|“Pillas”—wrote Morton Nance in 1930— “sometimes called “pill-corn” or “naked oats, […] smaller than oats and without husk, was formerly a common crop in Cornwall, but seems now to have become quite extinct.” In earlier centuries, adventurers and botanists described this intriguing grain as cultivated in abundance near Land’s End, where it thrived on marginal soils. It made a hearty porridge known as ‘pillas-gerts’ and was used to fatten pigs and calves, while thatching-rope and bonnets were woven from its fine straw. But by the mid-nineteenth century it was gone from Cornish fields.
This year—for the first time in over 150 years—pillas is being harvested in Penwith. Its remarkable survival in seedbanks has enabled ethnobotanical researcher Harriet Gendall to explore its reintroduction, in partnership with local farmers and growers.
Join us in hearing about her journey with pillas, as well as it’s forgotten history and complex entanglement with Cornish identity—including a fascinating twist involving Morrab’s very own Head Gardener William Watson (1929-1951).
Entry to the talk is by ballot – please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01736 364474 by Monday 4th September to enter. We will let you know if you have been successful or not.
We ask for a £5 donation on entry to help support the library. Refreshments will be served after the talk.