Ilka White shares three recipes that reflect the same grounded sensibility she applies to her weaving practice.
In recent years, foraging for food and fibre has drawn me into a closer relationship with my local area. My primary interest is now the earth beneath my feet and what I might make with what lives and grows here.
As a weaver, I see parallels between food security concerns and a slow, localised textile practice that works exclusively with materials from my own bioregion.
My definition of what ‘craft’ is has been expanding for a long while. I definitely prefer the word as a verb. Years ago I helped prune my friends’ orchard and came home with a pile of hazelnut suckers which I wove into a fence for our Brunswick share house. The satisfaction I felt shaping that fence had a quality unlike any of my exhibition work. It was more grounded, literally. The material connection to my friends and their orchard was also important.
My approach to craft is now closely aligned to provisioning. Gathering, processing and shaping what I need to live well. This makes food a natural extension of my life-work. Weaving a right relationship to place provides for the body and soul at once.
Foraged Fruit Leathers
Not long after covid changed our lives, I was exploring the confluence of creeks at the end of my street, looking for native flax, and found a wild Hawthorn laden with ripe berries. From the shade of a black wattle I called Meg, a fine forager, and received her terrific recipe for spiced hawthorn and apple fruit leathers.
Easy to make, these delicious gifts became my major love language during the 2020 lockdown, as hawthorn berries are high in antioxidants and really good for the heart.
March is also rose hip season. In my garden and on walks to the outskirts of town, full pockets of ripe rose hips are free food and medicine. Just chew your way around the prickly seeds inside. Especially delicious when picked fresh at the soft ‘jammy’ stage between hard and dried, rosehips quickly made their way into my fruit leathers.
I’ve since experimented with a wide array of other ingredients depending on the season. A great way to condense nutritional goodness into bite-sized treats, fruit leathers keep without a fridge. Some of the other ingredients I’ve added include foraged Blackberries, gifted Quinces and Apples from friends and roadsides, Rhubarb, Nectarines, Feijoas, Carrots, Calendula petals, Fennel seeds and Orange zest.
Some fruit like brambles and mulberries, rose hips, hawthorn, bletted crab apples, the flesh of feijoas can be mashed raw, adding water if necessary to make a thick paste. This paste is then pushed through a sieve with the back of a spoon to eliminate the seeds. Hawthorn berries are really high in pectin, so the sticky paste that pushes through will need scraping off the bottom of the sieve.
Other fruit I prefer to cook first, like the apples to accompany Hawthorn. Stewed plums or quince baked in apple juice and grated ginger are favourites.
Cooked fruit can then be blended skin and all, with spices added for taste.
Raw or cooked, leathers are made by evenly spreading your fruit paste over a silicon mat or baking paper and setting it out in the sun to dry. A couple of very hot days are obviously best for this, but a dehydrator or anywhere warm will also work when the weather’s cooler. When the leather is absolutely dry, peel it off the backing and cut up to eat or store in an airtight container.
Fruit leathers are a lovely way to attune myself to what’s in season. They would make any abundance last all year if I didn’t keep giving them away!
In my early thirties, I fell in love with a Bunya Pine in Bendigo’s Rosalind Park. Indigenous to southeast Queensland, there are nevertheless a number of old trees planted in stately gardens here in the southern states of Australia. Pine nuts from the bunya’s huge cones were an important aboriginal food source and for me the tree represents sustenance and family. The first glimpse I had of the Bendigo Bunya took my breath away and I have since depicted it in prints, embroideries and applique.
In the midst of the 2020 lockdown, my cousin Joel left a huge bunya cone on my back doorstep. One of around 20 cones from a Chewton tree, it contained something like 43 nuts, half of which I roasted and devoured in the following weeks. Some I saved, to discover that they keep fairly well in their shells. This is a good thing, as the bunya only fruits every third year.
Recently I baked my remaining nuts into biscuits with roasted wattle seed. I’ve long collected acacia seed for the tannin-rich pods, which make an excellent natural dye. This year I collected, for the first time, seed and pods from Wirilda wattles I planted throughout my garden and verge 5 years ago.
Combined with local honey and rosehip puree, roasted Bunya and Wattle seeds taste pretty special!
2/3 of a cup of roasted, ground bunya nuts.
Half a cup of wholemeal Victorian Spelt flour
100g (between 1/3 and 1/2 a cup) of local Yellow box honey
100g of true organic butter from North Geelong
4 tablespoons of foraged rosehip puree
2 tablespoons of Wirilda Wattle seed
Roast the shelled bunya nuts in the oven until lightly browned
Dry roast the wattle seeds in a small frying pan until they begin to pop
Grind Bunya nuts and Wattle seed to powder in a mortar and pestle and transfer to a mixing bowl
Heat the oven to 180°C
Add flour to the mixing bowl and combine with the bunya and wattle seed.
Melt the butter and honey together in a small saucepan until just dissolved.
Pour the melted butter and honey into the bunya mix and stir until well combined.
Lightly grease 2 baking trays and dot the biscuit mix in rows, leaving room for them to swell but not touch.
Bake until cakey but not too dark. (5 to 10 minutes depending on the thickness)
Cool on the tray for a couple of minutes, then on a wire rack before eating.
Jerusalem Artichoke Crackers
A lovely weaving student of mine, Maree, once brought delicious home made crackers to class, and everyone wanted the recipe.
Years later I roasted my first crop of Jerusalem artichokes (sometimes called sun chokes), which were absolutely delicious, but eating one or two gave me the most excruciating stomach ache I wanted the earth to swallow me up. Again I called Meg, who suggested fermenting them to deal with the gasses they produce.
Here’s my recipe for Artichoke Crackers, which grew from that brilliant suggestion and variations on Maree’s original recipe.
1 cup of sourdough starter (from the contributions of two neighbours: Catherine and Penelope)*
A generous handful of baked, home-grown sun chokes
1/4 cup local olive oil
1 cup wholemeal Victorian spelt flour
1 teaspoon of ground pink lake rock salt
* All good craft is a collaboration with the wider world, in this case, a symbiotic colony of bacteria and wild yeast. If there’s no starter in your neighbourhood, take a large jar and stir into it 50 grams of flour and 50 grams of lukewarm water to make a thick batter. Rye flour is recommended. Cover the jar with a tea towel and sit in a warm room, stirring and feeding with similar quantities of 50/50 flour and warm water mix 1-2 times a day for a week. Over this time it will bubble and double in size, smell pleasantly sour and develop a porous, webby structure. Use a cup for your crackers and keep some aside to nurture for future use.
In a mixing bowl, mash the sun chokes thoroughly through your cup of starter and sit overnight to blow up like a balloon.
Mix in the flour, salt and oil, and then knead the dough into a ball.
Break off small walnut-sized pieces and roll flat (or roll flat and then cut)
Transfer to an oiled tray and bake in a moderate oven until crisp (approx. 20 mins from cold to cooked – a fraction of that if the oven’s already warm).
Cool and eat with roast vegetable or broad bean dip, topped with goat’s cheese!
As in any folk process, tradition and innovation co-exist in the crafts, whether it’s cooking or weaving. My last batch of these crackers (made out of season) used minced chokes that I’d previously baked, dried and stored. I sometimes use a mix of olive and macadamia oils. Sometimes my flour is cut with ground Australian buckwheat or sorghum. I’ve also added flax and all manner of other seeds. Every batch is a bit different, but always yum!
Food or fibre preparations are primary skills to meet primary needs. Slow food, slow cloth. Of course, these skills can be beautifully honed – beauty being essential to our spirits. The world over, creative materials and methods are altered to suit the needs of the season or situation. As most new work builds on old, ‘authorship’ is collective. Migrating species naturalise and cultures mix. As we re-localise though, food and cloth and all manner of things might once again carry more distinct, regionally specific flavours.
I’m all for the taste of my place.
About Ilka White
Ilka White weaves intricate structures and stories that connect us to place. Direct engagement with the natural world and a love for ‘primary’ skills and world textile traditions inform the way she lives and makes. Ilka taught Weaving and Textile History at RMIT University for many years and has since worked throughout Australia as an independent artist, teacher and community facilitator. She lives in Castlemaine, on Djarra Country, Southeast Australia. Visit ilkawhite.com.au and follow @ilkawhite.
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