26 . 11 . 18
Why I ate my Christmas tree…
Image by Carmel King, courtesy of Host of Leyton. Writing by Julia Georgallis
Come the end of the year, everything is wrapped in either sugar or bacon all in the name of some tiny human who was born on a specific day. We are encouraged to consume, consume, consume, give, give, give. This is commonly known as Christmas, but recently it seems to me like we have gone wrong somewhere – was this how it was supposed to be? The Northern Hemisphere has always celebrated something or other at this time of year. Flavour of the millennium is a baby who would live forever. A few thousand years ago, we worshipped the light, the eternal passing of time and tried to coax the summer back to us. It was a chance to have a party, to celebrate at the most depressing time of they year – which it still is, I suppose. We worshipped trees. Trees being symbolic of everlasting life. Especially the trees now commonly known by sight as the Christmas tree, part of the evergreen family. How much of the world looks at the evergreen – a plant that stays leafy all year round – is similar across the globe (mainly in Europe, the Americas and Asia, which is where they are found). Be they blue spruce or bamboo shoots, evergreens are revered and respected, sacred symbols of everlasting life, resilience and strength in the face of adversity.
In Greece, pine nuts are used for burials to represent eternal life. Apache Native Americans and Druids both associated pines and firs with the sun – The Apache would include pine nuts in their Sunrise Ceremonies and Druids would burn firs in the bleak winter in order to persuade the sun to show his face again. Eastern Europeans use evergreen leaves as door mats for guests to wipe their feet on protecting the house from mud and evil spirits simultaneously. In China, pine, plum and bamboo are known as the ‘three friends of winter’ – they are alive all year round and are associated with longevity. And of course, the Christmas tree (spruce and fir trees) decorates many homes in the Northern Europe during the longest, darkest nights of the year. Related to Christianity and everlasting life, placing trees indoors and decorating them actually has its roots thousands of years before Christianity had a look in. Jews, Romans, Egyptians, Saxons and Vikings would also cover their houses in evergreens as part of winter rites. So. Christmas trees. They’re a pretty big deal. We’ve loved them longtime.
Except, nowadays, I don’t really feel like there’s so much love for them. I think now to a post-Christmas world. It’s nothing like the pre-Christmas world. Everything is bleak and glum. We’re fatter, we’re poorer, we’re still a bit hungover and must repent for all the fun we’ve had. And, to top it off, so begins the mass throwing away of millions of little trees – all that was joyful and hopeful instead now lines the streets, needle-less, stuffed down the backs of alley ways, damp and pretty damn sad. Which is where trying to eat your Christmas tree comes into the story. Rather than chuck it out, my friend Lauren and I decided to try eating trees and using them as the basic ingredient for a series of supper clubs instead of chucking them away.
Many have commented that it is a bit gimmicky (“what is this hipster shit????” reads a post after Vice’s article about us). Which I agree with because to be honest most things to do with Christmas are a bit gimmicky. But, the way the way to make people think about things, particularly important issues such as recycling, is through food. After all, our stomachs are our second brain.
It took work to make some delicious things out of Christmas trees. We tried whole bunch of different things. Blitzing. Smashing. Frying. We put some needles in a tea strainer and it tasted like wee. We made a weird grass flavoured scotch egg that made us feel really ill. But eventually, we got the hang of it. Our supper club revolves mainly around cooking with pine, fir, spruce and juniper, but also features olive, rosemary and bamboo. We cured, smoked, heated, baked and pickled needles and nuts, using inspiration from Scandinavia, Southern Europe, the Middle East and Asia. And the result, which is the most important thing, was delicious. I am not a big fan of gimmicks. The most important thing to me is that it tastes good and that it also not so ridiculous that a home cook couldn’t achieve the same thing. And so I am really encouraging you, before you throw things away (and I’m not now just talking about Christmas trees) is to be curious. Can you replant things? Rehang things? Eat it rather than binning it? Put it on your face or in the bath? Don’t spend your whole life trying to reuse every last drop of everything because no one has time for that, but sometimes it would do the world a favour to think back as to why that thing was there in the first place and maybe dispatching it could be done in a more respectful way.
Just a quick side note – on many occasions, food history is (quite literally) passed on through word of mouth – my information on conifers has been gleaned over the last few years from a number of sources which I see as reliable but may not in fact be so accurate – it is hard to tell so I apologise if I’ve got anything wrong…