I live on a lovely green hill covered in pastureland; when we came to view the tumbled down barn that is now our home, it wasn’t the building that swayed me; it wasn’t the breathtaking views that won my heart; it was the moment we walked down the lane on a rainy, warm afternoon squashing underfoot pineapple weed next to a store of sweet hay, the smell has never left me; it’s utterly influenced what I make & why I do it. Our hill smells & tastes of our hill; I’ve never found anywhere that tastes like it. It’s not because we have rare treasures that don’t grow anywhere else – we’re surround by usual suspects – birch, nettle, hawthorn & blackthorn blossoms in the spring; elderflower, meadowsweet & honeysuckle in the summer – plants you’d find in most rural & even urban backwaters. I’ve long been so in love with the hill I live on that it is easy to chant the ‘local is best’ mantra until it turns into a nationalistic cry. I’ve never quite known why my hill is as delicious to me as it is.
Then something happened. In mid June I was invited off my safe, honeyed hill & journeyed north to the lovely Scottish island of Islay for a few days staying on the site of a malt scented distillery with 6 incredibly knowledgeable foragers from around the world . It wasn’t far; I didn’t need a passport, but my travels were as life changing as any globe trotting gap year student could boast.
Our hosts, the Botanist Gin make my favourite tipple. It’s made with 22 wild plants – most of them grow on my doorstep; but the gin doesn’t taste like it belongs on my hill..more like it’s a very welcome guest. Stepping off the tiny aircraft as we arrived on the Island, the scent of Islay was as delicious as home; but rather than sweet, it was peaty, cooling & ozone filled. Everything we ate that week tasted different -Islays elderflowers were less smokey; the shore hugging bedstraws more savoury, opening the fridge in the house we shared smelt intoxicating but alien; It all tasted so very good; my tastebuds usually soothed in homely comfort were confronted by difference and are the better for it. The reason? because the very same plants that grow around me breath a different air; drink a different rain, are battered by a different wind & seek food in different soil. The French winemakers know what it was that made my plants taste different to Islay – the Terroir. The Botanist belongs to Islay; my bottles & jars to the Black Mountains.
I’d spent a few incredible days with strangers from all around the world – sharing our food, drink, recipes, plant knowledge and ideas; flying home over the sea, looking across at the curved edged of the world; I revelled in the fact that although our own roots were deep in different lands; it was just our soil, wind & rain that was different….and looking at the curve of the world I realised how very small it is & that we were all local.
So, now my view on food has change; air miles are very important & locally grown food should be the nirvana we all seek – but, embrace the other soils, the other rains, the other winds & enjoy the flavours that small producers create in other lands; because it is indeed a very small wild world.