Written by Mita Solanky (Fruit Routes Artist/Co-ordinator)
The wind is howling outside, the rain is unstoppable. The sun is nowhere to be seen, and the gloom presides. Inside the windows steam up slowly as the room starts to fill, like a jar being packed with an array of vegetables and spices and herbs. In the comfort of the indoors and the warm welcome offered to the Fruit Routes project, Marsha, Laura and Keiren allow myself and guest artist Janhavi Sharma to turn The Institute of Advanced Studies into a domestic scene.
Chopping boards and knives lie in wait, alongside a selection of locally grown seasonal vegetables. Janhavi begins the session by handing around small bottles of spices and pickles. We each twist and turn the lids and poke our noses in. Whose business? We share the evocations that the smells unleash.
The Memory Pickle Jars workshop ignited the first light of the Jarvest Harvest festival. The outdoor events got cancelled, due to the wild weather and people piled indoors instead. It was a very lively sharing of so many ideas, of local foods, seasonal practices, techniques and tastebuds. By the end, we were all richer and ready to taste more…
Saturday morning and the glorious autumn sunshine blesses us as we set up for the days events. In the LAGS garden Suman, Liz and Martha were sharing their expert knowledge of pickling, drying and jamming, with visitors all taking home a jar of something hand-made and very delicious that would make any winter meal a bit brighter.
In the Prairie Garden we were creating jam jar lanterns, oil-lamp vigils inspired by a cultural practice remembered from my childhood. People were curious to learn about the concept of regarding the grain store as a sacred place, one where a lamp vigil was kept alight. It opened up a space to discuss how we relate to food in a time of climate chaos, and the lost ways of storing and preserving the harvests.
Also in the prairie garden were Transition Loughborough with the Apple Press, with people bringing their locally grown fruit to be pressed, and tasted by all. There was a delicious warming seasonal lunch stew created by Loughborough University Chef Chris served with fresh bread from Bom Bom Patisserie sourced from The Welbeck Bakehouse.
The community came and swapped their locally grown produce at LAGS harvest swap table, and of course the traditional bake-off took place, with Nick and Jo Jennings as our judges helped by Sarah and Emma from Charnwood Eco Hub who took on the envious task of tasting the bakes everyone had entered. The Gardens Team had offered up some wonderful experience prizes in willow weaving workshops and Christmas Woodland walks, and sustainability donated a jar of Loughborough Gold Honey as first prize.
After the bake-off sharing, we prepared for some celebration, to show gratitude for all the bounty we had to share with each other, through dancing – with bells on! We created ankle bells whilst we waited for the Bare Bones Border Morris group to set up for the performance and workshop.
Everyone was very patient as we waited for John, who was the musician, and was stuck on the M1 in a traffic jam for an hour! He was applauded as he walked up the Walled Garden path with a basket laden with home grown grapes, the likes of which I have never tasted before, just heavenly!
And the music was well worth waiting for, and everyone joined in the dancing…
The dancing had warmed us up, ready for the twilight walk. We made our way over to the Barefoot Orchard, to greet the changing of the light, carrying lanterns into the sunset and walking through the orchards. We meditated on the change of season, how the colours all merge into darkness, the lengthening of nights, the changes in our bodies and those around us, encouraging rest, reflection and dreaming.
As we entered the orchard, the darkness was settling, the LSU Orchestra were warming up and the hot spiced apple juice was very welcome in so many chilled hands. We sat and saw in the nightfall whilst the strings resonated with compositions inspired by the season and sentiment of autumn. The fire flickered across eyes that were now turning inwards and dreamwards, and we slowly scattered homewards, cold outside but very, very warmed inside.
This was my first Fruit Routes Harvest, and was brought together with the help of so many hands;
Jo Jennings – who helped with so many aspects of making the festival happen by introducing me to all the super helpful catering and furniture teams, as well as being a co-judge with Nick Jennings for the bake-off.
Kaz, Rich, Tom and Jason from the Gardens team, for always bring me bucketfuls of encouragement and practical help with the festival setup.
Debbie Price and Chris the chef and all the catering Team for the delicious lunch and hot apple drink, which kept us warm and energised through the day and evening.
Sarah Roberts and her team for the gazebos and tables, and the help setting them up in the wind and rain and bitter cold on the Friday morning.
I could not have pulled this together without the help of Lottie Ambridge, the sustainability assistant, who helped me with so many aspects, from workshop registrations to finding flag poles and locating chairs, as well as helping out with all the activities on Saturday.
Rachel and the LU Arts Marketing Team put in a huge amount of behind the scenes work doing the job of sharing all the festival info with the LU and wider communities around us.
Dave Bell for answering my many, many queries! and bringing along his little one to his first FR Harvest.
Everyone on the Fruit Routes Steering Group for all their help and advice, LAGS volunteers, LSU Classical and LSU Action who collected jam jar donations.
Thanks also to Janhavi Sharma, Transition Loughborough, The Bare Bones Morris Dancers and The LSU String Quartet for coming to be part of the offerings.
I was helped by two production assistants on the day, Liz and Kirty, who were so wonderful in running the lantern and bell workshops with the visitors.
The events were made possible largely with the support and expertise within the LAGS group, and I am in awe of their knowledge and skills and generosity. Special thanks to Suman, Liz and Martha for offering and running the Summer in a jar workshops.
The festival was a success because of the people who came and participated in it, so much gratitude for those that took time to engage and share in all the events, students, alumni, staff, neighbours and interlopers.
Finally I acknowledge founding artist Anne-Marie Culhane, who believed I was capable of bringing a new pair of hands to Fruit Routes and gently held mine as I brought in my first Fruit Routes Harvest.