Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Winter Workshop

Now I know I should have written this up sooner, but usually I write my blog on the same day as an event, only my mum was staying with me, so it would have been a tad anti-social to sit there, typing away, while she twiddled her thumbs... plus, I don't get to see her so often that I want to waste a moment of her company when she is with me, so I put this off and then other things happened that I wanted to blog about, or just kept me so busy I didn't have time to write.

However, I have time now, I've even been organised enough to process the photos I took to accompany my account, so here we are: a fully fledged post!

Last Saturday my mum and I (she's the one in the turquoise sweater a few photos in) went along to a herb workshop run by Sarah Head, whose blog, Tales of a Kitchen Herbwife, is in the list of my fave blogs on the left somewhere. I started following Sarah's blog originally not just because it was fascinating and well written, with great photos to boot, but also because Sarah is, in comparison to many of the blogs I follow, local to me! If it hadn't been for the Christmas traffic we got stuck in it would only have been a 25 minute trip by car, which is nothing really.

Anyway, Sarah told me about her workshop on teas, syrups and cordials for winter when I sent her a message complimenting her on her blog. It really seemed too good an opportunity to miss, so I went along, and dragged my mum because a) I thought she might enjoy it and b) I wanted her to learn a little bit about the subject I had been exploring recently and I thought she might take it in more if someone other than her own offspring was giving her the information!

When we turned up (late, due to the aforementioned Christmas traffic into Birmingham – ugh) the other members of the class were already putting the finishing touches to a Syrup of Figs (more on that later).We were quickly absorbed into the group, the small numbers and cosy atmosphere engendered by Sarah's higgledy-piggledy kitchen creating a great environment for easy chatter. [Photo: Syrup of Figs being decanted into jam jars for us to take home]

The large wooden table was strewn with homemade wooden bowls laden with various leaves, nuts, berries and bark and a large pot on the stove was bubbling away. It was brilliant – like the magic of creating something homemade always is, but multiplied by the number of people and squared by the number of ingredients just laid out for you to rummage through.

Sarah encouraged us to touch and smell all the bits and bobs she had laid out. Some of may have even tasted one or two things, like the dates, a personal favourite of mine ;-)

[Photo: Sarah explains the properties of some of the ingredients in her cordials]
My mum and I were set to work creating a Rosehip and Sloe cordial, whilst around us a cough syrup and various teas came together. Whilst the cordial boiled away on the stove we all adjourned to the sitting room to try some of Sarah's wide range of cordials and syrups. One of the prettiest was the Greek Rose Syrup for weary travellers, a very pale translucent pink with dark pink petals floating through it. The photo below doesn't really do it justice and certainly doesn't even hint at the taste, which was like taking a deep inhalation of a richly scented rose and you know that hint of a taste you get at the back of your mouth when you sniff something strongly scented? Like an intense, sweet version of that. I had it diluted in water and the sensation was almost overwhelming, but very calming – wonderful!

Sarah encouraged us to try everything that took our fancy, try and analyse the flavours and research what it might be good for, using her collection of herbals. Once we had spent a little time at this, a selection of teas were brought in that everyone had made – spiced nettle latte, nut tea (my favourite!) and a flax seed and orange tea that tasted of Christmas and mulled wine without the alcohol. I think I'll have to write at more length in separate posts about each of the things we made, else this one will turn into a forbidding tome of a post that no-one will bother reading till the end. [Photo: taking notes with a glass of cordial in hand!]

Once the teas were consumed and Mummy and I had hurriedly composed the Rosehip and Sloe cordial, Sarah encouraging us to taste the cordial before and after adding the honey – very bitter!- we all sat down to a magnificent feast of a lunch. Sweet potato and nettle soup, with nettle salt to season, homemade wholemeal bread and a selection of cakes, biscuits and even fruit that everyone had brought to share. The lunch went on for longer than originally planned, simply because the conversation was flowing – food, books, herbalism, nature, health, law, cars, music and more food – no topic was left uncovered. It was immensely congenial and I am looking forward to Sarah's future workshops. The photo below shows Sarah surveying a table full of her creations as one of the 'students' takes notes.
I also took some photos of her astounding larder, filled from top to bottom, wall t wall with homemade goodies – honeys, tinctures, seeds, dried petals, cordials, syrups, you name it! I'm going to do a new post with those pictures in so you can enjoy them in all their glory. When I grow up I want a larder just like it!


  1. Nut tea sounds gorgeous! As does the rest of it! :)

  2. Nut Tea
    1 handful of walnuts, 1 handful of hazelnuts, 5 dates. Chop roughly, measure into a cup, then put in saucepan with 3 times the volume of water and boil for half an hour. Strain, drink liquid hot and use the remaining nuts in a cake or loaf of bread - yummy.

    Hope Sarah doesn't mind me posting this here.