By the end I felt as if we were all buzzing like bees in a beehive — that we’d briefly come together into a vibrant superorganism
Our gathering at Base Camp is now over but hopefully it has left everyone with some good memories, stories, ideas, new friendships…and a lovely taste!
Central to the event was the celebratory toast with mead raised on Saturday evening. This drink made from many kinds of wild and garden fruits and flowers was everything we wanted to bring to our Dark Mountain weekend at Embercombe*: wildness, conviviality, plants, people, sweetness, and, of course, alchemy.
One of the most heartening things I heard about the future during the weekend was Molly Campbell (in Land Literacy and Farming at the Edge of Extinction) talking about her work with Native Americans to bring back the buffalo in South Dakota. When the buffalo return, she said, the prairie restores itself and flowers and species we thought were extinct reappear. So it is with ourselves: given the right conditions seeds we have held inside us begin to unfold and take root.
In Dark Mountain 8 I wrote about the first herbal mead elixir I’d made for a workshop that became a kind of metaphor for the Project:
I wanted to show how if you gather some creative uncivilised ingredients (people) together, they can make a heady and healing and joyful brew. What is happening in that Kilner jar is the magic and medicine of fermentation – communities of microorganisms working together, exchanging material, creating new forms, making life happen.
Since then with my mead-partner, Mark Watson, I have experimented with many kinds of fruit and flowers throughout the seasons. We have changed the ratio of honey and water (more honey, less water), forgot about making tea from the plants, just adding them straight to the mix and after two weeks straining them and keeping the jar in the fridge.
Here is the basic Base Camp recipe made from late summer fruit and flowers, gathered on walks across the Suffolk marshes, after swimming in the sea, from neighbourhood trees and the garden:
Local still spring water
Raw honey (wildflower from Wales, heather from Scotland)
Fruit: Yellow cherry plums (main), sea buckthorn berries, blackberries, rowan berries
Flowers: marsh mallow, vervain, mugwort, heather, marigold, lemon balm, marjoram, anise hyssop, birch leaf, blackcurrant leaf
Shake approx half a jar of honey and one litre of water vigorously together. Add a handful or two of fruit and sprigs of flowers. Shake again. Leave in a place out of sunlight where you won’t forget to stir energetically at least once a day and to ‘burp’ the jar. Should be ready after two weeks, depending on the warmth of the room. Strain and keep in fridge.
Mix with elderflower cordial, white wine and fizzy water to taste. Enjoy!
* Embercombe have their own natural beekeeping apiary set among an orchard of over 100 varieties of apple tree – a collection of 7 top-bar hives (kept for the bees themselves rather than honey production).
Images: feather at Embercombe; ‘Three Acres and a Cow’, performance at Centre Fire by Warren Draper; herbal mead elixir making for Base Camp by Mark Watson; drinks, girls and sunflowers by Bridget McKenzie.