On a sunny May afternoon a group of adults and children made their way from Knowle West Media Centre (KWMC) to the nearby Springfield Allotments. We were taking part in a Bristol Food Connections workshop to forage for local ingredients and learn how to turn these into summer drinks.
The gathering grew throughout the afternoon until there were more than 30 adults and children. Many joined us from nearby Knowle West Children’s Centre.
During the short walk to the allotments we started foraging, stopping to collect blossom from a cherry tree growing near the road. Local residents in the group discussed how they use these public park areas – from grazing horses to watching the hot air balloons to collecting blackberries. The area we walked through is known as ‘the Bommie’, apparently because of the bombs that were dropped in the war.
On arrival at the allotments, run by Knowle West Health Association, we were met by Steve Griffiths who gave us a tour, including poly-tunnels, beehives and a chicken coop. As the children looked for eggs and stroked the chickens, the rest of us turned our attention to Susanna Wallis from Company Drinks.
Company Drinks is an organisation based in Barking and Dagenham that aims to remember some of the old East End traditions including the hop picking season – six weeks a year when women and children would move out of the city to go picking on farms in the countryside. The organisation also wants to address issues around children losing the ability to name plants and flowers and engage people in a rural activity within an urban setting. Susanna was keen to connect with the work that we have been doing on the Who decides what’s in my fridge? project.
Susanna pointed out plants and fruits that we could use to turn into summery drinks. We split into three teams to collect rhubarb, a pretty pink flower called flowering currant, and dandelions. When our baskets were full we regrouped in the cool retreat of the allotment roundhouse to learn how to make the cordials.
We picked off the petals of the dandelions, flowering currant flowers and the cherry blossom, which would later be steeped in a hot sugar syrup to make the cordials. Susanna mentioned a variety of other cordials that they make and work well: Japanese knotweed, cola, blackcurrant and apple, fizzy crab apple and manor house pear. Susanna had brought some tasters for us to try – and the cooling cordials helped refresh us after our ramble to the allotments and foraging.
As we plucked the petals and chopped the rhubarb we chatted and shared experiences of using the green spaces of Knowle West and the beautiful nearby countryside. The area has a proud history of foraging and residents shared how people came to the park to catch rabbits, as well as sharing tips about which herbs and plants are good for eating and using as remedies. We now know that pink clover flowers are supposed to ease period pain!
We didn’t have time to the finish the drinks then so we took everything back to KWMC to finish overnight. Participants were invited to stay for an evening event of food, discussions and tasting drinks.
This event was one of three Cook ‘n Converse events held in May as part of the Bristol Food Connections festival. Knowle West Media Centre would like to thank all partner organisations involved in the event that made it such a success – Company Drinks, Food Connections, Knowle West Children’s Centre and Springfield Allotments.