I’m really exposing my inner geek here when I say that I’ve recently become interested in a BBC television series that is now playing on TVO called, “Tales from the Green Valley.” The program follows a group of experts as they attempt to run a Welsh farm using materials and resources only available during the 17th century. The show is very much in the tradition of shows like, “Iron Age” and “1900 House” but with less interpersonal and social dynamics — therefore less drama and more education. Each episode depicts a month in the life of the farm over the course of a year delving into herbology, farming and agriculture, cooking, cheese-making, food preservation, and other practical day-to-day practices that would have been common-place in 1620 rural England.
My partner Davin started watching it a few weeks ago and completely sucked me in with accounts of all the cool things they were doing. For example on last week’s program they made tansy omelettes by chopping fresh tansy leaves and squeezing the juice into an egg mixture. I looked tansy up in one of my herb books, “Herbal: The Essential Guide to Herbs for Living” by Deni Brown and it turns out that people really did make mini cakes called “tansies” around the time of lent as a way to offset the effect of gasses caused by overconsumption of peas and beans. The book does warn (and so did the program) that tansy contains both camphor and thujone (potentially toxic) and should be eaten with caution.
In this week’s episode the group demonstrated how a farmer would go about preparing a large plot in which to grow a cash crop of peas. They even went so far as to obtain a variety grown during thaqt time period. Watching them prepare the soil, dig furrows, plant, and cover the soil really makes you appreciate the easy work one can acheive with a rototiller! Weeding sticks were fashioned from branches to help pull weeds from their hay field. One stick was bent on the end like a cane while the other was straight. They used the bent ended stick to grasp and hold the weed and then pushed the straight stick against it and pulled up removing the weed roots and all. Very inventive.
The show is actually only a short account of a larger ongoing project to reconstruct a working 17th century agricultural landscape that is documented in a book called, The Building of the Green Valley. It’s a fascinating project that actually took hundreds of volunteers rather than the few experts depicted in the show so I recommend looking there if you’re interested in learning more that goes above and beyond the tv program.