Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Hedgerow Magic and Myth by Savita Kalhan

Last Wednesday, in my annual bramble jelly making bonanza, I managed to restrict the blackberry juice splatter to the hob splashback, so my kitchen didn’t look too much like a scene from CSI, and the bramble jelly was coerced into behaving and set perfectly.

Then on the weekend I was in the south Shropshire hills and decided to collect hedgerow fruits to make hedgerow jelly. Identifying the edible fruits and berries was going to be the major problem for me, but I was fortunate to be with someone who could easily identify all the different trees and bushes that made up the hedgerows in and around Clun. My friend Tim let me borrow two books that he’d picked up in a second hand book shop for a couple of pounds: Wild Food by Roger Phillips, A Unique Photographic Guide, and Food for Free by Richard Mabey. I’m so glad he lent them to me as when I checked the price for my own copy of Wild Food I found that I could by a new copy for £44.99 or a used copy for £25! The photography is amazing and the recipes are interesting, so when I do have to return my friend’s book, I may have to source my own copy.
The weekend made me very aware of the huge gap in my learning. I went to school in a large town in Buckinghamshire. Countryside surrounds the town, but because we didn’t learn to identify different types of trees and flowers at school, my knowledge of what makes up the countryside is severely lacking. Over the years I’ve picked up a little knowledge, but there are still huge gaps – and the gaps in the hedgerows are the worst!

What little I know of them comes from reading – and much of it from my passion for myths and legends, fantasy and magic. Hedgerows don’t just figure in Celtic and Gaelic folklore, but in traditional folklore right across England and Europe. In Europe, stakes for killing vampires were made of hawthorn; in Gaelic folklore hawthorn was said to mark the entrance to the underworld. The Hazel Branch in Grimm’s Fairy tales provides protection against snakes; the Celts believed that hazelnuts gave them wisdom. In some traditions the cutting down of an Elder tree could result in angering the fairies – they always made their instruments from the wood of the elder tree, whilst in other places the elder tree was thought to ward off evil spirits.

 In Celtic mythology the rowan tree was called the Traveller’s Tree because it helped travellers find their way; magicians’ staffs were often made of rowan. In Europe the Rowan tree was thought to provide protection from malevolent beings. In Norse mythology it was the tree from which the first woman was created. I’ve barely touched upon this huge subject and now that autumn is here and winter nights will soon be upon is, it might be time to delve into the rich folklore that surrounds these hedges and trees.

Myths and traditional folklore have always provided an inspiration in literature, and hedgerow trees still find a place. The combined wisdom of the SAS will hopefully point out all the many references to the them in children’s literature, but to start it off Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising contains references to hawthorn and elder. In Michelle Paver’s Chronicles of an Ancient Darkness her characters are constantly making offerings to the forest when they take something from it, and, of course, Harry Potter’s wand was made of Elder

Elder, rowan, hawthorn, hazel and blackthorn proliferated in the hedgerows around Clun. I took lots of photographs, but I’m now faced with the task of telling them apart!

On our walk we came across a local organic farmer, Trevor Wheeler who had just built The Brynmawr Nature Centre on his hill farm, which was constructed essentially from bales of straw and complete with a composting toilet. It’s for schools, he said, for teachers and for kids to spend some time learning by enjoying the bio-diversity of the local area, and experiencing the importance of maintaining habitats and natural landscape. He also has plans to turn an area of his farm into raised beds, wildlife pond area, vegetable allotment, nature reserve, woodland walk, and the attitude “if you have any other ideas of what kids might like to learn about, then let me know.” Trevor's farm is completely organic and eco-friendly.

I wouldn’t have minded growing up near somewhere like that – I wouldn’t have the huge gaps that I have now.

(PS I’ve rechecked the price of Wild Food, a Unique Photographic Guide by Roger Phillips, on Amazon and you can now get a used copy for £17.16, which is still a little hefty. Perhaps it’ll drop down further...)

The Long Weekend by Savita Kalhan, Published by Andersen Press

The Long Weekend book trailer

The Poet, a short story by Savita Kalhan
Published in Even Birds are Chained to the Sky, by Fine Line Publishing



Hazel said...

It's only £14.95 + p&p on Abe Books (always my first port of call for pre-read books)

Savita Kalhan said...

Thanks for that, Hazel! I'll check it out now.

Mary Hoffman said...

Savita, do you sieve your bramble jelly by hand or drip it through muslin.

Savita Kalhan said...

Hi Mary, I used to drip it through muslin, but I now simply sieve it through a fine sieve (flour sieve) as it works just as well and is far less hassle! It came out lovely.