It’s a bit hard for me to think of anything beyond Incredible Edible Todmorden at the moment. We’re in the last week of our crowdfunding campaign and I’m also completing the edits on the manuscript of Incredible! before I send them to my co-author Pam Warhurst for approval.
So although I’ve got a few ideas for future blog posts swirling around my head, I thought today I’d post an extract from the book. It’s a part I particularly enjoyed writing and it draws on the fascinating work of Rachael Babar, an Incredible Edible supporter who interviewed some of the older residents of the town about their memories of food and growing.
At a time when food waste is often in the news – Tesco recently revealed that 40 per cent of their apples, almost half of all bakery products and a staggering 68 per cent of bagged salads get thrown away – the memories of lifelong Tod resident Barbara Diggle are a sobering reminder that such profligacy has not always been the norm.
In the extract below, Barbara talks about growing up in the 1930s and about the amazing skills of her grandmother, who knew how to use every last scrap of food to feed her family at a time when nobody could afford to waste anything.
Every Saturday, while still quite a young child, Barbara went to Todmorden market with two carpet bags for her granny’s shopping.
Money was tight and Barbara’s memories of those trips are dominated by the different ways she tried to get the most out of every last penny. She had strict instructions not to start shopping until the superintendent rang a bell to indicate that it was nearly closing time. Since there was no refrigeration, the traders had to sell everything as fast as possible and that was when Barbara closed in for the bargains. Bananas were seven for sixpence during the week, but on Saturday afternoon she could snap up a bunch for tuppence. Pie meat was sold by the handful and to this day she remembers that the butcher with the biggest hands was called Tommy Burton. She also had to ask the butcher for a sheep’s ‘jimmy’, the local name for a sheep’s head.
Finally, Barbara would drag the carpet bags full of food back up the hill to her home where her granny would be waiting with a pot of milky tea and a freshly baked pie. ‘It would be a meat and tatty pie or something like that, a pasty with onion in. It could have cheese in if I was lucky. It could be a cheese and onion pie. I would sit down with my back to the fire, draw the table up to the fire so that I would be warm in the winter time, take my shoes off and wipe my feet and she used to give me a nice meal and I would have my milky tea.’
If Barbara had managed to get a sheep’s jimmy, then her grandmother would use every part of it to provide meals for the family. The tongue was cooked in a side oven over the coal fire all night and for half of the next day until it was tender. ‘We would skin it whilst it was still warm. You can’t skin a tongue when it has gone cold; it sticks like glue. Then of course we would round it and put it on a saucer with a plate on the top and a flat iron on top of that and that would shape it and it would press it overnight. Then if anybody came to tea we could slice it off and put it between thin bread and butter.’
If someone in the family was sick they would be offered the sheep’s brains, poached in milk and butter and served on toast as a delicacy. If not, the brains were simply boiled in salt and water. The rest of the head was also boiled until the meat was tender and ‘falling off the bone’. Once the meat had been served, Barbara’s granny would cook up the skull with vegetables from the garden, and pulses to make a thick, nourishing soup. Finally she would render any left over fat. This could be used for other recipes, or even clarified to act as a seal for pots of preserved fruit.
Part of the work of Incredible Edible involves running classes to help people learn skills that are in danger of being lost, skills that help us to make better use of our food and that we all need to recover as spiralling fuel costs and increasingly unpredictable weather patterns mean we can no longer rely on cheap food imports.
They haven’t quite got on to sheep’s heads yet, but so far more than 1,000 people in Todmorden have attended classes on subjects such as preserving, fruit tree grafting and sausage making. You can read all about that and much, much more in the Incredible! book, which we plan to publish in the spring next year.
I am extremely grateful to the many people who have backed our campaign to crowd fund enough money for an initial print run of the book about Incredible Edible. If you would like to join them, you can do so here. It’s quite safe: if we don’t reach our target you don’t pay anything. Also, I am not making any money personally out of the campaign.