Food swaps and poetry on the plot

26 Apr 2013 @ 7.58 am
| Food & drink

Naturally great… produce at the York Food Swap in 2012
There’s been little planting but plenty of other activity on the allotment, as Sue Jewitt & Vicky Swift explain

With all our well laid plans for March scuppered by snow flurries and bitterly cold temperatures our leek and tomato seeds are still sitting in pots on the window sills and the potatoes have only just gone in the ground.

This year is one on its own, we’re around four weeks behind on planting – but what’s to do but to work with it? So with little to write about from our own allotments we’ve decided to shine a little spotlight on two community events that have arisen from allotment life.


Poetry on the plot

First up is Pictures and Words – a poetry and photography workshop based around the Scarcroft allotment site and led by the Bard of Barnsley, Ian McMillan, social documentary photographer Ian Beesley, archaeologists Jon Kenny and Ian Milsted and historian Jayne Rimmer.

The event was organised by community archaeologist, Hannah Baxter, from Yorkshire Archaeological Trust (YAT) as part of a series of workshops supporting the project Plotting the Past. The project aims to unearth the stories of York’s allotments using geophysics and test-pitting as well as digging through memories, documents and photographs.

“Plotting the Past is bringing together a record of our city’s allotments. When we think of a record we often just think of facts but it can also be more creative, it can demonstrate how people feel about things,” said Hannah Baxter.

“Ian’s workshop enabled us to write poems together which show how people feel about their allotment – they cover hard work, battling the weather and having a lot of fun!”

Al fresco poetry. Ian McMillan with Jon Kenny. Photograph: Hannah Baxter
Al fresco poetry. Ian McMillan with Jon Kenny. Photograph: Hannah Baxter

Ian was first up on the day and soon had the group of 15 keen allotmenteers and historians engaged in creating vibrant allotment poetry drawn directly from their knowledge of the site. Claire Cooper, who attended the event, said she really enjoyed the morning. “It was good fun and inspirational. Ian brought us a poetic way of looking at the Scarcroft allotment site.”

Pictures And Words proved to be a remarkable morning with lots of laughter that closed with a walk through the Scarcroft site, observing life on the allotment, before returning to create a communally written poem:

A lot said, A lot meant, A lot grown, Time Spent

Crooked rows, straight fence
High winds, low beds
Spring flowers, summer glut
Autumn mud, winter flood
School bell, spade thud
Swishing scythe, steam train
On time
5b, 72
Buried bed, single shoe
Crosby gone, we’re here
Dig on, good cheer
Noon chime, ding dung
Tar shacks, bell rung
Dawn chorus, morning mist
Open flasks, endless tasks
Evening wine, hands of grime
Laden barrows, giant marrows
Squeaking home

The poem was written down on a roll of paper and ceremoniously wrapped around a shed! We’re all hoping to see the poem featuring in the exhibition planned by Plotting The Past in November.


Old photos wanted

The second part of the day was about photography. Hannah Baxter explained: “As well as taking new photographs we are also collecting historic photos. The city archives contain virtually no historic photos of allotments so we are building an archive.

“If you have a photo of your plot that can be used as part of the project please get in touch. A historic photo doesn’t have to be ancient – it can be from the Eighties, Nineties or even 2000s – it’s about putting together the whole story.”


Second food swap ahoy

The York Food Swap in full swing at Ambience Café Bar in October
The York Food Swap in full swing at Ambience Café Bar in October

On to our second community event – our very own Apples For Eggs Food Swap! Scheduled for Saturday, April 27, our York Spring Food Swap is rapidly filling up with a mixture of return bookings from swappers who’ve attended our events before, and new people who are keen to see how it all works.

Our swaps are around two hours long and bring together a variety of keen home producers who swap their food with one another. Tasting samples are supplied where appropriate, and the first part of the swap is spent sampling, discussing and exchanging tips and recipes.

Very simple “bids” are written on swap cards so swappers can see who is interested in their produce, then after an announcement is made, the negotiating begins! Swappers then take home an impressive haul of other people’s goodies to stock their fridge and cupboards.

The sense of creating a community around the sharing and exchange of home-produced food is a very potent one. It’s actually quite a bonding experience to swap food with someone you don’t initially know!

And the food swap love seems to be spreading: we’re delighted to be launching our first event in Ormskirk, West Lancashire the day after the York swap.

For anyone interested in attending our York event, you can register for a free place on our Eventbrite page here. And if you miss this one, don’t fear, we’ve got more dates to be announced for later in the year.


Rhubarb jam recipe

With the next swap in mind we’re sharing Pam Corbin’s rhubarb jam recipe with you. It’s a super easy, no stress recipe. Furthermore, we make it two to three times a year and finds it goes down a storm at Food Swaps.

Rhubarb Jam (adapted from Pam Corbin River Cottage Preserve book)

1kg rhubarb (trimmed)
900g jam sugar with added pectin
100ml freshly squeezed orange juice

Also needed
5 x 340g jars

After washing and trimming the rhubarb cut into 2-2.5cm cubes chunks. Pour a layer of sugar on the bottom of your jam pan followed by a layer of rhubarb.

Continue until you’ve layered all your rhubarb and finish with a layer of sugar. Pour orange juice over the top.

Leave for one or two hours or overnight. This helps draw the juice from the rhubarb to form syrup that helps to keep the rhubarb in chunks when boiled.

Gently bring the mixture to the boil, stirring carefully without crushing the rhubarb pieces. Boil rapidly for 5–6 minutes, then test for setting point.

Remove from the heat and rest for five minutes before pouring into warm, sterilised jars. 

Seal immediately, use within 12 months.

For the full recipe and variations go here.



April 27 Apples For Eggs food swap, 1730-1930 Ambience Café Bar, 40 Gillygate. For more information and to book a free place go to the Apples For Eggs website and select the York link. Forthcoming swaps July 13 and September 21

To find out more about Plotting The Past go to the website or to get involved contact Hannah: [email protected].