Painted in the Living Field Garden on 6 October 2016, by Jean Duncan.
Jean captures that solidity of the red-brown tuber, the arching leaf-stems and the straggle and mush of leaf-blades, grey-green and splattered with soil.
It’s the grey-green colour of the leaves and the yellow tinge to the cut tuber that distinguish the neep, swede or swedish turnip from the other turnip. The same Brassica napus as the oilseed rape it is, but a variety that puts its energy into the tuber and not into oily seeds.
This and the other turnip Brassica rapa – the one with hairier, bright green leaves and white flesh – were one of the main supports to agricultural improvement in the 1700s, a living food for people and animals through much of the winter.
Swedes and other fodder crops of the cabbage family are still grown in gardens and fields, but not so much as they used to be. Stockfeed comes in tubs, made of soya, from the Americas.
Today the yellow mash of the neep goes with haggis and tatties to make the burns supper, and the tuber is sometimes still carved on the last day of October, the eve of All Hallows, into a lantern.
But those who know still value neeps as a prime vegetable, healthy and nutritious with a fine taste – anytime.
Meet the Expert day at Dundee Science Centre, 10 September 2016, part of The Crunch series of public events on sustainable agriculture and food, showcased two of our topics – Roots of Nutrition and Grain to Plate.
It was hands-on for the younger visitors – they donned lab coats, peered into test tubes, felt grain and rolled dough. The not quite so young shared experiences on topical issues of food and health.
The team from the Hutton were based in the darkened auditorium, partly to enable slideshows to be viewed on computer screens, but there was enough light to get some images (above).
Roots of NutritionMain themes are that humans need at least 18 mineral nutrients and thirteen vitamins; but many diets lack iron, calcium or iodine, or the Vitamins A, C or D, causing ‘hidden hunger’ and poor health. Plants provide most of these minerals and vitamins; they take minerals from the soil and make vitamins in their tissues. There are direct links therefore between soil, plants and health. Peoples’ wellbeing can be improved by good soil and crop management. Science can breed crop varieties that take up minerals from low concentration in soil. Gardening and farming can provide the wide range of foods that between them contain all the necessary minerals and vitamins.
Grain to Plate Main themes are that grain (or corn) crops, mainly barley and wheat, and later oat, were first brought here by migrants over 5000 years ago. Grains have sustained most people and their animals since then, at least up to the second half of the last century when imported grain began to replace home-grown. Today, most of our cereal carbohydrate is grown in other places. Oats is the only one grown, processed and eaten locally. It also needs less mineral fertiliser and pesticide than wheat. Yet more cereals could be grown locally for human food. Examples of bread made from barley, wheat and spelt were on display …. and here ‘s an idea for the future – bread made from insect flour! How would agriculture look farming insects instead of sheep and cows!
On the day …..
Roots of Nutrition: Philip White, Paula Pongrac and Konrad Neugebauer. Grain to plate: Gill Banks, Lauren Banks, Geoff Squire.
Thanks to Aisha and all at the Science Centre for organising the event.
The Living Field’s resident bread expert, Gill Banks, has been out and about, speaking to people on the merits of real bread, as part of The Crunch.
At the first event, at the Maxwell Centre, Dundee, on 1 July 2016, Gill and Linda Nell contrasted some of the ancient grains grown in Scotland, such as emmer wheat and bere barley, with modern cereal varieties, and showed how fine, nutritious bread could be baked from bere and other corn.
Here we look at the raw materials used to make bere bread ……. and also Gill’s experiments with somethingmore exotic.
Bere is an old form of barley, known by that name for at least a few hundred years. It is still grown in Orkney, from where the Living Field got its first stocks of bere seed. The crop is now grown in the Living Field garden each year. Seed is harvested and saved for next year’s crop.
Bere grows easily to form an attractive stand shown in the lower of the images above. As the heads or ‘ears’ fill with grain, they bend on their stems and hang down (upper left). Each grain has a long thin awn sticking out from near its top. The grains are typically 7-10 mm long but the awns are 15-20 cm long. (A long-awn corn!)
The image top right shows mature grain (light brown) harvested in a previous year, the awns removed; and for comparison, some green, unripe grain from this year’s crop, the awns still attached. The thin panel centre right is a closer view of the grain.
To make meal or flour, the awns and outer protective coating of the grain have to be removed and then the grain is ground between stones. The Living Field can grind bere and other grains in its heavy rotary quern, but the meal Gill uses to make bread is bought from Barony Mills in Orkney.
[Gill’s recipes for making bread with bere will be published in separate post.]
Following the first event in The Crunch, at the Maxwell Centre Dundee, Aisha Schofield from Dundee Science Centre suggested adding cricket flour to one of the bread recipes. Cricket flour is made from insects.
An experimental insect loaf was duly produced from Gill’s kitchen, using a meal mix that included ‘cricket flour’ from Cornish Edible Insects (images of their insect produce below).
A tasting panel was quickly assembled. All agreed that the bread had the taste and texture of a wholemeal or ‘ancient grain’ loaf. Nice and fulsome with butter. There was no evidence (by sight, feel or taste) of insects in the bread – there were no wings sticking out of the slice and no unusual pincers or other crunchy bits. It was just tasty wholesome bread.
A student from AgroParistech France, Benjamin Lepers, visited the Institute in 2015 as part of his project year. He studied diversity of wild plants in farmland and also the invertebrates (insects and spiders) living on different types of vegetation, such as the barley crop, grass patches and mixed dicot weed patches.
He then went on to work for a few months at a new enterprise called Entomo Farm – Farming Insects for Animal Feed, which started in 2014, based in Bordeaux France. Their web page states that Entomo Farm has developed a self contained and transportable system for insect farming called the Entomo Box, which enables mass production of insect meal and insect oil anywhere with very few resources.
Benjamin was intending to move on to Laos. He’ll find plenty of insects and exotic foods there. The Living Field would love to hear from him about his exploits.
…. and more on Gill Banks’ experiments with bread to follow ….
With Dundee Science Centre, the James Hutton Institute is contributing to a range of outreach activities in 2016 as part of The Crunch, and initiative headed by the UK-wide Association of Science and Discovery Centres and supported by the Wellcome trust.
Our exhibit at a community-run event in Baxter Park Dundee on 28 July 2016 was called – Feel the Pulse – a display of beans and peas, which along with lentils are known as ‘pulses’ (images below).
Why pulses? They yield a highly nutritious, plant protein that can be grown without nitrogen fertiliser because the plants themselves fix nitrogen gas from the air into their own bodies. Nitrogen is essential for plant growth, but in its mineral form (from bags of fertiliser) can be a serious pollutant, contaminating streams and drinking water.
Once, peas and beans were widely grown and eaten, but the arrival of industrially made nitrogen fertiliser about 100 years ago and the ready import of plant protein from other countries caused pulses to decline as crops.
Yet today, pulses are widely acclaimed for their benefits to health and the environment. The field bean Vicia faba crops above were grown locally without nitrogen fertiliser. They also offered a habitat and refuge for insects and small animals.
Is there a way to turn the tide – to farm more locally-grown cereal and legume produce, use less mineral N and support a cleaner environment.
We believe there is but one of the first things to do is to increase awareness of the benefits of peas and beans and similar products.
Our exhibit – Feel the Pulse – shows some of the things that are being done, such as finding types of peas and beans suited to the local conditions, comparing the nutritional value of different pulses and finding new pulse-based products for the market, for example bean bread and bean beer, both made from field bean flour.
I make shortbread biscuits regularly with my 3 year old granddaughter Ellie, who loves making a mess and ‘helps’ me.
Shortbread biscuits can be a bit dense so I always use self-raising flour (or a mixture of SR and plain flour). I usually add semolina to give a slight crunchiness to the biscuit. However, I had only a small amount in the bottom of the packet. So, I substituted bere barley for the semolina.
The resulting dough was too dry and so extra milk (or buttermilk to be more traditional) was added – about 2 tablespoons – so the dough could be rolled easily without it breaking up.
What to do
Preheat oven to 150 C or gas mark 2. Melt the butter or soften in the oven for a few minutes then cream the butter and sugar together ( use a hand held electric whisk) until the mixture is light and fluffy. Add all the dry ingredients, then mix again. Add milk to make the dough stick together.
Roll out the dough on a floured surface and then use cutters to make the biscuits into rounds or other shapes. Transfer to a greased baking tray or use baking paper and make small pricks in the biscuits using a fork.
Bake for 20 min then turn the trays around and bake for a further 20 minutes. Remove the biscuits when they are a light golden brown. This makes a good 40 biscuits or so, depending on the size of the cutter. Cool them (if you can) before eating!
Add a handful of dried cranberries or sultanas to the mixture before you roll it out. Little helpers love doing this, but often eat the fruit before it gets into the biscuit mixture!
Comments from the tasting panel
“Shortbread can lack body. The beremeal gives it serious character.”
“Good cohesive strength when wet – doesn’t disintegrate between tea-mug and mouth.”
Sponsored by Dunkeld and Birnam Historical Society and the Dunkeld and Birnam Community Growing Group (The Field) at Birnam Arts, 23 November 2015, 7.30
A survey of crops and croplands – from domestication 10,000 years ago, through the arrival here of settled agriculture in the late stone age; through the developments of bronze and iron to the ill years of the 1600s; through the major improvements in the 1700s that gave hope; through the technology of the 1900s that eventually removed the threat of famine; to the subsequent choice between sustainability and exploitation, and society choosing the latter; to the present state of soil degradation and reliance on imports for food security; and to a sustainable future, perhaps … with some tales along the way of life and farming when horse was the quickest way along the A9.
Settled agriculture is a recent experiment in human history. Domestication of crops from wild plants, as recently as 10,000 years ago, produced the wheat, barley, maize and rice that we know and eat today. Maize and potato were domesticated in the Americas and could not cross the Atlantic at that time and rice was too far away in Asia, but wheat, barley and oat came by land and sea across Europe to the north Atlantic seaboard where around 5000 years ago, they found a welcoming soil and a mild climate.
The grain crops enabled a settled society. In good years, there was food to last the winter, giving time to think and make things. Stability allowed people to learn the skill and enterprise to trade in the new technologies of bronze and iron that came across Europe centuries later. Waves of migration, Celts and Romans included, caused no great change to the basic type of grain and stock-farming of the region. A neolithic farmer, teleported here for the day, would recognise our crops and farm animals (except neeps and tatties which weren’t here in their day).
Yet time, ignorance and oppression took their toll: centuries of misuse, the principles of soil fertility unappreciated or ignored. Soils exhausted and yields dropping to subsistence levels. Agriculture unable to cope with the run of poor weather in the late 1600s? Starvation and famine.
Then came the age of improvement after 1700 – lime, fertiliser, turnips and other tuber crops, the levelling of the rigs, removal of stones, drainage, new machines for cultivation, sowing and harvest, the global search for guano, the coordinated management of crop and stock – benefits that allowed outputs to rise in the 1700s, but not yet to the point where famine was memory. That came later. It was not until the technological developments of the 1900s – industrially made and mined fertiliser, pesticides and advanced genetic types – that the threat of hunger was finally dispelled from north-west Europe.
But these same technologies opened the way for excess and instability. They encouraged the breaking of two established links that had held cropped agriculture since it began here.
The first was that grain and other crops no longer relied on grazing land or grass crops for manure. Grain could be grown more frequently, on more area and with more inputs – eventually encouraging a phase of intensification after 1950 that increased yield but in many places to the detriment of soil and the wider environment, and now with a diminishing return from inputs.
The second was that local production became separated from local consumption. The increasing wealth and global trade of the 1900s – the legacy of the industrial revolution – meant that people no longer relied for their subsistence on what was grown in local fields. This second decoupling became so great that by the 1990s, all cereal carbohydrate eaten in Scotland, except oat, was grown elsewhere and imported.
There are some big questions therefore. Will intensification continue to degrade soils and even start to drive down output? And is our food supply now too vulnerable to external influence – disruption by global terrorism, variation in world cereal harvests, future phosphate wars and volcanic eruption?
So what of the future! Yields are still high. Agriculture is diverse and diversifying in its margins. But threats to soil and food security will increase and need to be tackled. Technology alone will not solve the problems.
James Hutton Institute, Dundee UK
The speaker illustrated his talk with some ancient cereals and a bag of grain, all grown in the Living Field garden.
The quotations from Andrew Wight’s journals from his travels by horse are now available free online:
Wight, A. 1778-1784. Present State of Husbandry in Scotland. Extracted from Reports made to the Commissioners of the Annexed Estates, and published by their authority. Edinburgh: William Creesh. Vol I, Vol II, Vol III Part I, Vol III Part II, Vol IV part II, Volume IV Part II. All available online via Google Books.
His notes on bere, oat and flax in the region of Dunkeld and Birnam will appear in a later article on this web site. Any further enquiries: firstname.lastname@example.org
This recipe is an adaptation from the booklet ‘Barony Mills – Bere Meal Recipes’ from Birsay, Orkney.
100 g beremeal
60 g self-raising flour
40 g rolled oats
2 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
250 ml milk
What to do
Mix all the dry ingredients together then add enough milk to make a soft dough. Turn out onto a board coated with beremeal/oat. Flatten by hand until about 1 cm thick, then make rounds using a pastry cutter (7 cm). Bake in the centre of the oven at 170/180 degrees C for about 10 minutes, then turn the bannocks and bake for 5 minutes. Alternatively, bake on a dry griddle or pan on the top of the cooker for about 5 minutes each side. This makes a batch of about 8 bannocks. Alternatively, shape into a large round, mark out 8 segments and bake for about the same time.
The original recipe was used by the Creel Restaurant, St Margaret’s Hope. In addition to the beremeal, it used 100 g plain flour and no rolled oats. I have substituted this with 60 g self raising flour which gives a bit more ‘lift’ to the product. The rolled oats also seems to make the bannocks lighter, almost a cross between bread and a scone!
The crucial thing in baking bannocks is to get the proportions right – proportions of the dry constituents with the right amount of raising agent, in this case baking powder.
Barony Mills is Orkney’s only remaining working mill – and a water-powered one at that. It produces traditional Orcadian beremeal, a speciality flour with a nutty brown colour and a distinctive flavour, which has been used in this recipe.
Standard measures for checking the dry volume of produce such as grain and fruit have been in place since trade in agricultural products began. A barrel or basket holding one bushel (8 gallon or 36.4 litre) was once commonly used in Britain. (See Light on bushel.) The following is an example of a device used in Ancient Greece and Rome.
The measuring tables at Ancient Messene
At the archaeological site of Ancient Messene in the Peloponnese, Greece, there are stone tables into which hemispheres or bowls have been carved. A notice nearby states that these measuring standards were found during the excavation in what was originally part of a communal space (the agora). The bowls were “for testing the capacity of the containers used by merchants who were selling dry fruits and grain”. Images of the tables and bowls are shown below.
The tables are sited by a wall under the letters A and B in the upper image. Table A is shown lower left; it measures more than 1 metre in length. Each table has two bowls carved into it, identified by the white ovals, lower right.
The bowls have a rough surface, and holes at the bottom which would have been fitted with stoppers. The holes were large enough for grain to pour through when the stoppers were pulled out.
There was one further table, positioned in a corner made by two walls. One of the bowls seemed to have a hollow stone hemisphere placed on top of it (image below), the purpose of which is unclear.
The ‘mensa ponderaria’ at Assos (after Tarbell)
This type of table, known generally as a ‘mensa ponderaria’ was widespread in the ancient world. F. B Tarbell gives an account of one found at Assos, an ancient site in Turkey. The table from Assos is a block of marble – 1.11 m long , 0.455 m broad and 0.21 high – in which have been excavated 5 bowls of differing volume. For various reasons, including that the surfaces of the five bowls are rough (as at Messene), it is believed they were originally lined with bronze. There is a copy of a drawing from Tarbell’s article below. A photograph of this mensa can be seen online at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts (see references). The bowls are estimated to have held between 0.27 and 4.62 litre.
The largest bowl from Assos is therefore about 13% of a bushel. These capacities look at though they were designed for ground material or fine seed, for example ground spices or meal or cleaned seed of small-seeded crops. Coarser material such as fruit and husked grain contains a lot of air space that can cause packing errors when poured into such small containers.
The stone tables and bowls at Messene appeared larger than the ones from Assos (but unfortunately they were not measured during the visit). From memory, the largest bowl would hold about half a bucket or one-third of a bushel, which is getting a bit closer to the practical size for measuring the dry volume of rough grain that retains husks, such as oat and barley, or small-sized fruit.
Ancient Messene was founded 369 BC, around 2400 years ago. These durable measuring tables indicate the importance of standard weights and measures to an advanced society that depended on agriculture, and on trade in produce, and wanted to be, and seen to be, fair and to avoid having the people misled by traders and merchants.