I placed an egg of woven blackthorn in the thicket from which its twigs and small branches originally came. It is held together with ties of twine and will soon be slowly absorbed into the dense new growth of Springtime. Its spiny exterior surface and hollowed core, offers natural protection to the small nesting birds which make their home here. I will document the changes as days pass into weeks, as part of a meditation on the nature of habitats and the important symbolism of the Egg.
The egg within the Egg
Photo: Nick Dawe
The developing blackberry wine is looking very clear. After over a day of cleaning the Egg and my clothing of unwanted fungus (mould), it is pleasing to observe the benefit of a more welcome sort (yeast).
Photo: Nick Dawe
The tree is an appropriately curved frond from a Cedar of Labanon (appropriately biblical), found nearby within the confines of Exbury Gardens. It nestles in the arc of the inner wall is decorated with flotsam from the shore. On Twelfth Night, each item will be taken down, carefully recorded and stored for my growing Egg archive.
I began to make rose hip syrup on October 4th (see earlier blog post), but decided instead to make the pulped hips into an ink for drawing. So last Sunday I spent a whole day making syrup using hips from another bush growing from the disused WW2 bofors gun emplacement beside the Egg. I used a recipe issued by the Ministry of Food in 1944.
Work commenced gathering hips from 09.00 until 13.00. These were washed and from 13.30 to 15.00 all were topped and tailed. From 15.00 – 17.00 the jars were sterilised and the hips boiled and strained, before reducing six pints of fluid to to just under one pint. Eight hours of work, half a pint of paraffin in the stove and two pounds of hips produced just one and a half jars of syrup. It makes one think carefully about our relationship with the land, the flora it sustains and my own regular profligacy with the jam spoon.
Intense rain showers drove me indoors to make a limited edition of sloe gin. The blackthorn berries were picked eight days ago on October 24th and were kept refrigerated nearby until I came back from leave. The freezing is roughly the equivalent of all my solar energy generated in the same period… so I hope the gin will be good. Unlike the blackberry, it does not seem to have been a good year for the sloe and the trees (never abundant), were by today completely bare.
* The images today have been made possible by cutting a live web camera and we are looking at ways to find a little more energy for the winter months.
A small oak opposite the egg has a rich crop of galls to harvest. I will use them to make a dye for my clothing and to create an ink for drawing as the first step toward understanding the cultural and environmental importance of the tree in this particular riverscape.
Oaks can have many different species of gall growing on a single tree. These were made by the species of parasitic wasp andricus kollari and resemble marbles in size and shape.
Sauce from freshly cut late flowering mint was prepared and bottled for the Exbury Egg Kitchen. Leaves were washed, chopped and added to water, salt, white wine vinegar and caster sugar in the following proportion: 1 bunch of mint , 1 pinch of salt, 4 tablespoons of boiling water, 4 tablespoons of white wine vinegar, 1 level tablespoon of caster sugar. It was a relaxing task after doing the laundry on this warm autumnal afternoon beside the river.
I have begun to collect hips in order to make rose hip syrup for the Egg kitchen. There are abundant fruits on the thorny stems of dog rose mixed in with Blackthorn and Blackberry that surround a nearby anti-aircraft gun emplacement dating from the last war. During the Second World War such local bushes were sought out for their hips as part of a national scheme to produce rose hip syrup, which is 20% richer in vitamin C (by weight) than oranges. Fresh fruit was in short supply due to the disruption of trade by sea.
The birds love the seeds but we must make sure that they are removed from all edible products. As my photo shows, they are covered in fine hairs which are an irritant to the skin and internally cause digestive problems. The old Ministry of Food recipe from the 1940s calls for careful straining and can be found at http://www.makeitandmendit.com/a-wartime-recipe-for-rosehip-syrup/
Mint growing wild just 83 feet from the Egg, provided leaves to flavour the potatoes I had for supper yesterday and today’s digestive tea. It has the distinct flavour of spearmint and I have dried a small amount for future use.