Orchard, Found

I caught up with Philip Parr again in the waste ground opposite the model village at the bottom of Stanley Park.

Not only is it a dog walkers paradise, it is the Lost Orchard Found. According to Philip?s expert eye there are about 40 trees here, with maybe 500 apples a piece, making for 20 thousand apples for the taking in central Blackpool. And what?s more, they?re apples unique to Blackpool, ?volunteers? grown from the compost of an old green tip, here at least 40 years ago, apparently. I can vouch for three very different sweetly full flavoured apples.

When I arrived he?d just finished two hours of clearing brambles and undergrowth from a particularly tasty red russet, giving air to the trunk and freeing up a path up to the jewels hanging there. His plan was to pick the higher apples, with his makeshift apple picker, so leaving lower hanging fruit to attract more pickers. And not just dogs. Alfie clearly knew all about the orchard, and, according to his walker, enjoyed a couple of apples every day in the season.

In the six weeks since I?d first met Philip he?s been collecting apples with a variety of people. He spent half a day at Mereside?School?working on a tree just next door to the school then drying the fruit in his dehydrator for everyone to savour the intensification of the sugar. This and works best on larger apples, and was perfect for the tree there. Only two out of the thirty children had ever picked apples before and he?s hoping the school will now make it an annual jolly to strip the tree

Sad that scrumping has gone out of fashion. He recently picked with an older man who used to scrump as kid, although not quite, as he got permission from the tree?s owner. Still, the boy took all the apples he picked and sold them for a penny down at the cinema. Ahh, the good clean enterprise of olden days ?

Philip contributed to the ritual by gaining permission from another tree owner to pick in his garden. The owner, a retired landscape gardener, had bought the land, with apple tree, and built his house there. He then grew another five apple trees in the back garden. These trees he still harvested, but was happy for Philip to take the front garden fruit.

There seems, to Philip, a real sense of growers in Blackpool. It?s what people do here to supplement their income. And the knowledge of growing is passed down, like an heirloom. And certainly, I?ve witnessed at Cherry Trees and Chepstow Gardens with Grow Blackpool a real wealth of knowledge for growing and eating.

I left Philip welding his bag up in the tree ? height being a definite advantage to the job. He had two wheely suitcases to carry the fruit back in. Carrying the apples would force him to discern the best ones, to enforce a selection process so his enthusiasm couldn?t get the better of him.

He?s quite confident he?ll have plenty to share on his stall in the Winter Gardens Food Hall Saturday 24 October. He?s already got ten different varieties stashed in the Left Coast Office. And alongside the apples, there?ll be apple jellies, sweet dried rings (nothing like the sulphated ones you buy in the shops) and a map of where the orchards can be found. This is a map that?ll never be finished ? after all, there?s always another apple tree?

The World in a Grain of Salt

Across the UK sea salt is only made in Essex, Anglesey and Cornwall ? but that?s before the Wyre Salters?came into existence.

 

Artists Maya Chowdhry and Jessica Mautner wanted to find something local that could contribute to the Left Coast Banquet. Salt, a basic ingredient in most meals, seemed an ideal choice for a community project so close to the sea. Salt-making is part of the area?s industrial heritage, although no longer active, on an industrial scale. Salt resonated, too, for its international presence. This one thing connects places all over the world. And there?s the political weight of salt that interested them, how it was once preferred currency over money, allowing people to preserve food, or travel with it.

 

Neither knew how to make salt and they like what this equality brings to the project. In fact the group they?re working with know far more about the area than they do, and contributing their local knowledge to the ongoing experiments with salt.

So far the group have been to the Lion Salt Works in Cheshire, collected salt from the Wyre and made some pinch pots that might be used to hold salt at the Banquet.

At the Salt Works they made salt from cooking brine in great big salt pans over a fire. As the brine boiled salt crystals formed and were they raked to the side. These were filtered into saline to be dried onto the stove.

Ruth L has been in a few different Left Coast events, and this seemed like something different from her usual singing in the local choir or playing in a ukulele band. Besides she loves the taste of salt. And, for her, the salt made at the Lion Salt Works was beautiful. Previously she?d just taken it for granted, but that salt had a different taste from commercially produced salt: milder, and with the advantage of being unadulterated without caking agents. She appreciates both its abundance and the time it takes to make it.

 

Andrea?s daughter asked her last year if you could get salt out of the sea. Andrea wasn?t sure, but they?ve since learnt you can. You get bits of sand in it, but put an egg in it and the egg draws out the impurities. Dolly Blue would take impurities out of the salt, too. That was used once to lighten the salt?s colour.

The village Andrea and her family moved from was quite self sufficient: with a row of shops including a greengrocer, that does fish and nuts and seeds and lots of chutney and jams? all made by local people, a hairdressers, a co-op, and a chemist. Since moving to Blackpool they?re struggling to get hold of stuff they?d normally eat.

 

 

They had to go to the chippie once they were back from the Works. They sat at St Anne?s in the car because it was raining and used the salt they?d made on the chips. Which was great. ?I don?t usually let them have salt, but they?d made it.?

Instead of salt just sitting on a table, it has become more noticeable and full of meaning for the Wyre Salters.

Knowing salt better has led Maya to realise the power of it, to understand why wars were lost and won over salt. While Jessica appreciates more how much of our bodies are made of salt, and so has a stronger connection to salt. The boundary between the thing and her body has blurred.

For Rachel it wasn?t something she or her family had given much thought to previously, but now they?ve become fascinated with its strength and flavours. How sea salt is far better for the body than table salt (which is manmade anyway). They?ve got so into the project, they?re focusing on it for a week at home. Rachel has checked that she could use clean filtered seawater to cook pasta. And she could filter the seawater with muslin or charcoal. She has a Himalayan salt lamp, she picked up in a shop some time back because she liked the look of it. Now she?s found out it cleanses the atmosphere and helps with chestiness. She and each of her two daughters have a salt making plate going at home: one in the kitchen, one in the pantry and one in the garden. It?s not a competition, but ?

 

 

Andrea always thought it was a bit of a poison, but it can be seen as a treasure ? a pure thing from the earth. The time it takes to make it turns it into something precious. Man made table salt costs close to 12p in the supermarket, which devalues the pure salt. Sea salt has different properties, different levels of magnesium, sodium, potassium. She uses Epsom salts to help with her nerve pain. This project is bringing her kids back to basics. Although, maybe not so basic, as she spotted some tomato, olive and basil salt in a shop in Ramsbottom which she quite fancies having a go at making?

The group went down to Fleetwood beach to collect possible things they could present the salt in as an alternative to the pots. Ruth E was picking marram grass to weave into a cone. At the museum she?d been shown how to drain saltwater through something similar so she?d be left with salt crystals on the grass. She?d never given it thought before, but now she?s involved in the project, she?s on the internet exploring its uses? cosmetics, creams, bath salts? finding out about the Dead Sea and how it?s extracted from there with huge paddles and left to dry.

And while the group agreed the damp air of Fleetwood makes the process a little longer, salt is most definitely not simply salt

 

The Teachings of Clay

Terracotta is the most abundant clay in the earth. It starts off in rock, then, as it?s carried through waterways, it travels. As it travels more and more it picks up impurities before being deposited back into those waterways. It?s the impurities that give terracotta its beautiful rich colour.

Working with clay teaches you about yourself, according to potters Emilie Taylor?and Victoria Dawes. Clay contains and honours impurities. Making pots offers us the chance to shed our obsession with perfection and the belief there is only one way of doing things.

Handmade pots celebrate difference.

Difference is what makes a community: the variety of people living together. Pottery sits with that variety and holds it.

Each pot, plate or bowl, functions as a container. Emilie is interested in exploring the trust that is formed as people prepare the tableware, the stories told and how they might be sealed into the clay. Pottery has always told the history of people: what is found in fragments is how archaeologists understand a society, perhaps more so that what is written?

Victoria?s approach to making comes from her early transient life. When she started making pots she meditated on what home meant to her. She was making functional pieces for people to take home, for them to become a part of people?s life. At her wheel, she thinks of the furniture that have been passed down through the generations of her family that have moved from house to house, crystal glasses and candlesticks and dinner services collected by different members of her family. All these elements of her familial home feed into her pottery.

Both potters believe craft making is where conversations start, where meaning slips out sideways, through our fingers, through that connection with the earth. These conversations are then drawn into the white slip covering.

Over the summer they?ve run weekly workshops at Groundwork?s community gardens: Cherry Trees and Chepstow Gardens. Groundwork have developed these spaces as inclusive, safe and gentle spaces for people to grow plants and meet people. Homeless people, users of nearby artist studios and young families have all enjoyed these places where Emilie and Victoria explored the thoughtfulness and patience of pottery.

One participant found his own rhythm over the months, drawing everything on the allotment, then translating these drawings onto the plates. He made three plates, three bowls, his own service.

In another workshop two sisters began to draw their recipes and favourite meals (Jamaican lamb, rice and peas & chicken korma) on a piece paper, nervous, uncertain how to distinguish a kidney bean from sweet potato. Mistakes were made, but there was no rubber. They were told, clay is forgiving. And at this stage, on paper, anything could be reshaped or relocated in the final design. With some ideas sketched down they took the pencil to the slipware with a tentative confidence, a bolder leading of the line, scoring ridges into the plate. By the end of the workshop they each had recipes of their favourite meals designed into the plates, ready for firing.

Forgiving at the making stage, perhaps, but clay turns merciless at this point. Anything can happen when the pot goes into the kiln. Some embrace the unexpected, others are unsure at developments.

There?ll be a harvest lunch for everyone who has taken part in the project so far, where the fates of the plates will be revealed, alongside some of the stories and faces behind the pottery. Come back in a couple of weeks to read and see these stories.

Blackpool Tea Party

Wabi Char with Young Carers

It is pouring with rain this August evening in Blackpool. It feels like November and yet inside tea is stewing, weaving its spell. Tea is more than a drink. It is a brew, a potion that slips its way into our memories and imaginations, the things that make us who we are.

At the head of our tea table sits Caroline Jupp, a self-professed afternoon tea drinker. She?s making and drinking tea with people all over Blackpool and Wyre, collecting stories of people?s tea drinking habits for her blog

Holiday Banquet Whipper Snapper Dress up Mereside 480

She has made two brews. A mojito inspired Moroccan mint tea, shaken with ice and served with cocktail umbrellas. And a Masala Chai which conjures Christmas (from its cinnamon sticks), childhood toothache (drawn out by the cloves) and fireball sweets (rolled and swallowed with the aniseed).

Holiday Banquet Whipper Snapper Dress up Mereside 439

It is raining. We are drinking magic around a table filled with mugs, cups, shot glasses, black tea, green tea, white tea, a mint plant, dried strawberries, chamomile flowers and a shiny mass of more packets, straws, glass pots, ceramic pots, metal pots and spoons.

We have different attitudes to tea. Some of us don?t drink any tea; some drink one or two cups a day; one needs five in the morning simply to wake up; and another swings from some days having one to eight on another. A quiet voice, almost lost behind the shimmer and shine of packaging, says tea gives them headaches. Not the tea they?re brewing tonight, though.

Imagine?each one of us as an ingredient to an enormous pot of tea being watered by the rain outside and infused by the chatter and activity within. The tea we mash this evening is stirred with our tea memories, new experiments, an old aroma, an improvisation or careful blends. From the ingredients on the table, the young people are invited to experiment for the infusion

What is made and what is spoken imbue this one-night-only concoction with the precision and freshness of a raindrop.

First in is a memory? Turkish Apple tea. As a powder it?s a bad thing to bring back from holiday, as customs get suspicious, but worth it, by all accounts. Just two teaspoons in a tulip shaped glass, no milk, gives a beautiful flavour. No tea flavour just apple. It?s supplied in the steam rooms so people don?t overheat and, despite the heat, everyone drinks it in the caf?s, to keep them cool.

More locally, Fresh and Fruity is whorled up on the spot, with enthusiasm and delight at the possibility of taking the majority of it home to share with a grandmother.

Slower, more considered is the making of a green tea, lime and mint infusion, as careful as the description of how green tea good for losing weight, has more anti oxidants in it than black tea, while white tea is less fermented, and how this drinker drinks a lot of white tea, likes it black, first started drinking white tea a year ago, moving on from green tea. This tea has no name but what?s in it.

All Hale Tealicious rides on the back of laughter, inspiration and friendship, coming from white tea, strawberries and mint. Mint is the crucial ingredient as this one is mint crazy. Mint candles aren?t enough for her, she needs to melt Vicks in the microwave, put it in hot water and leaves it to fragrant her room. How delicate is mint? She is testing the difference between tearing up a mint leaf and leaving it whole in the drink. Either way it is a delicate stream in the evening?s spice. Everyone agrees: tealicious.

Mint is also a memory of childhood, bringing happiness and relaxation. The perfect thing after a hard day: just a few leaves in a cup. Breathe it in.

Carer?s Cuppa is a cooperative essence, all following their noses, to replicate the Spring Garden Tea sitting dry in a wee glass jug. Spoonfuls of Japanese tea, rose buds, chamomile and strawberries are mixed, then bagged by another pair of steady hands, and labelled by another. This is an assembly line of concentration, a corner of industry, all because carers need calming down and a boost.

These eddies eventually, unavoidably, whirl into cocktail hour. It is decided a cocktail representing Blackpool needs to be rude, historic, busy. And is set to.

We have a cook who turns their hand to making anything, who takes to the pestle and mortar even though he?s never used one before, and before we know it, he?s pulverised the rock to resemble the sand on Blackpool?s beach. A peppermint sugar ready to lap the icy waters of the north.

Two variations. For every cocktail worth its salt has two beaches.

The Historic Blackpool Cocktail bouquets flowers: roses and chamomiles from the Victorian gardens, a pinch of Blackpool rock, strawberries because they?re always at the market. And black tea, like builders tea, because there are builders everywhere.

The Contemporary Blackpool Cocktail whisks up black Assam tea with equal mixes of Blackpool rock and dried strawberries. Tea pink.

Chin chin.

Caroline will be serving teas at the Banquet event in October in the style of some of the rituals she recorded through her tea ritual survey. She will select three or four, and be using the young carer?s cocktail recipes and serving those.

LeftCoast is a programme of arts?and creative activity happening?across Blackpool and Wyre. We?re all?about creating amazing art on your?doorstep.?From jaw-dropping spectacle to?intimate experiences in your?neighbourhood, we want to make art?happen. In the process we hope to?inspire and support creatives who?live, work and study here.

 

In Search of the Lost Orchards

Everyone has a story about apples. Adam and Eve. Snow White. Isaac Newton. William Tell?Philip Parr. Philip, a theatre maker running Lost Orchards of the Left Coast for Banquet, has plenty. The one he told me is quieter, with many branches that curve and bend towards the light, each carrying another story that had its own seeds that will grow into another story.

Phillips Apples Banquet (4)

Philip grew up in Sydney, Australia, next to an empty plot of land. It was left empty because the row of houses had been built from either end of the street, and where they were due to meet, the last plot, it was six inches too narrow for the final house. This vacant lot was attached to the neighbouring house. The one his parents bought. There were apricot and peach trees along with a grape vine on the lot, but completely overgrown. So they cleared the overgrowth and added lemons, mulberries, red grapes, more. Everything was transformed it into pies, jam, chutney, preserved and relished. So much so, fruit equals food in Philip?s head, real food that is as much an art as anything made.

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When he was looking for a house to buy, many years later, he found one in East London with a huge apple tree spreading across the width of the twelve foot garden, in fact beyond, as it overhung the neighbouring gardens. Whether this was the sole reason Philip wanted the house I don?t know, but I suspect it played a key role in his falling for it?

All the houses in this street had had apple trees planted in the back gardens when they were built, making a community orchard for the inhabitants of the street. When Philip found the house, there was still one other apple tree two gardens down and a crab apple further along the street, not as old as the one in Philip?s garden-to be, but a wonderfully ancient pollinator all the same.

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The house had been owned by just one family since it?d been built, and was for sale because its owner had died in an accident. Nobody else in the family wanted it. They just wanted it sold, and offered Philip a quick sale if he took it with all its contents. Philip agreed and moved in. Nobody had been in it since the day the previous owner had stepped out into his fate. So in view of this enormous apple tree that had grown alongside the family?s home, Philip read through the history that was stacked, shelved and boxed away in the house, learning of the rich life of his predecessor who had left school at 14, travelled the world, been a boxing promoter in Rhodesia, worked on cattle farms in Australia before returning to London to work as a motorcycle courier.

There are 600-700 apples on the tree this year. Philip?s already begun stewing them. They?re cookers which turn into eaters later in the season, soon they?ll be ripe for eating straight from the branches. Each one will form part of a new meal, a new story, a point at which to savour what life offers, a reminder to be open to the world around us.

Meanwhile he wants to pick apples from the trees he?s found in Blackpool and the Wyre. He wants to pick and cook these apples together with others, to share recipes and stories, to celebrate the ritual of people coming together to prepare food, to acknowledge the pleasure in the one thing we need to do: eat.

Wyre Salters at Mereside. Banquet Aug 2015 (21)

*If you have an apple story you’d like to share, or want to know more about the project, get in touch

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