The other day we walked along the blonde, hairy kneecaps of Devil's Peak. This name is bizarre and fairly recent, the peak lying a part of Hoerikwaggo, the name that we know to exist the longest describing this flat-topped mountain that rises from the sea. This is the same space where we go to collect fennel pollen and seeds, the fallow land of District 6. We went to see if the canola seeds have set yet, canola is a type of mustard, and like mustard they give a strong kick when you eat their flowers or leaves. I call them mustard regardless, so forgive me as I flow between names.
These plants have been in flower for weeks and weeks. Mustard time is expansive because of this long, prolific flowering. We know this is true because they're still in flower, no seeds set just yet. Some of the plants are already in seed further down in Woodstock, out of the cracks in the concrete along the urban mess margin, where dogs and people may pee. Those are not good foraging fodder, too many contaminants and pollutants, and besides, they're doing important duty of gently degrading the built environment.
If you're around these parts you may notice the colourscape from late winter into early autumn is strong on the yellow. A strange yellow seasonal flowering guild, all weed-like and blown in, all edible and all abundant. The season sparks the sweetest butter yellow which look neon from afar, this transforms into the light yellow-green seedpods, just as fennel flowers come into season with their bright sulphurous yellow - beautiful umbels of sticky sticky sticky sweet AF fennel flowers.
All the yellows in swathing bands across those rocky kneecaps. This takes a few months to roll out and I have come to love that change. From soft and kak strong, to bright and sweet. And all in District 6.
Mustard is wasabi hot, kick you in the chest with it's pungency but quickly dissipating and disappearing, the reason we see it as a spice. Cooking with it denatures it but burning it releases a smoke which will choke you easily. So unassuming is this plant in that way, such delicate flowers typical of the family, like rocket flowers or broccoli flowers. Soft and thin. They get called Cruciferous because of the cross of their flowers which makes me think this name is recent in how long the plants have been cultivated.
I live here and have grown up here, as did my parents and have seen this landscape change over the decades. You cannot miss this part of the city if you have to travel into town. This city glorifies its wealth and tries to hide all that threatens this. Of course this is true for so many cities and has been happening for hundreds of years, I guess it's just so shocking that it is still happening, that the system is well crafted to have lasted so many hundreds of years and generations. Neoliberalism is but the latest chapter in a well-designed system of concentration of capital, as Firoze Manji calls it, the "maturation of Imperialism". Imperialism put on his suit and tie and figured out how to make the poor not only undesirable but also undeserving. Gentrification makes sense in this paradigm, it is very profitable for government in the short-term.
Around this area there are neighbours being pushed out to make way for "development" (parking buildings) and neighbours being pushed out to correct the incorrectness of social housing, making way for real deal "market-related rentals" with these glorious vista's of the ocean at the drop of the mountain. The land behind where all this mustard grows has a really high market-value, of course because of this location and proximity to the mountain. Land in Capitalisma is owned, like there are actual deeds assigned to actual grids of ground. This particular District 6 land is particularly vulnerable to development as we see more than half of the original demolished areas being developed, at the moment the University that is within the land is constructing.
It's funny because this mustard canola we're surrounded by comes in from the canola fields that surround the district, cropped in when the wheat is out. The vast monocultures of the Swartland and beyond have made their mark nestled deep in the city. A cunning canola subterfuge.
Yesterday we went up the west coast in search of things to search for. Amongst our AP Forage Finds we collected some of this canola mustard seed, it seems they're seeding further up north. So sweet they are in their immature seed stage, juicy and bumpy, tiny seeds pushed out by your teeth and rolling through your lips. A gentle reminder that mustards are not all about bitterness or piercing heat, but there's a softness and sweeties in their sap too. After a misty morning or on a sunny day after the rain, the sap sits sweet, drunk up by insects catching sips on their long journeys.
There's this sweetness I'm beginning to understand, even in the strong bitterness of mustards. Amongst the roots of the mustard in District 6 are the foundations of houses, and all the leafy dresses are expanding and making food out of the sun. Here we have a section of a whole suburb razed to the ground and the mustard and fennel breaking through into the earth, drawing up a lot of the life that exists beneath, pulling it above ground. The processes of cycling - of water and nutrient and microbe and and and, all this movement is in a process of healing and it's happening on a level that we don't understand or are immediately aware of. Mustard time is slow as it steadily breaks down the concrete.
A Recipe Ode to Crucifer
"The Weak or The Strong, Who Got It Goin' On? You're Dead Wrong"
- Dry Canola flowers collected after a rain
- Wild Sumac seeds (Searsia crenata and cousins - they're beginning to set all over the peninsula at the moment) in equal parts to the flowers above
- Suurings, aka Oxalis leaves in full glory this season - just less than the volume of flowers
- Olive Oil
- Salt harvested from the sea
Chop up the flowers and Oxalis leaves quite fine and cover with olive oil.
Grind up the Searsia berries (wild sumac seeds) and add them to the oily flowers and leaves. Add a pinch of sea salt. Hey presto, you got yourself a pesto-ey raw relish!