 1940s, a post-war Agricultural Expansion Programme was initiated to raise production and shift the balance more towards grain than grass. The programme worked, aided by technological advances in machinery, agronomy and crop yield potential.  Yet within a few decades, the country came to export much of its agricultural production and was again dependent on imports for food.

In an uncertain world, a country needs to keep its borders open for trade, both ways. But it also needs to ensure it can feed itself if it has to. The balance needs to be redrawn: local production raised, more food grown than feedstocks for alcohol and livestock, with a shift in emphasis to ‘building’ rather than degrading the agro-ecosystem. All this is possible.

An extended version of this article is published at Food security in the pandemic. More on the food system is available online [7, 8].

Sources, links

[1] Nourish Conference 2019 – Lessons for the Living Field.

[2] Nourish Scotland. Making the food supply chain work for everyone. By Pete Ritchie, 24 March 2020.

[3] The Food Foundation published some recent statistics on 22 May 2020: Food insecurity and debt are the new reality under lockdown.

[4] Nourish Scotland’s Food Atlas: http://www.nourishscotland.org/resources/food-atlas/

[5] To find out more about local food systems, search these organisations:

[6] Examples of relevant articles on the Living Field web site: City University’s food systems diagram: Five spheres around the food chain. Ten crops from three continents make this simple meal: Beans on Toast revisited. Barley, oats and wheat: Three-grain resilience in Atlantic zone agriculture.

Author/contact: geoff.squire@hutton.ac.uk or geoff.squire@outlook.com

Grannie Kate’s spicy two pulse patties

More from our correspondent Grannie Kate ….. broad bean and chickpea ….. eat pulses ….. stay healthy …. cut pollution

“I first acquired a recipe for chickpea patties from an Indian student of Sayed Azam-Ali [1] in 1991 during a field trip to the Highlands of Scotland!  I have adapted it to add in extra tasty baby broad beans but be careful not to overdo the spices, otherwise the flavour of the broad beans will be masked.

You could add peas to the mix as well if you wished, or other types of cooked bean according to the season and availability. These are highly nutritious, very tasty and filling! Serve with mixed leaves and maybe some peppers and tomatoes with a light drizzle of olive oil. This recipe makes about 10 patties.

What you will need
  • 1 cup of baby broad beans, boiled for three minutes
  • 1 cup of cooked chickpeas, from a tin
  • 1 cup of seasoned mashed potatoes
  • 2 spring onions plus one medium onion, finely chopped
  • One garlic clove, grated
  • Piece of ginger about 2cm square, grated
  • Half a fresh red chilli, chopped finely and including the seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon of turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon of garam masala
  • 5 green cardamon pods, seeds removed and crushed
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 beaten egg for binding the mixture plus gram flour (chickpea flour)
Frying the onions, adding the spices, lightly mash the chickpea then add the beans and mash a bit more.
What to do
  1. Start by preparing the spices. Grind the cardamom seeds in a pestle and mortar and then add the turmeric and garam masala, salt and pepper. Grind them all together.
  2. Add vegetable oil to a frying pan and when it is hot, add the spices. Fry for about half a minute then add the onions, garlic, ginger and chilli. Fry gently for around 5 minutes, stirring continuously and then remove from the heat.
  3. Lightly mash the chickpea and beans. Add them to with the potatoes to a large bowl and then add the fried onions and spices and mix loosely together with a fork. Add a beaten egg to bind the mixture together.
  4. Sprinkle the flour onto a chopping board, and also onto your hands to stop the mixture from sticking. Place a large spoonful of the mixture onto your hand and make a ball, then roll in the flour. 
  5. Place each patty onto baking paper on a tray, cover and leave in the fridge for 30 minutes to firm up.
  6. Fry gently in a frying pan, turning each patty over until a glorious golden brown colour.
Add all ingredients to a bowl and mix lightly, form the patties with floury hands, fry them in a pan. Delicious. (Some of the ingredients to the lower left).
Notes from the editor

Thanks again to our correspondent Grannie Kate for this recipe.

[1] Now at Crops for the Future, Malaysia.

[2] Pulse crops such as broad beans and chickpeas are of the legume family and can be grown without nitrogen fertiliser, which if used to excess, is one of the most damaging pollutants of atmosphere and water.

Quick and tasty flatbreads with gram flour

Latest from Grannie Kate …..

Flatbreads or bannocks made from oatmeal, beremeal or peasemeal are a traditional food of this region.

I decided to try and make some quick and simple flat breads to serve with soup, but instead of these I decided upon gram or chickpea flour. It’s a fine flour, yellowish in colour. Chickpea is a legume plant like pea, but usually grown in warmer countries.

Gram flour makes an excellent cheese sauce, by the way, for cauliflower cheese or a pasta bake.

These flatbreads are tasty, nutritious and filling. Keep them wrapped in foil and they will retain their freshness for a day or so.

Ingredients
  • 2 cups of chickpea flour
  • 1 cup of natural yoghurt
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons of baking powder
Bag of gram flour, the flour in a bowl, add the baking powder and then the yoghurt (photos by Grannie Kate)
What to do
  1. Put the salt, baking powder and flour into a medium sized mixing bowl and mix together.
  2. Add the yoghurt a little at a time stirring with a spoon.
  3. The dough seems to be wet and sticky, but keep mixing and then turn out onto a floured surface.
  4. Make sure your hands are floured then knead the dough lightly for about a minute until it is a smooth ball.
  5. Divide the dough into 6 floured balls, then lightly flatten each one, using either a rolling pin or the palm of your hands until about 2 – 3 mm thick.
  6. Spray some cooking oil into a heavy frying pan, bakestone or skillet until lightly coated, then, when the oil is hot add one or two of the flat breads. Add extra oil in between each batch of two flatbreads.
  7. The flat breads will rise as the baking powder starts to work, so cook each flat bread for 1 or 2 minutes on each side until golden brown.
  8. Keep warm and serve with a fresh leek and potato soup!
Grannie Kate’s chickpea bannocks: form them, press them, fry them and eat them (photos by Grannie Kate).
Optional extras

Add a sprinkling of sesame seeds with a little oil onto the surface of your flat breads before frying them on the bakestone or frying pan. Or try cumin seeds in the same way.

Notes, links

[1] Gram flour is make from chickpea seeds Cicer arietinum – a legume plant grown in many mediterranean and tropical regions as one of the staple protein crops.

[2] For more on the history of flatbread country, see Peasemeal, oatmeal, beremeal bannocks on the Living Field web site.

[3] Like most legumes, chickpea fixes its own nitrogen from the air, so needs little if any mineral N fertiliser to help it grow and yield. Since mineral N is one of the main pollutants and sources of GHG emissions, growing and eating chickpea and other pulses is good for soil and the planet.

Banana flowers, custard apples, fresh coconut and much more

One in a series on vegetable markets around the world: this one in ‘Little India’, Singapore.

Fresh vegetables, unpackaged, mean local production, short food chains, fine taste and a high nutritional content. The Living Field encourages local growing and use of vegetables, most recently through its Vegetable Map of Scotland.

But we also enjoy visiting fresh vegetable markets in other places, for example in Bangkok, Inle Lake Burma and Carsassonne in France.

Here we look at some of what’s on offer at Tekka, in the district of Singapore known as Little India [1]. As in most other vegetable markets, the goods offer a range of storage times from a few days to weeks or even months.

Here are some unusual ones … unusual to us that is. They are widely eaten throughout the tropics and sub-tropics. To the left of the three above are flowers of the banana or another plantain, encased in their reddish sheaths. The tough outer layers are usually discarded then the softer inners used in soups, salads and curries.

To the right are custard apples, not so appetising on the outside but split them with a knife to get at soft tasty fruits inside. In the middle, fresh coconuts, pared ready for extracting the ‘milk’, jostle on the central shelf, gourds above them and more banana products below. Just visible above the banana flowers (left) are two jackfruit, their rough surfaces protecting luscious, tasty, orange fruits inside.

Next are two types of fruit that will be more familiar in European supermarkets. Lower right in the panel above is a mass of gooseberries and above them the shiny purple fruits of brinjal (also known as aubergine and eggplant) of which there are many forms. The brinjal’s botanical name is Solanum melongena, relative of the potato therefore (Solanum tuberosum) and some poisonous nightshades. The wall poster to the left of them is advertising a vegetable mart.

And here are some more unusual ones. To the right of the flower stall (centre) are spiny gourds Momordica dioica, a fruit usually cooked as a vegetable, fried with meat for example. They are a little larger than a golf ball.

To the left are clusters of green ‘berries’ – the fruit of the pea eggplant or turkey berry Solanum torvum, used to give some bitterness to various dishes including curries.

So brinjal, pea aubergine and potato are part of the same plant group. People throughout the world have learnt to eat the safe parts of these Solanum species and leave or neutralise the inedible or poisonous parts (usually the leaves). Potato’s edible parts are tubers rather than fruits – though if left to flower and fruit, potato produces berries similar in appearance to those of pea aubergine [3].

And finally there are things both familiar and exotic. To the left are limes and next to them sections of banana stem. Then in the panel of three to the right are what looks like a type of okra or cucumber, green but characteristically streaked with white, then tomato in the centre and at the bottom a collection of carrots, beans and what are probably long tubers locally called ‘radishes’ but which are not a bit like the small oval radish grown in Britain.

Further sources and links

[1] Little India, Singapore: vegetables, herbs and spices at and around the Tekka Centre off Serangoon Road and Bukit Timah Road.

[2] Information on the trees and shrubs mentioned above can be found in several searchable databases: e.g., see entries for custard apple Annona reticulata at the Agroforestree database of the World Agroforestry Centre and the CABI Invasive Species Compendium.

[3] Potato plants can form fruits in fields in Scotland and if dropped, persist in the soil for many years, giving rise to ‘volunteer’ populations that occur as weeds in subsequent crops of potato or other species. The role of potato as a weed is described on this web site at Crop-weeds.

All images by Living Field.

Veg posters from open farm sunday

What a great day, 9 June! Yet another successful Open Farm Sunday at the Hutton Dundee. Crowds of visitors enjoying themselves in sunny weather. The Living Field garden did its bit as before – exhibits on barley and legumes in the polytunnel, potato varieties in the west garden and further science exhibits in the cabins.

Our friends from Dundee Astronomical Society were here again showing people round the new observatory and explaining about the sun, moon and noctilucent clouds. And this year we were helped for the first time by a workshop on cyanotype imagery run by Kit Martin.

The centrepiece was the new Vegetable Map of Scotland, shown top left and centre in the panel above. For more on how it was made, see Vegetable map made real. The map occasioned much comment and wonder that the country was already growing such a wide range of vegetables and could grow much more of its own.

The two posters located next to the Vegetable map are available to view or download here.

The Vegetable Posters

One of the posters – The Vegetable Products of Scotland – explained the background to the original Vegetable map which was first shown at Can we grow more vegetables? The poster is reproduced below as a low resolution jpg image. It is also available as a pdf file printable up to A3 size.

Click for an A3 size pdf of the Vegetable Products of Scotland.

The other poster – Vegetables in the Living Field garden – showed many of the vegetables typically grown in the garden, grouped into leaves, fleshy fruits, roots and seeds. More on the plants can be seen at the garden pages under Vegetables. This poster is also reproduced as a jpeg below and available as a pdf.

Click for an A3 size pdf of Vegetables in the Living Field garden.

Contacts for Living Field activities: gladys.wright@hutton.ac.uk or geoff.squire@hutton.ac.uk

Open Farm Sunday was a joint effort between The Farm, science staff, the events team, the Living Field community and many others.

Vegetable map made real

Since its publication on these pages in 2017 the Vegetable Map of Scotland [1] has attracted much interest. There is a growing awareness of the benefits of local, nutritious food – especially if bought from short supply chains that use the least possible carbon.

People want to know where their food comes from, how much is imported and how much grown locally and whether the country can grow more of its food within or near its borders.

These questions are asked especially of vegetables, including pulses and potato, because they are (or should be) mostly eaten very fresh, such as leaf, or else, like carrot and swede, kept not too long on the shelf before being cooked.

With this background of interest, the Vegetable Map was constructed by researchers at the Institute as part of joint interests with Nourish Scotland [2]. The group interrogated EU databases provided by the Scottish Government [3] to locate the fields in which the various vegetables and soft fruits were grown.

Part of the Vegetable Map showing Strathmore, Angus and Fife

An example of part of the region is shown above. The Map remained available through this web site, then in late 2018, ideas began to form about making the map real – complete with vegetables – and it would be constructed in the Living Field garden [4].

Tayside’s neolithic?

Time went by. Ground was weeded, cleared and cultivated – a rare barrenness in the otherwise plant-rich garden. Then gradually, over the winter, tectonic plates shifted.

People began to wonder about the strange earthworks dotted with rocks that appeared in the plot. Was the garden being visited at night by strange forces or was the Living Field community finally just losing it? Rumours were rife.

Rocks laid in formation and the ground smoothed again

More time went by. Turf was laid in a great rectangle over the whole patch, but people were still unclear of what it was all for …. and what lay underneath.

The turf rooted and formed a fine carpet. But what were the rocks? A ritual landscape? Tayside’s answer to the Ring of Brodgar?

The laying of the turf, before the winter 2018/19

Then one day in late spring 2019 an outline was traced and the turf was cut to reveal the unmistakable shape of ….. Scotland ….. its indented coast now clear and the land inside complete with hills and mountains.

All well so far ……. a map of the country covered in grass and rocks …… nothing new there. But then in May, holes were cut in the turf and plants put in the holes: and you’ll guess what plants – Yes, vegetables.

The map complete, ready for the vegetables in spring 2019

And that is where we are at the beginning of June 2019. The Farm’s drone was flown to photograph the Living Field garden from the air on 5 June. The image of the map appears below.

Different types of vegetable are being planted in the parts of the country where they are typically grown. It is possible to see the early plantings to the right of the image. The brown holes in the turf are where circles have been cut in readiness for later plantings. (The ‘corners’ and lower border are spare turf in case of need.)

The Vegetable Map in the Living Field garden, taken by The Farm’s drone on 5 June 2019

Planting will continue well into the summer. There will be some surprises which we shall show later.

For now, you can read more about the history of vegetable growing at the original page [1]. photographs of the construction will follow – link to be provided. And there will be more articles on what can and can’t be grown in the soils and climates of our northern latitudes.

Living Field people will be on hand at Open Farm Sunday 9 June 2019 to explain more about the Vegetable Map of Scotland. See you there!

With apologies to the Outer Hebrides, Orkney and Shetland, presently missing from the map but to be included.

Sources, references, links

[1] The Vegetable Map of Scotland at Can we grow more vegetables? was constructed by Nora Quesada with Graham Begg and Geoff Squire.

[2] Nourish Scotland at nourishscotland.org and Peas please.

[3] The original digital map was produced during work on the distribution of crops as part of the Scottish Government’s Strategic Research Programme.

[4] Gladys Wright had the idea of constructing the Vegetable Map in the Living Field garden and was soon offered enthusiastic help by The Farm. Together, and with other coopted helpers they measured out the grid, made the mountains (like Titans), laid and cut the turf and raised and planted the plants. A great effort by the Living Field community!

[5] Further links to the map on this site: Living Field garden from the air and Veg posters from Open Farm Sunday.

Contact: gladys.wright@hutton.ac.uk, geoff.squire@hutton.ac.uk

Beans on toast revisited

The famous Beans on Toast Project was started 7 years ago by student Sarah Doherty and artist Jean Duncan with Geoff Squire and other members of the Living Field team [1]. The project looked at the origins of this seemingly simple meal.

Not so simple in fact – 10 crops, grown in four continents and using masses of water and other precious resources – the product of a highly complex supply chain leading to a tin, a packet and a tub.

This example of the worldwide growing and sourcing of products that go into the food we eat has been used many times by the Living Field, most recently at a Citizen’s Jury event at the Scottish Parliament in March.

Beans on toast a few years on…

Sarah’s been reflecting on the project. She writes –

“Seven years on, I look back at the ‘water footprint’ for the Beans on Toast project as an eye-opening experience!

It was a reminder that there is a story behind everything. Almost everything we eat has travelled a long way to get on our plates. For so much water to go into the humble beans on toast – it baffles me how much more water and effort goes into producing other things.

I recently took up sewing and have been struck at how expensive it is to buy material for making home-made clothes. When mass- produced for high street stores, clothes may seem easy and cheap. However, making material is an energy and water intensive process too often involving crops for fibres such as cotton and linen. 

I’m certainly more mindful of this now which is why I’m learning to cut my wardrobe down to what I really use and like the most! 

At the Citizen’s Jury Scottish Parliament

Geoff was asked to attend a Citizen’s Jury as a specialist assisting the Jurors with background information on the topic being considered.

He used the Beans on Toast example [2] to show, first, that much of the food we eat is not grown here but imported, and second, that most of our pre-prepared food is made from mixing the products of many different crops grown using the resources of other countries.

Beans on Toast relies on haricot bean, tomato, oil palm, soybean, wheat, maize, sugar cane, paprika, onion, and oilseed rape ….. and that’s just the main ingredients. And the food on one plate of it needs several bathfulls of water.

The famous Beans on Toast project continues …

Beans on Toast is an excellent example to show that we need to use less of other countries’ resources and more of our own.

What’s known as the legume-gap or protein gap – the difference between home grown and imports – is massive. We grow just a few percent of the plant protein needed for feeding peole and farm animals.

We have been adding to the information on sourcing food and estimating how much water and nutrients it takes to grow and process food like this [3]. Beans on Toast lives ….

To see the original pages

The supply chain deopicted by a youngster at Wormit Primary School following a visit by Sarah and Jean.

Sources, links

[1] Sarah was studying at Durham University when she worked at the James Hutton Institute for about a year in 2012 . She has kept in touch. She last visited in summer 2018. Jean Duncan who worked with Sarah on educational projects with local schools still works with the Living Field project.

[2] The Citizens Jury event was held at the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh 29-31 March 2019. Information at the curvedflatlands web page Citizens Jury at the Scottish Parliament.

[3] The EU TRUE project runs currently, coordinated at the James Hutton Institute. Among its aims is to study the global food and feed supply chains, to cut waste and and to raise local production. It’s full title is Transition Paths to Sustainable Legume-based systems in Europe https://www.true-project.eu

Contact for this page: geoff.squire@hutton.ac.uk

Peasemeal Beremeal Oatmeal

Three flours that sustained life on the Atlantic seaboard for centuries. Commonly grown as a crop mixture in the field.  Mixed and cooked into tasty bannocks in the kitchen. Decline to near extinction in the 20th century. Now with a great future as sustainable low-input crops, bringing diversity to the farmed landscape and healthy, nutritious food. 

Peas, bere (barley) and oats have been a staple plant mixture giving protein and carbohydrate through the centuries of farming on the Atlantic seaboard. Yet in Scotland, as in much of Atlantic Europe, their role diminished within living memory.

Peas  declined in area from the mid 1800s to to almost nothing in the 1930s. Bere dropped out of census records in the 1880s but was then nearly lost except in a few northern fields. Oat fell from being the dominant grain crop over the last few hundred years to covering less area than barley and wheat by 1950 [1]. Their decline is now being reversed.

Bere grain (left), marrowfat peas and oat grain (right): bear and oat grown in the Living Field garden, peas from a packet (www.livingfield.co.uk).

Peas as crops and food

Traditionally peas along with bere and oats, and sometimes beans, was the staple protein food of the rural working population in Scotland. They were the local pulse and grain – the sustaining combination of plants that once fed the world and still feeds large parts of it.

Fenton’s Food of the Scots [2] cites many records from the 1400s to the late 1800s of peas, beans and cereal grains grown alone or in mixtures. Similarly, the flours of peas, oats and bere were eaten as bread and bannocks, either as sole constituents or baked in combination.

The pulse crops were certainly recognised and widely appreciated here for hundreds of years. A 1426 Act of Parliament in Scotland stipulated that a farmer should sow 1/12 of his labour in peas [2],  not just for protein food but to fertilise the soil with nitrogen (though the process of biological nitrogen fixation by legumes was not understood until many centuries later).

The products of peas and beans were grown locally, traded across the country or imported by sea, often from nearby Atlantic and Baltic ports. Though peasemeal was demeaned as a food of the labouring classes in some regions, the inclusion of peas in the subsistence diet was recommended by Hutchison in 1869 [2] as contributing to a healthier and longer life for the rural worker and their family.

Decline of peas

The records cited by Fenton indicate peas as a crop and food were more important here than beans Vicia faba. Yet by the mid-1800s, that order was reversed. At the first crop census in 1854, beans occupied 6 times more area than peas [1]. The cause of the decline of peas as a crop is suggested by MacDonald (1908) as due to ‘the extended use of potato’ in the subsistence economy [2] and by Porter  (1925) to the replacement of pulses by clover and grass mixtures [3] that are better at maintaining soil fertility.

Well into the period up to the 1950s, both pulses were named individually in the census and classed as grain crops to be harvested like cereals, yet unlike the cereal grains, they continued to decline in area despite a short-lived revival in the late 1940s (when food imports and nitrogen fertiliser were  restricted).

Peas became a minor crop by the 1930s and disappeared from the annual census in the 1950s. Beans went a decade or so later. They covered too small an area to be recorded in the annual summary. They reappeared gradually from the 1960s in different forms, such as ‘vining peas’ for human consumption, but that’s another story, and despite a rise in sown area similar to that of the 1880s, peas and beans together now cover 1-2% of the cropped surface, a very low percentage.

The benefits of all three products – peasemeal, beremeal and oatmeal – to health and environment are increasingly recognised today. Here, we wonder what peasemeal-beremeal-oatmeal bannocks tasted like and decided to find out.

Grain – top bere, middle peas, lower oats – is ground to beremeal, peasemeal and oatmeal, which are mixed with water, pressed on dry meal into a round, 1 cm thick, and heated in a pan until the bannock is cooked golden brown.

Peasemeal-beremeal-oatmeal bannocks

For much of recorded history in these islands, wheat was not as widely grown as oats and barley, and when it was grown or imported, it was more to feed the wealthy. Beremeal and oatmeal do not ‘rise’ much by themselves, so were most commonly eaten as bannocks, a form of flatbread [2]. The flours were mixed with water, patted into a round, typically 1 to 2 cm thick, and baked on a hot surface on or by a fire.

To try out the method, flours were sourced from water-powered mills at Golspie in Sutherland and Birsay on Orkney [4]. Then trial and error – peasemeal and oatmeal, peasemeal and beremeal and all three together, the latter preferred for the blend of tastes.

The oatmeal was medium-ground and gave some granularity to the mix. The peasemeal had a yellowish colour, while the beremeal was more of a light brown than a standard refined wheat flour.  On the packets, peasemeal had a protein content of 20.4% and oatmeal (as most unrefined cereals) around 13%.

The three were placed in a bowl at about 1:1:1,  or slightly more oatmeal than each of the other two, mixed into a thick paste or dough with water, turned out onto the board with a little beremeal on it to stop it sticking and then pressed into a bannock (about 10 -15 cm wide and 1 cm thick).

It took 10 to 15 minutes to cook the bannock slowly in a cast iron pan, very lightly oiled with cold-pressed rapeseed, though oiling is not essential. Heat sources tried were a modern gas stove, an indoor wood stove and an outdoor fire.

The three-meal bannock was tasty and filling, eaten with butter or marge (could try a drizzle of oil), marmite, various cheeses and dipped in soup. A satisfying experience.

Yield and environmental benefit

Pea Pisum sativum is now grown in various forms, for animal feed, for canning and freezing to feed people and as a fresh vegetable. The peas traditionally used for peasemeal or flour tended to be marrowfat or similar types, harvested when mature [but see note 4]. Peas need no nitrogen fertiliser and less pesticide than most non-legume crops.

Bere, the traditional landrace of barley Hordeum vulgare, is now grown only in a few localities, but appears to need less fertiliser and pesticide than modern two row barleys.  Oats Avena sativa were overtaken by barley in the middle to the 1900s as the Scottish cereal crop of choice, but they too need less pesticide and fertiliser than barley and recently oat yields have increased to rival those of spring barley. Oat is also nutritionally superior to barleys and wheats.

Many records over recent centuries describe the growing of two or three crops mixed together in one field. ‘Mixed grains’ was recorded in the crop census for most of the 1900s, while mashlum  – a mix of peas or beans with oat or barley – was common enough to be cited as a distinct crop category from 1944 to 1978 [5]. As related elsewhere on the Living Field web site (see Mashlum – a traditional mix of oats and beans) these crop mixtures disappeared from the census records but are still grown by a few farmers who value their contribution to fertility and nutrition.

The yields, nutritional content and environmental benefit of traditional landraces and mixed grains are being researched and quantified at the James Hutton Institute, Dundee [6, 7}.

Teaching about grains, milling, flour and food at Open Days

The Living Field bought its own hand-powered corn mill a few years ago. It consist of a stone base and two grinding stones. The latter were honed by Mr Roberts from the Hutton’s workshop and the whole was supported by old tyres. Grain (in this case oats, centre top) is fed into a vertical channel in the upper stone and falls  down through to the gap between the stones.

The stones are turned by the wooden rod, as shown by Mr Young and two visitors at an Open Day (this one in 2012). The grain is ground between the stones to a mix of meal and bran (the husks of the grain) which gets pushed out and collects in the stone base from where it is brushed off into a container (lower right). The meal and bran are separated by hand using a sieve (lower left).

At Living Field open days – at Open Farm Sunday for instance – visitors can see the whole process from growing the plants from seed, harvesting grain, grinding the grain and separating the meal from the chaff. Gill Banks shows how to make bread from the flour made from these ancient varieties.

Sources, references, links

[1] Census records for the main crops began in 1854, then continued from the early 1880s through to 1978 as Agricultural Statistics Scotland, a fine source of information. Yearbooks are available online from the Scottish Government web site at Historical Agricultural Statistics. More on the 1854 census on the LF site at Thorburn’s diagrams and Bere country.

[2] Fenton A. 2007. The Food of the Scots. Volume 5 in A Compendium of Scottish Ethnology. Edinburgh: John Donald. Peas, peasemeal and bannocks appear in Ch 17 Bread and Ch 14 Field crops. Fenton cites: MacDonald J (1908) Editor of Stephens’ Book of the Farm for the loss of peas in preference to potato; and Hutchison R (1869) Report on the dietaries of Scotch agricultural labourers, (Transactions of the Highland and Agricultural Society, 4th, 2, 1-29).

[3] Porter J. 1925. The pea crop. In: Farm Crops, Ed. Paterson WG, The Gresham Publishing Company, London.

[4] Sources of the meal. Golspie Mill in Sutherland makes a range of flours and meals including the peasemeal ‘made from roasted yellow field peas’ and the oatmeal used here. Barony Mills at Birsay, Orkney  makes the beremeal. Barony have appeared many times on this web site e.g. at Landrace 1 – bere. Suppliers who stock these products include Highland Wholefoods in Inverness.

[5] The Living Field is publishing, in 2018, articles, notes and photographs on crop mixtures as part of its Crop diversification series. The first post is Mashlum -a traditional mix of beans and oats (though mashlum can be any combination of pulses and grains).

[6] The James Hutton Institute carries out a wide range of studies on pulses and grains. The nutritional and environmental properties of pulses and pulse-grain mixed crops are examined in the EU H2020 TRUE project, coordinated from the Hutton Institute and with many partners across Europe. For further info, see TRUE Project EU and articles on the curvedflatlands web site at Transitions to a legume-based food and agriculture. Contact at the Institute: pete.iannetta@hutton.ac.uk.

[7] In collaboration with the University of the Highlands and Islands Orkney College and University of Copenhagen, Denmark, The James Hutton Institute does research on promoting the use and value of bere barley http://www.hutton.ac.uk/news/understanding-living-heritage-bere-barley-more-sustainable-future. The agronomy, genetics and unique physiology of bere barley are studied with specific reference to micronutrient efficiency and potential environmental benefits. Contact tim.george@hutton.ac.uk or joanne.russell@hutton.ac.uk.  

Links to related articles on the Living Field web site

The page on the Bere line (rhymes with hairline) gives links to comments, images and articles on  bere barley, including our correspondent Grannie Kate‘s recipes and experiences using bere meal and our Gill and Co’s breadmaking with various ingredients at Bere and cricket.

Can we grow more vegetables? looks at the current geographical distribution and status of vegetable growing in Scotland, including areas with peas and beans.  Other links to pulses include: Scofu – the quest for an indigenous Scottish tofu and Feel the pulse – our travelling exhibit on peas, beans and their products,

Contacts

Author and images: geoff.squire@hutton.ac.uk; information on sourcing the grinding stones and growing bere, peas and oats in the Living Field garden, gladys.wright@hutton.ac.uk.

The Living Field web site Editor, normally averse to the alchemy and incantations of cooking (best left alone!) managed to make (and eat) bannocks from the constituents bought from the sources indicated at [4]. Peasemeal brose is even easier – just add hot water to a couple of teaspoonfuls of peasemeal, stir and eat with toast or dips. Caution – beware the three-meal bannocks are addictive. Reconnecting with primordial tastes?

 

 

Bere scones

Our correspondent Grannie Kate sent these recipes for scones made with a flour mix that includes bere meal. Bere is a traditional landrace of barley grown mainly in northern Scotland but now confined to a few fields in Orkney.

Find out more about the bere plant, its origins and its products, and also Grannie Kate‘s other recipes, at the links at the bottom of the page.

Grannie Kate’s fruit and nut scones with bere barley

Makes about 6/7 scones

Ingredients

3 oz (75g) self raising flour
3 oz (75g) bere barley flour
1 heaped teaspoon of baking powder
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 oz (25g) soft brown sugar
1 oz (25g) butter or margarine at room temperature
1 large egg
2 oz (50g) sultanas or sliced cherries or mixed fruit (whatever you have in the cupboard)
2 -3 tablespoons milk
Flaked almonds

What to do
  1. Pre-heat the oven to 200/220 C or gas mark 8
  2. Mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl
  3. Rub in the butter until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs then add the fruit
  4. Beat the egg in a small bowl, add the milk to the egg and then add both to the mixture, stirring it all in. If the mixture is a bit stiff add in a little more milk
  5. Turn the dough out onto a floured worktop and make into a round about 1 ½ – 2 cm deep, patting it with your hand until smooth
  6. Use a cutter (whatever size you like ) to cut out the scones, putting them onto baking parchment on a tray. Add flaked almonds to the top of each scone
  7. Brush a little milk onto the top of each scone
  8. Bake for 12 – 15 minutes until golden brown with slightly singed almonds.
Grannie Kate’s cheese scones with bere barley

Makes about 6/7 scones

Ingredients

4 oz (110g) self raising flour
2 oz (50g) bere barley
1 oz (25g) butter at room temperature
1 heaped teaspoon of baking powder
2-3 tablespoons milk
3 oz (75g) grated strong cheese ( e.g. cheddar, Prima Donna aged Gouda)
1 large egg
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dried mustard powder
2 good pinches of cayenne pepper
A liitle extra milk

What to do
  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180/200 C or gas mark 7
  2. Mix the flours, mustard powder and salt in a large bowl but just one pinch of cayenne pepper
  3. Rub in the butter until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs then add most of the grated cheese. Leave a little to add to the top of each scone before putting in the hot oven
  4. Beat the egg in a small bowl, add the milk to the egg and then add both to the mixture, stirring it all in. If the mixture is a bit stiff add in a little more milk
  5. Turn the dough out onto a floured worktop and make into a round about 1 ½ – 2 cm deep, patting it with your floured hand until smooth.
  6. Use a cutter (whatever size you like) to cut out the scones, putting them onto baking parchment on a tray. Or you could just leave it as a big round and make wedges by pushing down with a knife until it almost, but not quite, cuts the dough
  7. Brush a little milk onto the top of each scone, then add a little remaining grated cheese and the last pinch of cayenne pepper
  8. Bake for 12 – 15 minutes until golden with the cheese on the top melting down the sides.
Links on the Living Field web site

More on the bere plant, its history and its products at The bere line -rhymes with hairline and Landrace 1- bere.

More recipes using bere at Bere bannocks, Bere shortbread and Seeded oatcakes with bere meal.

Many thanks to Grannie Kate for her recipes using flour (meal) from bere barley.

 

Transition Turriefield

Transition Turriefield was set up in 2011 as a community run growing project, to provide locally produced fruit and vegetables in Shetland. It was established to demonstrate a reduced fossil fuel approach to food production within the isles, to reduce Shetland’s food related carbon footprint, increase Shetland’s food security and ultimately to change the way Shetland thinks about importing food.

Subsistence days …..

Before the era of cheap oil and global food transportation, all Shetland crofts had a yard to grow crops. It was the only way to have fresh vegetables. The most common produce grown, along with the cereals bere and oats, was Shetland kale, neeps and potatoes [see note below]. Produce was used as winter livestock feed, as well as supplementing the crofter’s diet of lamb and fish. These crops were hardy and coped well with the Shetland conditions.

Nowadays yards can be seen all over Shetland, lying empty and unused. Tastes have changed and, along with the rest of the western world, Shetland residents expect more variety and an ‘out of season availability’ of produce that their grandparents could never have imagined. Regular ferry sailings and flights have made food available from all over the world, twelve months of the year, weather permitting.

Encouraging island residents to consider reducing CO2 emissions, personal carbon footprints and make positive food buying choices is an uphill struggle. It is hampered by a belief by many that the alternative means a return to the kale and neep eating of the pre-1960s.

Transition Turriefield has been determined to show local food production can provide better choice, fresher produce, reduce carbon footprints and be available even when bad weather prevents supplies arriving. From the beginning the project has focused on demonstrating that a wide range of produce can be grown in Shetland at market garden scale.

Now small-scale ecological engineering

Based on a small croft on the far west mainland, the challenges for economically sustainable food production are huge. The land is designated by the EU as a ‘severely disadvantaged Less Favoured Area’, of poor land quality and suitable only for rough grazing. The season is short, weather unpredictable and the climate extreme. None of which encourages bountiful crops.

There is no doubt that kale and neeps are the easiest and most productive crops to grow. However, using innovation, along with experimentation to create micro-climates, and combining old fashioned farming methods with modern technology, more exotic produce has been made available to the community instead.

Of the 21 hectares of land belonging to the croft, approximately 1.3 hectares are suitable for vegetable production. Just under 1 hectare is currently in production and includes 500 square metres of  polytunnel space and 110 of raised beds as well as outside field space. The main growing area is at the lowest point of the croft. Soil here is either deep and peaty (drained bog) with clay patches, or shallow and stoney, with clay and low in organic matter.

Soil nutrient analysis shows a pH of 6.3 with low phosphorus. Structurally the soil is compacted below the surface and low in oxygen due to the water content. Field drains and ditches have been put in and this has made a difference to the moisture content of the soil during the drier part of the season. As the land is worked season by season, effort is made to build soil and raise the growing area, improve structure, texture and nutrient content.

Muck, seaweed, ash, compost, turf

Beds have been cleared using pigs and hand tools rather than machinery. Muck, seaweed, ash from peat and wood, compost, and loam from composted turf, are added each season in various combinations and quantities depending on type of crop to be grown in each bed. Digging is kept to a minimum and is limited to using forks to aerate topsoil and improve drainage where necessary. When beds are empty they are covered with black agricultural plastic, weighed down with old tyres, to reduce weeds, and lessen nutrient leaching from increasing rainfall. Use of the plastic is new as of January 2017 and has allowed an earlier and more rapid start to our sowing/planting season. Biodegradable, corn-starch based weed suppressant has also been used on experimental beds this season and has reduced weeding markedly.

Using horse powered land-working equipment to reduce labour has been experimented with as part of the commitment to tackling climate change and reducing fossil fuel use. Strong horse working skills are required and it has taken time to learn methods and teach the horse too, but it does show potential. Unfortunately, the land has become markedly wetter over the last five years and is remaining so for longer periods. As yet it is unclear whether horse drawn equipment will be viable on the land without major soil improvements in the long term.

And perseverance pays

Even with poor growing conditions Transition Turriefield perseveres with organic practice as an essential part of reducing fossil fuel use and protecting the environment. The project is not registered as organic due to the expense of ongoing registration and the impact of maintaining wider crofting practices in a rural and remote area.

Access to organic animal feed for example, is not economically viable and accessing organic compost for seed sowing is an ongoing battle. Compromises too, have had to be made with fossil fuel reduction, for example where plastics are used for polytunnel covers and weed suppressants. Maintaining best practice, financial viability and sustainability will always be an ongoing balancing act.

Crops are grown outside where possible, keeping the limited undercover space for the produce that really needs warmth and protection. During the short summer season aubergines, tomatoes, chillies, peppers, sweetcorn, pumpkins, courgettes, cucumbers and even melons can be grown undercover. By experimenting with sowing times and cultivars and using heat and light to start seeds off early, growing conditions can be manipulated to recreate suitable conditions and a long enough season.

Maize (sweetcorn) and pumpkin as a mixed crop (left), parsnip (top right) and chillies, courgettes and tomato (Transition Turriefield)

Timing is crucial

To achieve maximum production from the short summer season a strict sowing programme is used starting in January. Crops are sown in modules timetabled to enable plants to be ready to ‘hit the ground running’, once conditions are suitable for planting out either in the tunnels or outside. Celery and celeriac for example, are sown in the second week in February under lights and on heated mats at 18-20C, potted up, grown on and hardened off to allow planting out in the field by the 3rd week in May. Harvest begins in late September.

Without additional heat and light, conditions would not be suitable for germination until April and the plants would not mature to a reasonable size before the growing conditions became unsuitable. A similar system and timing is used for aubergines, planted in tunnels and ready for harvest from mid-July onwards.

Raised beds are used for some crops and are proving useful for manipulating conditions to increase productivity. Both garlic and parsnips have benefitted from the warmer, better drained soil in the beds. Mini tunnels are used to improve crop performance when needed. Garlic appreciates the extra heat to produce good sized bulbs unattainable in open ground. Experimenting with black plastic as an aid to warming raised beds from March onwards has enabled earlier sowings of parsnip and beetroot, with crops producing excellent sized roots. Sowing in the field cannot usually take place until end of May due to low soil temperature and waterlogging.

The future

Produce is sold through a veg box scheme, to rural community shops, a wholefood retailer in the main town of Lerwick and local hotels. The veg box scheme operates using a Community Supported Agriculture model. Box customers commit to financial support of the project for a season as well as contributing voluntary hours to vegetable production. This has been a successful method of encouraging community participation in local food production and raising awareness food related CO2 emissions. Additional income is generated through training courses and workshops sharing the learning and supporting others to grow their own. The project works with both children and adults; schools, community groups and the local authority to raise awareness of climate change and encourage carbon footprint reduction.

The largest limiting factor for the project is the ability to grow enough produce on the site—to generate enough income to pay sufficient staff—to grow enough produce, and so on. These particular issues are no different to other, similar, small growing projects throughout the country. Though small the project already cultivates and brings to market a huge variety and quantity (10 tonne+) of crops each season. With further investment, soil improvement, increase protected growing and further experimentation, there is the potential to double the quantity of fresh produce for the Shetland community.

Author and Contact

Transition Turriefield is run by Penny Armstrong and Alan Robertson.

Address: Transition Turriefield, Sandness, Shetland ZE2 9PL. Tel: 01595 870272. Web: www.turriefieldveg.co.uk. Facebook:  www.facebook.com/turriefield.

Note on crops for our overseas readers: bere is a landrace of barley, kale is a leaf vegetable member of the brassica family, and neeps is turnip or swede.