Bay and rosemary Ale

This reicpe and 100 others can be found in Booze for free by Me (Andy Hamilton).  

Bay and rosemary Ale

Of all the malt extract brews I have made this ale has to be one of the finest. I was asked Bay and rosemary Ale with a gnometo supply a local herbalist with a barrel for the opening party at his shop and the general verdict was that this was made with ginger due to the heat created by the bay. It is said that bay can give a slight narcotic effect and therefore this ale generally helps parties go with a bit of swing.

Ingredients

1kg /2lb of Malt Extract
10 large rosemary sprigs
20 bay leaves
500g /1 lb Sugar
250g Golden Syrup (or honey)
Packet Ale yeast
13 litres/3 gallons of water
2 tablespoons of golden syrup for priming

Equipment

Large saucepan/Cauldron
Fermentation Bin

Method

Bring 7 litres of water to the boil and add the malt extract, then strip the rosemary and bay leaves into the water and keep boiling for 30 mins. Remove from heat and stir in the sugar until full dissolved.

Strain the liquid into a fermentation bin.

Pour over 6 litres of cold water and ensuring room temperature has been reached,  pitch the yeast. The gravity (if using a hydrometer) should be roughly 1030. Leave for about 4-14 days to ferment.

Siphon into keg or bottles using two tablespoons of golden syrup as a primer or if using bottles then use one teaspoon per bottle. Sugar can also be used. If you can try and leave for at least 2 weeks after bottling.

 

Eating the Dead

Eating the Dead – Foraging Edinburghs Graveyards

Andy Hamilton and a gravestone with booze in hand

Andy and Grave

With its abundance of green spaces Edinburgh’s wild food larder is pretty impressive –  just a short and welcome step away from the heaving main streets, street performers and countless flyer off-loaders during the fringe, and into the hidden gardens, graveyards and hills to find all sorts of edibles fit for any table. What’s more, this food is available for everyone and at a price we can all afford at a credit-crunching nothing.

To start my forage I got a train which pulled into Edinburgh Waverly Station. One thing struck me about this Southern/Northern town  (Southern for the Scots and Northern for the English): it could be renamed Rosebay willow town for the amount of this herb scattered all over the city.

Rosebay willow herb’s seeds are distributed by the wind and as trains supply a regular amount of the stuff the seeds are blown from here toPenzance.  A quick trip up the Scots monument also reaffirms the notion that even without trains Edinburgh has more than its fair share of wind thus further spreading this plant’s seed.

The dried leaves of Rosebay Willow Herb can be used as a tobacco substitute, but having quit smoking a few months back it’s not one I really intend to try. I have, however, tried an infusion made from the leaves, which is supposed to help asthmatics and it is somewhat agreeable, although as with most herb ‘teas’ it’s helped with a little honey.

Wandering into one of the graveyards off the High Street I contemplated the fate of Robert Fergusson, one of the greatest but least recognised Scottish poets, as I munched into some freshly picked cherries. I also contemplated as to whether the roots of the cherry really did enter into his coffin and hoped that I could absorb at least part of his genius without ending up in the old Darien House (Mental Asylum) as he did.

Staying with a slightly morbid theme, it is certainly noteworthy that graveyards are some of the best places to forage for wild foods and generally the older the better. Unlike parks and other public areas they are often unmanaged (although I am not saying the ones in Edinburgh are), and moreover they are protected areas that not many people visit and thus a wild food haven.  However, if a grave or crypt does have something growing on it that does look managed and is less than 50 years old perhaps best to leave it alone than to munch on to save offence – how would you like to see someone munching around a loved one’s grave?

I digress. In just a brief walk around one of the more famous graveyards I found Rosemary, Rosehips, clover, common plantain, marjoram, lime trees and mallow to name just a few of the more easily recognisable wild foods.

There is more to Edinburgh than eating the dead and so I headed off back to Waverly station to check out the ocean’s larder. Well I also had an ulterior motive; I had seen the Forth rail bridge being painted on Blue Peter when I was a child and it had so impressed me that I needed no real excuse to go and see it up close.  I found a little ‘beach’ under the bridge on the North Queensferry side and started to look for food. I was amazed to find a lobster claw almost immediately, but without having a lobster pot on me or indeed having enough time to leave it there overnight, the lobster was the one that got away.

In fact the crab that ran over my boot also got away so did the oysters, snails and mussels and rabbits that I saw whilst in North Queensferry.  I like to know how to live off some of the wild animals and marine life but it does not necessarily mean that I will go around killing and eating them. Indeed I know that if you throw a rock in the air with a bit of food around it a passing seagull will swoop down, eat it and the change in weight will bring him down for you lunch. I also know that you can eat slugs and worms if you starve them for a couple of days – who knows, it might be things like this that will save my life one day but let’s hope that it not too soon.

I prefer to stick to food without a pulse when foraging especially when I am with my vegetarian girlfriend and of course as on any seafront there was food aplenty, namely seaweed in which this beach was covered. Most sea weeds are edible but remember to ensure there is still some left next year: seaweed should only be cut up to twice a year leaving the roots attached to rocks. The most common you will find, and here being no exception, is Bladder Wrack which can be washed and simmered then served up with your Sunday roast. Seriously don’t knock it until you have tried it.

What amazed me more than the obvious seaweed was that around the edges of the beech I found some Good King Henry, a plant I normally associate with dung-heaps on farmyards. This bronze age staple food can be bought into the hear and now by cooking it like spinach and mixing it with Chinese food as it goes really well with a little Soya sauce to take away the slightly astringent after taste.

I try to always have one wild food that I endeavour to discover each week. Finding this is the way to build up your knowledge of plants. This time it was to be Sea Holly, a plant that I found but won’t tell you where for reasons that are about to become obvious. It is a beautiful thistle that, just like me, has suffered for its beauty (ahem), insofar as it is picked for vases across the country before being allowed to set its seed. The wild food novice should take heed here and remember to pick responsibly, so that all of Edinburgh’s bounty doesn’t go the way of what could have been such sweet road kill, the Muskrat, Pika or Artic Lemming.

I once told by a fellow writer to never delete anything, in fact this was back in the 1990’s when neither of us had a computer. On this advice I kept reams of paper, which still sit in my loft. Luckily, these days most hard drives will hold at least 1 billion words so not deleting anything is very easy. I digress, the below was orginally written for a Scottish Newspaper, it didn’t make the cut so I saved it and two years later got paid for placing it in a British Magazine. Perfect!

 

Why I love foraging, Autumnwatch video clip and Ethical consumer article

Why I love foraging

Whenever I start my foraging walks I always ask the group if they have any prior knowledge of wild food. They often (as a group) look sheepishly down to the ground in a collective muttering of, “no”.

“What about wild blackberry or apple picking”, I always ask. The whole group transforms to a collective mummer of yeses as I announce that these are wild foods and therefore they have all indeed been foraging. Stories then start to spill out from this group of foragers about childhood Easter holidays spent on farms picking wild garlic, ora about fathers who would munch on wayside plants as they walked around the fells.

This perhaps why I get really annoyed when people dismissingly call foraging a middle class pass time, not because I hate the middle classes (I was bought up as one, albeit lower middle class); but because foraging is one of the most classless and inclusive activities going. You don’t need any special equipment, it can be done almost anywhere and by its very nature it’s totally free. I have taken groups of inner city single mothers out foraging, groups of office workers, Doctors, scientists, students and children. All equally enjoy learning and eating our landscape as much as each other. Our ancestors were all hunter GATHERERS, they were indeed all foragers. I might not have to check the history books to be pretty certain that we didn’t have a class structure 20 000 years ago.

On a personal level I want more people to forage so they can share the joy I have watching the seasons slowly unfold into a picnic full of flavours. Think of the exhilaration you feel after the wind has whipped you up a craggy path to the top of one of our great hills or mountains, or how a summers afternoon on Cornish beach can reenergize you for months after or even just how walking the dog cheers you up. This is how I feel daily when I go out picking food. It’s as much about what I am feeling as what I am eating, even in the rain, the feeling is happiness.

I think it is the interaction with the outside world that I enjoy, not just passively walking around a well trodden path with 40 other people having driven there on a Saturday afternoon but really getting to know an area and all its plants. These joys can be had by all, even if you are only picking blackberries!

Fruit and Vegetable Gardening – Getting started

The following article first appeared in Ethical Living magazine. When I wrote the following Ethical Living magazine was a physical magazine. As with other Ethical magazines they have chosen to make the bold move to online only.  When I wrote this article it was after an email exchange with Kim Marks the editor. She told me that she wanted to get into vegetable gardening but lacked the experience. So, I wrote the following and subsequent articles in this series with her in mind. It was a good way to focus the mind on who the reader was going to be. I might, if I feel brave enough post some articles where I didn’t do that.

Fruit and Vegetable Gardening – Getting started

My allotmentA common misconception about growing your own produce is that it is somehow difficult. The truth is that nothing can be easier. Humans have been growing produce for thousands of years without the aid of complicated equipment or books (or this magazine).

Equipment needed

This depends on the size of your plot. If you are growing in a window box then, other than a watering can, you won’t need much else, as you can weed with your fingers and the soil won’t really need digging. Moving up to a small bed in the garden I would suggest a spade, a fork, the before mentioned watering can and a hand fork for light weeding are all that’s needed.

If you are considering a larger plot or an allotment then you will need many more tools. A rake, fork, spade, hoe, hand fork, trowel, large watering can or hose, water butt and compost bin are all advisable – although you could get by just using a spade and fork. Before you start to panic at the thought of all of this cost may I suggest that the compost bin can be made (see next issue) or you can just pile up your compost into a heap. Other tools can be borrowed from friends or from sites set up for tool sharing schemes such as www.justfortheloveofit.org (The freeconomy website), or can be gotten for free on freecycle.org

Some of my tools came from a handy garden centre in Bath that sells second hand tools rather cheaply, so keep your eyes open for places near you. Remember too that cheap new tools are a false economy as they will break within the first season.

How much space do I need

I have seen wheat, mustard and even tomatoes growing in the cracks of a pavement. Helpfully illustrating that plants will try and grow wherever they can. I am not suggesting you turn your street into a vegetable patch (although wouldn’t it be great if we all could), I am saying that if you think you have hardly any space, think again.

Even if you live in a small flat you can still grow fruit and vegetable in pots. I have grown tomatoes in a bucket in my living room. A good friend of mine has also grown all the herbs she needed on her one windowsill in her bedsit. Another friend grew blueberries on the flat part of the roof of his London flat. The roof was no bigger than the average dinning room table!

Basically a plant needs room for its roots to take up as much moisture and as many nutrients as it needs. Generally speaking, the bigger the plant the more root space it will need. So, fairly obviously, the more you want to grow the more space you will need.

How much to take on

One of the best bits of advice I can give to anyone when getting started is not to take on too much in one go. If you think you can turn a full allotment plot or (average 250 sq meters) or a huge back garden by yourself. keep a family and a full time job you might need to think again. I would have thought most people could manage it for the first season but as with university drop out rates it seems to be the second year that most people give up. Although if you take on half a plot at first or better still try taking on the plot with a friend or partner then you stand a better chance of cultivating the plot.

What to grow

Tomatilo

Tomatillo growing in a pot in my back yard

A very obvious bit of advice is only to grow things that you like and will eat. I was once talking to someone who was really excited as he had, “tons of radishes”. I asked him what he intended to do with them and he was not sure as he does not like radishes.

I too have come foul of seed excitement and once planted a whole packet of beet spinach. Beet spinach is very easy to grow and most seeds will germinate this left me with 4 rows of the stuff. I ate some every day, filled my freezer up with the stuff and gave as much away as I could. I still had more than I could ever hope to do anything with. What made matters worse is that beet spinach just keeps coming. Indeed it also goes by the name of perpetual spinach as you can pick the leaves and they keep growing back. In the end I dug up every single plant and did not plant it again for another few years, where upon I only planted 2 plants and that was plenty.

It is also worth thinking about why you are growing. If it is an attempt to save money then try growing things that cost a lot of money.

What’s easy to grow

There are some plants out there that are really easy to grow which is why many people seem to have them on their plot. Things like beetroot (and the before mentioned beet spinach), lettuces, runner beans, rocket all can be pretty much planted from seed and as long as you water them and the slugs don’t get them they will just grow. I would also highly recommend tomatillos; not only because I love Mexican food, but also because they are very, very easy to grow and give a good yield. I grew some in pots a few years ago and was eating them almost every day! It is noteworthy to suggest that you will need more than one plant in order for them to fruit.

Fruit is another good option especially for the beginner as not much work has to be put in. Raspberries, strawberries and even an apple tree can be planted meaning you will enjoy year after year of delicious fruit.

I would also like to recommend potatoes as they can be a very easy to grow. Indeed, it is often recommended that potatoes should be the first thing that people plant on their plots. This mainly because the soil gets moved when growing spuds as they need earthing up (a process that involves covering the growth to ensure larger crops). Moving the soil in this manner can help keep weeds down, leaving a workable soil the next year. Good advice, that is unless you live in the South west of England as I do; we have real trouble with blight. Blight is a disease that can destroy potatoes and tomatoes rotting them and making them inedible. Our wet summers really don’t help as rain can transfer the disease.

Enthusiasm

Above all else you need enthusiasm to grow your own produce. Be warned that it can be addictive, one you have roasted your first home grown beetroot, baked your first potato or eaten a pea straight from a pod, you won’t want to look back

Winter Foraging

twig covered in snow

Snowthing to forage here

This article was first published in Flavour magazine in January 2009.  I wasn’t getting paid for so I really went to town with trying to plug my book and forging courses. I’d suggest to any budding writers out there that working for free is only really worth while when it works as an advert for yourself or your work. Flavour let me run a small ad at the end of each article and it helped raise my profile in Bristol.

Winter foraging

This is not the sort of time of year you want to get out of the house and look for food. The winds are blustery, the ground is frozen solid and you can be hit in the face by ice cold rain. It’s no surprise then that plants feel the same and keep their heads below ground.

There are plants around and you are still able to have a bit of feed from the wild. Turn to page 229 of my book, The Selfsufficietish Bible and you will see a chart that covers the whole year – in fact it is worth noting that the foragers calendar spreads throughout the year and not just in the autumn months as many assume.

So look out for mushrooms such as, Ceps’s, Wood Blewits and Jew’s ear over the next two months. Indeed, it was during a very cold snap a few years ago that I came across my biggest haul of mushrooms. I found around 3 or 4 kilo’s of oyster mushrooms. Of course that is far too much to eat and I had to dry them.

To dry mushrooms I tend to suspend a cooling rack above one of my radiators and just leave them there until totally dry. They can also be put in the oven on a low heat. If I am using this method I tend to put them on a clean baking tray and throw them in after I have just used the oven. Otherwise you are just throwing money away!

It’s not just mushrooms that you can still find during these cold months. Yarrow grows all year round and can be used as a very refreshing tea that will also help fend off a cold. For those living near the sea the delights of sea beat can be found. As with normal spinach the young leaves can be used in a salad and the older leaves are best cooked.

A very easy beet spinach recipe.

This really is a lazy meal recipe and is very tasty, but then fried food with garlic and cheese tends to be!

Ingredients – for the batter

500 ml  milk/beer/or Sour milk
1 large egg
250g Flour
Salt and pepper

For the filling

500g Sea beet
One large onion
2 cloves of garlic
100g of a good hard cheese

Method – Pancake

Sieve the flour into a bowl . Add the egg, milk (or beer) and seasoning. Mix until there are no lumps in the batter. Leave to stand for half and hour or so in the fridge. Fry both sides and add the filling (see below)

Method – Filling

Finely chop the onions and lightly fry, adding the garlic as they onions begin to soften. Wash and chop the sea beet and add to the onions. When the sea beet has reduced, grate the cheese and add to the pancakes.

If you would rather sit with a nice cup of yarrow tea and read about wild food over these colder months you could ask Father Christmas for a copy of the Selfsufficientish Bible, priced at £20 and available from all good bookshops.

 

Netham Common, Bristol

A snow man on Netham Common

Netham Common Jan 2010

Back in 2009-2010 having worked on Selfsufficientish for 6 years I decided it was time to broaden my horizons a little. I contacted a number of magazines with various ideas. One local to Bristol (and simply called Bristol) picked up one of my ideas. Over almost a year I visited various spots around Bristol in an attempt to urge people to do the same. I intend to publish one each month as they appeared 2 years ago in the Bristol Magazine.

Netham Common

Netham common is one of the green spaces that you will only find on a map. That is unless you live nearby and walk you dog on or you play football there on a Sunday afternoon. It is tucked away in my bit of Bristol, over in the badlands (south of the M32). On one side of the park is Avonvale Road on  the other The Feeder Road canal and if you are standing on the common you can see about 3 blocks of flats.  The flats I think frame it as a cityscape, without them the park might look out of place. Almost as a squirrel without a tail or a bird with no beak.

Every time I walk on Netham Common, which is almost every day at the moment, it really fills me with a sense of hope.  In living memory the common has been a toxic dump. I spoke to one of my neighbours and he remembers when it used to be a chemical works. The Barton Hill History Group state that from 1859 to 1949 a huge chimney used to belch out smoke, casting a shadow across Barton Hill.  The massive 40 acre site must have looked like something out of post apocalyptic 1980’s drama Threads.

Netham has now changed beyond recognition and when I learnt of it’s story I found it most heart-warming. It was given back to the city in the fifties and the transformation began. Now there are native trees, squirrels and a host of birds that all call this former waste dump home. It is also a great place for foraging, with chestnut trees (if you beat the squirrels to is), sloes, elderberries, rosehips and blackberries aplenty.

It is slightly frustrating though as due to the chemicals in the soil I would not be comfortable picking the mushrooms, nettles or many of the other plants that grow on the Netham. However, it does bring hope to the rest of the city, perhaps Tesco Eastville will become a freshwater wildlife reserve, Clifton Heights a wild flower meadow and the M32 a deer park. Well here’s hoping (and day dreaming).