After a lovely holiday in the South of England, I’ve had a bit of a struggle against the fatigue of M.E., but I was eager to see the Felty Folk, so I headed out from the back of my house for a walk. The fields had ripened in my absence, and I was walking past golden barley:
And who did I see scampering at the edge of the field?
“Hello there. Good to see you again,” I exclaimed.
“Hello,” they both said.
“You’re back,” said Neeva.
“Yes I am, I’ve been a bit tired, so it’s nice to get out and about again.”
“I’ll come around to your garden this week, and you can tell me about your trip,” Neeva said.
“That would be lovely. What are you doing in this field?”
“We’re collecting some barley heads. We collect a few of the broken plants that the farmer cannot pick up with his machines. It’s also good to get a few before the birds get at them, ” explained Dod.
“What do you use them for?”
“They store well so we keep them by for the winter, and we can just eat the grains, or grind them down as a type of flour, or just roast them to eat. They’re very nutritious.”
“These are a very busy few months for us,” Neeva said. “So much food is ripening and we collect it to get through the Winter. We’re heading off to the woods now for more food, do you want to come too?”
“Of course – lead the way,” I said.
So they dragged their barley to the edge of the field and hid it in the hedgerow, so they could return for it later, and I followed them to the woods.
There were some lovely bright purple flowers by the path, like spineless thistles, which I discovered were Greater Knapweed:
Dod seemed very knowledgeable about the plants and fungi, and headed into the undergrowth, where he started picking some red berries I had not seen before.
“What are they, Dod?”
“These are Red Elderberries, they ripen earlier than the usual black ones you see, they’re very tasty.”
I’d noticed he’d already eaten a few.
“We make them into Red elder jelly too. They’re probably not good for you to eat raw though, they might make you ill.”
He pulled off the berries and threw them down to Neeva, waiting below:
“Yes, don’t try eating what we eat, some of them are poisonous to humans, especially the berries and mushrooms,” said Neeva.
“Yes, you’re right,” I said, “I’m very careful about that, although it’s lovely to find wild things to eat in the countryside. The only mushrooms I’m sure of are Chanterelles, so I will keep my eyes out for some while we’re here, I’ve seen them under birch trees before.”
I had a hunt around for Chanterelles, and by the time I’d got back, they had stored away the berries and Neeva had collected a big pile of beech nuts:
“No chanterelles for me, I’m afraid, it might be still a bit early for them. You’ve done well there though,” I said.
“Yes, they are a bit prickly to collect, but they’re much better fresh like this, much tastier, and the husks are easier to make into things.”
“Are you going to collect that mushroom next to you too?”
“Yes, we’ll take that one, Dod will have to help me pick it, it’s a bit big.”
So they gathered together all the food and dragged it on a big leaf to a nearby tree, where they disappeared under the tree roots to store the food there.
“We’ll have to go back for the barley ears, and then it’s home for tea,” said Neeva.
“I’ll be heading home too,” I said. “See you soon.”
I walked back along the path, and took a quick look back and they were already blending into the woods, and barely visible.