Elderflower syrup has replaced elderflower cordial in our house as it is so much easier to make. I made a video some time ago and wrote a piece for the Telegraph about making syrups and this really is an extension of that process. The beauty of doing them this way is that you can whip them up when you need them. I sometimes even make a syrup then add half the amount of boiling water needed to instead add a block of ice, this can cool down the syrup allowing you to use it immediately – great for those cocktail emergencies.
Elderflower, honey and Spruce tip syrup
The flavour combination here just works although I would suggest using a fairly delicate honey, if you are not confident that you can find any spruce tip or that you are not picking deadly yew tips then you can replace the spruce tips with the peel from one unwaxed lemon. The best time to pick spruce tips is across the summer months when they are at their peak, equally, elderflower is normally in bloom in the early summer.
3 fresh spruce tip sprigs
2 elderflower heads
250ml/half a cup honey (or sugar)
250ml/half a cup hot water
Pluck off the elderflowers into a mug, drop in the spruce tips. Pour the honey and hot water over the botanicals and stir. Leave to infuse for 5 mins, strain, cool then decant into a bottle. Add 10ml of vodka and it will keep for up to 6 months.
‘Andy for the summer – Chocolate Elderflower
If there are two flavours that are begging to go together it is chocolate and elderflower, add honey and spruce to the mix and you have a drink that will make you become the hero or heroine of every barbeque, cocktail party and soiree this summer.
2 parts elderflower, honey and spruce tip syrup
1 part Creme de Caco
Add the ingredients to an ice-filled cocktail shaker and shake until your hand is cold. Strain into a coupe, champagne flute or cocktail/martini glass, garnish with a sprig of spruce tip.
Rhubarb tequila was one of those infusions that I just knew would work before I even tried it. The harsh burn of tequila softened by the sour tang of the rhubarb. When I started to prepare this one I could already taste how it would turn out as the smell of rhubarb filled the room as I chopped. Even though I had to wait a week, the drink did not disappoint at all and it is rapidly becoming my drink of this summer.
As serendipity would further smile on me a friend came round for tea and the conversation moved onto cocktails. She stated that her favourite was a margarita, I stared up at the rhubarb and tequila-filled jar and immediately squeezed a few limes and made her a rhubarb margarita. We both agreed that this was absolutely sublime, not only because it was only 11 am and that felt rather naughty, but because all of the flavours just simply worked well together.
If there is a drink you are going to make this summer I strongly suggest the rhubarb tequila margarita, even if you don’t like tequila it just works!
How to make rhubarb tequila
Steer clear of the cheapest tequila when making this and keep to tequila Blanco too, anything else and there will be too much going on in your glass.
1 bottle tequila
10 stalks rhubarb (chopped)
1 Kilner jar
Fill the jar with the rhubarb, pour over the tequila and leave to infuse for one week. All of the rhubarb should be submerged, this avoids spoilage. After a week filter your lovely pink tequila back into the bottle.
Traditionally a margarita is served with salt stuck to the rim of the glass. However, I didn’t think this needed that extra touch. The salt dries your mouth, completes the drink and helps soften the tequila. With the rhubarb tequila margarita, the rhubarb does this job and thus I don’t see the need to add it. This is, of course, your call and I’d love to hear about your experiments. If you do add salt then rub the rim of the glass with a wedge of lime to wet it and then roll your glass in salt.
Add all of the ingredients to a shaker and shake with ice until cooled. Then strain into a glass.
This is the first Wild Food and Drink Podcast, a new venture that will start appearing here every month. I’ve been wanting to start some kind of audio project for a few years now and have been out with my sound recorder recording wildlife, observing changes and generally messing around. It was when I when I found myself out with my fellow Bristol based forager and very good friend Martin Bailey of goforaging.co.uk that this podcast arose.
For each Wild Food and Drink podcast we intend to go out on foraging walk together, this happens at least once every month anyway and so recording it is a natural step. Foraging is obviously a subject that you never stop learning especially considering that it covers so many different subjects, including botany, mixology, cooking and food which means that going out with someone is an invaluable way of enhancing and furthering your foraging knowledge. This is what we hope to get across with each podcast. This month we chat about uses for sumac, hawthorn and jack by the hedge and include brief descriptions of each plant. Below are a few more ideas to help whet your appetite.
This being our first wild food and drink podcast any feedback good, bad (but please be a bit tactful and kind) or indifferent will be very gratefully received.
Although out of season we discuss how to utilise including a Sumac Tom Collins recipe.
2 oz sumac syrup
To make the sumac syrup pick two ripe clusters of sumac berries and simmer gently in just over 1 cup or 300ml of water with 1 cup/250g white granulated sugar. Stirring continuously until the sugar has dissolved.
Without being too much exaggeration I can safely say that the Hawthorn has been crucial in helping to shape the world to its present state. This shrub-like tree not only fuelled the Iron age but it helped define the landscape of the UK and beyond.
Hawthorn grows slowly so unlike faster-growing trees, such as pine or ash it is dense. Indeed it is this density that helps it burn so hot, hotter than other common dense woods such as oak, apple and beech. All were used in to help smelt and forge iron ore into weapons. Some bright spark also found out that when you add a little carbon into iron whilst smelting it you can alter its structure and make it stronger than bronze. Thus the bronze age gave way to the iron age all thanks to trees.
From its early smelting days, hawthorn continued to be a plant that influenced the balance of power. In the years between 1604-1914 Britain was shaped by the Enclosures acts. These acts meant that landlords could enclose land that was once in common use and either kick out or start charging rent to those who were farming “their” land. Hawthorn and other plants such as blackthorn were the favoured choice for the hedging. If you have ever tried to climb through a hawthorn hedge you’ll understand why. The thick matt of thorns render areas impenetrable.
Hawthorn grows to 5-15m and can be about 6m wide. The bark is smooth and grey on young trees and on older trees longitudinal (top to bottom) grooves start to appear. Thorns grow from the branches at right angles and can be from 1-3cm long. The leaves, which appear in very early spring, budding sometimes in late winter are indented into 3-7 lobes reaching halfway or more to the central vein. The leaves can be of variable shape but often they are toothed towards the tip.
Hawthorn is one of the first trees to blossom in early spring and as the snow melts, days lengthen and plants start to grow and is one of the best signals to the forager that there is more food around.
It is a little more fiddly picking the blossom than the haws so do be aware, or you might get pricked! It is also advisable to collect in a paper bag as this makes it easier to dry the blossom. Once picked the bag can be hung in a warm dark place, such as a stationary cupboard, for a couple of months. They can then be used to make delicious teas.
The bitter may queen
The bitter may queen acts very much like the start of spring at first it is intensely bitter. Almost too bitter for words, then this wears off leaving a flood of chocolate Turkish delight coating across the whole of the mouth. Those with an addictive nature so steer clear!
1 part Haw blossom brandy
1 part Campari
1 part Creme de cacao
Orange or chocolate bitters
Build in a glass over ice add the bitters to taste depending on which flavour you wish to enhance – orange for Campari and Chocolate bitters for the Creme de cacao.
Blackthorn Prunus spinosa– leaves
At this time of year (spring) we use blackthorn mainly for the leaves and the drink Epine. You may also know blackthorn as sloe or wild plum.
Epine derives from the French meaning “thorn”, but it is the leaves of the blackthorn (or sloe), that are needed to make this luxurious drink. Brandy can be swapped for rum or even whisky for those who are up for a touch of experimentation. Rich and fruity full bodied wines work well, elderberry, blackberry or a Shiraz or a Malbec.
Makes: 1 litre
Takes: 30 mins plus infusing time
Keeps: 1 year
Ingredients: 1 cup/a 250ml container loosely filled with blackthorn leaves
1 x 75cl bottle of Red wine
150g brown sugar
Add the blackthorn leaves to a sterilised 1-litre jar.
Pour the wine into a jug a vigorously stir in the sugar until fully dissolved.
Pour the sugared wine and brandy into the jar.
Seal and leave for two weeks in a cupboard or a cool dark place.
Filter into a one-litre bottle and seal, ensuring that the bottles stay as airtight as possible.
jack by the hedge aka garlic mustard
Brewer’s hint – If you are not sure about how well sealed your bottles are then you can use electrical tape as many mixologists do when bottle ageing cocktails.
Jack by the hedge
In the wild food and drink podcast we discuss some of our favourite culinary uses.
Thank your for downloading the wild food and drink podcast, we hope to be coming in your ears again very soon.
When we eat out we have come to expect a certain kind of aesthetic but we don’t know how to get the aesthetics right for serving drinks. Tiny details from the plates used to the choice of cutlery and even the serviette will have been agonised over. Indeed, the whole experience can sometimes even go a little too wanky (British English. indulgent, pretentious, showy and useless). We don’t blink if you chips/fries are served in a plant pot or your stake comes to you on a piece of slate it’s a far cry from the days of Chicken in a basket.
The same cannot be said about what we drink out of, it can be a completely overlooked aspect of the experience of eating or drinking out. The worst I’ve experienced is tea served in a chipped cup that smelt, pilsners served in hot glasses straight out of the dishwasher and wine served in a plastic beaker – even cocktails served “naked”, that is with no garnish can sometimes just look wrong. I know I’m in danger of sounding like a fussy bastard, but there should be as much effort in how you’re serving your drinks as how you serve your food.
Getting the aesthetics right for serving drinks – learning the hard way.
I’m not immune to making some of the worst mistakes myself, consider the first few times I made vermouth. I was concentrating on how it might have been made originally and so I obsessed about these details rather than how it looked. I made the caramel from very dark, unrefined sugar loaves that I’d picked up from a Mexican market. This was mistake number one, the next mistake was how it was served, I poured it from a half filled two-litre green plastic bottle with the part of the old fizzy water label still hanging off, the third and final mistake was to serve it in mismatching plastic camping mugs. I thought it tasted very good, but I admit it did look like pond water.
Unsurprisingly, no one particularly cared for it. At the same time, I noticed how deep red and clear looking drinks served up good-looking glass bottles into clear mock crystal glass were being lapped up. I quickly switched what I was making and started using white sugar to make the caramel. My vermouth became crystal clear with a hint of red, some would say perhaps even slightly pink. I served this from a glass bottle and put an old style label on it. Suddenly, everyone wanted some even though it was essentially the same drink.
I now urge anyone I consult with to get this aspect of their business right first and foremost, I also serve up all of my drinks on booze walks and during cocktail evenings from glass bottles with flip top lids and neatly drawn luggage tags tied dangling down from the metal fastener whilst also ensuring the glassware matches. If available, I also add a carefully crafted garnish. Murky drinks don’t get a look in, nor does cheap looking plastic.
The Science behind getting the aesthetics right for serving drinks
It has been long documented that visual cues are known to be a very powerful cue in how we taste. A very well-known and much-repeated experiment has been to give wine tasters a white wine that was flavoured with red food colouring. It was recreated by TV host Stephan Gates and he gave members of a London wine club Pinot Gris coloured to look like a pale, red wine. They all thought they were drinking red wine and when he revealed to them what they were actually drinking it was met with shock and surprise.
A rather more scholarly test was conducted in a joint study between Oxford University and the Polytechnic University of Valencia. They gave 57 volunteers identical hot chocolate in four different cups coloured orange, white, red and cream. After drinking they were asked to rate it on a sliding scale for sweetness, aroma, enjoyment and sweetness. Orange and cream cups won out on flavour and white cups scored the lowest.
It is perhaps not unsurprising that the look of a drink can drastically alter our taste when we consider that the retina is actually an outgrowth of the brain and that around 30% of our neurones are devoted to visual processing. Indeed, it is now believed that our eyes are so powerful that we can detect a single photon of light in an otherwise darkened room. Like it or not, we are an aesthetically driven species.
What does this mean for a practical use for bartenders, restaurant owners and those serving drinks all day in a cafe or even for those serving drinks at home? It’s quite simple really, it really means that you shouldn’t underestimate how much your cups and glasses say about their contents. Even if your customers are not as fussy as I am they will be making assumptions about what you have served them on an unconscious level. Perhaps it is time to ditch the polystyrene cups and you may need to start serving your chicken in a basket in a hand weaved willow whip basket rather than a plastic one. Perhaps it’s time for you to embrace the wanky?
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