Wild Garlic Pesto

I have returned to the city of “doubt and despair” but have brought some goodies from the Lakes back with me, including a bagful of wild garlic (ramsons) from the bottom of Loughrigg Fell, down the lane from where we were staying, which I have turned into pesto.

 

The plant is commonly found, especially in wooded areas, and is best harvested in spring. You can be sure of picking the right leaves (and not those of a similar-looking poisonous plant) from the garlicky smell.

 

We first came across the idea for turning the leaves into pesto in a newspaper a few years ago and it is a really tasty alternative to the usual basil version. I haven’t yet worked out if this can be allocated to a particular feast day, although making it today, on Palm Sunday – a (perhaps the only) feast where leaves play a central role – seems quite appropriate.

 

I work on a very simple and vague “recipe” which can be adjusted to your own taste and/or depending on what you have to hand (for instance, today I threw in the oil from the bottom of a pot of olives with bits of herbs in it).

 

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For 1 handful of ramsons (which will make 1 jar)

 

In a food processor, grind up 50g nuts (pine nuts are traditional but expensive; any, or a mixture of, walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, cashew nuts, Brazil nuts will do)

 

Add the leaves, torn up roughly.

 

Blend to a pesto consistency, adding olive oil and lemon juice.

 

Season to your own taste (I put salt, pepper, chilli, dried oregano in mine).

 

Spoon the pesto into a jar and keep it in the fridge. The flavour will improve if you wait for a couple of weeks before eating it. It should keep well (we had some of last year’s at Christmas time).

 

You can also add Parmesan or another hard cheese if you wish (add this after the nuts), but you can always add it when you actually come to use the pesto (which makes it easier to keep it vegetarian-friendly, unless you can find a suitable vegetarian cheese).

Heaven in a Wild Flower

Blake’s Auguries of Innocence begins with the famous lines:

 

To see the World in a Grain of Sand
And Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour

 

Here, Blake expresses a sacramental worldview – encountering and celebrating the divine in the everyday, and particularly here in the natural environment.

 

I’m prompted to think about sacramental worldviews after a day in the Lakes which took in various sites of such interest.

 

First, driving along Ullswater, we came across A host, of golden daffodils; | Beside the lake, beneath the trees, |Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

 

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Wordsworth isn’t being explicitly sacramental in these famous lines, but in comparing the wild flowers to “the stars that shine | And twinkle on the milky way” and describing them flashing upon his “inward eye” he seems to expressing that they have a deeper significance than their superficial loveliness. Anyway, it’s another Wordsworthian site ticked off the list.

 

Next stop was the primary destination of the day’s drive: St Mary’s Church, Wreay – an extraordinary little church made somewhat famous recently by Jenny Uglow’s book The Pinecone, which is an account of the building and its creator, Sarah Losh. The church is remarkable for its carvings which chiefly draw on imagery from the natural world, much of which is also imbued with symbolism from both Christian and pagan traditions. There are also a good number of angels, which might have pleased Blake – I wonder if Sarah Losh saw angels in the trees around Wreay:

 

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Finally, we took in the town of Keswick and the nearby Castlerigg Stone Circle, presumably some kind of place of worship, set in a particularly stunning setting and surely a site where people have reflected upon the relationship between the world and the sacred over the millennia:

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All of these encounters of the sacramental resonate nicely with the themes of two conference I’m involved in which have both been launched this week (please do have a look and spread the word):

 

First up, in September is “Religions, Environments and Popular Culture” which will, as the title suggests, deal with the intersections between the world (natural, built, and imaginary) and the sacred.

 

A few months later, in January 2015, we will be hosting the Society for the Study of Theology’s annual postgraduate conference on the theme of “Images, Icons and Idols” which aims to encompass a broad range of theological topics, not least explorations of the sacramental. Indeed, partly prompted by re-reading David Jones’s essay Art and Sacrament, I’ve recently been thinking a bit about the inter-relationship(s) of sacrament, art, theology and sign.

 

Sarah Losh’s creation, for instance, can be said to be art as (sacramental) sign-making, inspired by a sacramental worldview. The same could be said of Auguries of Innocence.

Lakean

I have temporarily escaped Manchester’s “tortures of doubt and despair” for a break in the Lake District.

 

I feel somewhat errant to be in the land famously associated with (among numerous other luminaries) that other Romantic poet called William, but that slightly guilty feeling is probably in itself a sign that a bit of a break from Mr Blake is needed. Indeed, I’ve been feeling a bit fed up with WB recently; I think it’s partly a symptom of focusing on the work of a single person (something to bear in mind for forming a post-doc project), but this is accentuated by the fact that Blake is so prevalent in popular culture so he appears where I’m not even looking for him.

 

We’re actually staying in a house that was formerly owned by the Wordsworths (bought by WW’s son, also called William, and in the family for about a century). So inevitably, I’ve been thinking a bit about the two Williams. The topic has been addressed, but I decided to leave such books safely in Manchester.

 

I don’t know if WW had anything to say about WB, but WB owned an annotated a copy of WW’s poems and wasn’t particularly complementary. The two Williams are often characterised as divided by their concepts of Nature, WW celebrating it and WB seeking to transcend it. Some of Blake’s annotations seem to support such a dichotomy; for instance:

 

WW writes: The powers requisite for the production of poetry are, first, those of observation and description. . . . whether the things depicted be actually present to the senses, or have a place only in the memory

WB replies: One Power alone makes a Poet -Imagination The Divine Vision

 

On WW’s Poems Referring to the Period of Childhood

WB writes: I see in Wordsworth the Natural Man rising up against the Spiritual Man Continually & then he is No Poet but a Heathen Philosopher at Enmity against all true Poetry or Inspiration

 

But although WB thinks WW does not embody the Divine Vision, he isn’t anti-Nature (see my post [Romantic] Landscapes at Turner Contemporary). Indeed, one of my favourite passages in Blake is:

 

This World Is a World of Imagination & Vision I see Every thing I paint In This World, but Every body does not see alike… to the Eyes of the Man of Imagination Nature is Imagination itself. As a man is So he Sees. As the Eye is formed such are its Powers You certainly Mistake when you say that the Visions of Fancy are not be found in This World. To Me This World is all One continued Vision of Fancy or Imagination & I feel Flatterd when I am told So.

(Letter to Revd. Dr. Trusler, 23 August 1799)

So it seems that WB thought that WW didn’t see Nature with eyes of Imagination. Whether he was right, I leave to others who are more qualified to comment.

As for my own view of N/nature here, I’ll offer three (unBlakeanly banal) thoughts: first, I’ll avoid getting caught up in how problematic a term that is; second, it’s as wet as its reputation (see photos below); third, I’m happy that there is wild garlic at the end of the lane, which livened up this evening’s roast chicken.

More (B)Lakean thoughts to follow perhaps.

A measure of the amount of rain since our arrival – here are the stepping stones opposite our cottage yesterday evening:

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Here is the same stretch of the river this afternoon:

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