Vino Hedgio – Foraged Wine

I’ve had a few email’s about my appearance on The Alan Titchmarsh show on 28th September. They all ask for the Vino Hedgio recipe and as I like to please, here it is. It was the one that Jilly Goolden and Alan really liked.


Andy Hamilton in a hat

Andy Hamilton man about the forest

Don’t get too het up about what you use in this recipe, if you can’t get all the ingredients. When researching my book (Booze for Free) I made many variations and as long as you use some elderberries and either grapes, raisins or half a cup of tea for the tannin then this wine always yields great results.


1kg Elderberries
300g Sloes
1 bunch grapes
1 orange
1 lemon
1 overripe banana
2 Apples quartered
3.5 litres of water
1.5kg Sugar

Port style wine yeast


Using a fork remove all destalk all the elderberries and place in a freezer overnight with the grapes and sloes. This helps to break down the skins of the fruit allowing for the flavours to be released. Also the night before make a yeast starter by adding the packet to warm water and a teaspoon of sugar

Put the water onto boil. Peel the citrus fruit and banana. Place in a sterilized fermentation bin along with all the thawed fruit and the apples, add sugar. Pour boiling water over, stir until sugar has dissolved. Leave to stand until the water cools. Then add the yeast starter and leave covered with a tea towel for three days.

Strain through a piece of muslin cloth (or an old ironed t-shirt) into a demijohn attaching an airlock with a drop of water in it. After a few days when the fermentation process has calmed down a bit, top up with water that has been boiled then cooled.

Rack after a month then bottle after about three when fully fermented. This wine benefits from at least a year aging if you can wait that long!

Andy Hamilton is a foraging and homebrew expert and the Author of Booze for Free, published by Eden Project Books and priced £9.99.. or cheaper on line…

What to do with the left over sloes from sloe gin

What to do with left over sloes from Sloe Gin

I once had a demijohn full of sloes just sitting up on a shelf, I forgot about it for months or perhaps even (2) years. The sloes were perfectly preserved in the gin. They didn’t even attract any files even during some of the hottest months of the Summer. But the sloe’s days were numbered as when I was moving house and in all the kerfuffle I found it easier to compost them. I now wonder if whoever inherited my compost heap might still have them (not that I want them back).

sloe gin

left over sloes and some sloe gin

It’s always a pain whenever you make booze to know what to do with the leftovers. One of the best things to do is make more booze. I’ve managed to make two lots of sloe gin from the same sloes, I just left them for a couple of months longer. I have heard it suggst that sloe whiskey is much better if using the second flush.

But then what, what can you do with left over sloes from sloe gin? If only I’d come across people like John Lewis-Stempel Author of Foraging back then who has suggested this sloe chocolate delight.

Sloe Chocolates

This might be fiddly but boozy chocolate is always worth the faff.


Leftover sloes from sloe gin
A big bar or two of dark chocolate


Cut out the stones from the sloes and melt the chocolate. Stir in the bits of sloe flesh and mix thoroughly. Pour onto a greaseproof paper lined baking tray, the mixture should be about 2cm thick.

Chill. Then cut into squares and serve with a smug grin (optional).

Slider (sloe cider)

For this you need real cider not the stuff that is drunk in the mornings in local parks across the country by men with red faces. And a note to you Americans I mean hard cider, the alcoholic stuff and not apple juice.


500ml/1 pint Used sloes
2 litres/4 pints/2 quarts Cider


Put the sloes in a demijohn top up with cider. Add the airlock and bung and leave for a couple of months before straining into bottles.

Rumour has it you can also do the same with sherry or port!

Left overs Sloes from Rapidly infused sloe Gin

I’ve recently been experimenting with an N02 infusor and have found it makes excellent sloe gin. One of the real big plus points too is that it infuses the sloes themselves with gin and sugar. The tart flavour dissapears totally and they taste all ginny and delicous, served with a dollop of ice cream they make an excellent afters.

Two Sloe Recipes that don’t involve Gin!

Dried plums

Dried Plums

Sloe Recipes

There is more to sloes than sloe gin as sloe wine is always worth a go (Booze for Free p275)! But the ancestors to our native plum must have been a source of food for the ancestors of the native us. I’ve searched far and wide for a couple of unusual recipe and here is what I can up with.

I’ve adapted this from Roger Phillips fantastic book on Wild food. He uses apples, a mixture of cookers and eaters. I’ve found good results from using wild pears.

Salted Sloes (Umeboshi style)

In Japan there is a very popular dish called Umeboshi it’s a dish that uses the native Ume plum. It’s a very simple dish to make as its just salt and plums although you do have to be patient as it takes about a year. Unlike Umeboshi the sloes have to be preserved in brine, just salt results in leathery plum stones.

The following recipe has been slightly adapted from Charlotte O’neil’s site. I have to admit that I have yet to taste the results. Come back next year and we can compare notes!




Pick sloes and rinse thoroughly in water, carefully removing the stems.  Fill a steralized kilner jar with sloes and cover with brine, the brine is made by adding 1tsp salt to every 500ml of water used. Ensure the jar is filled to the top, seal and return to it in a year. As I’ve said, I’m doing the same and I’ll let you know how I get on!

Sloe and pear Cheese

1.2kg (3lb) pears
500ml (half pint) water
900g (2lbs) sloes


Wash the fruit and cut up the pears (or apples if using). Stew with the water for as long as it takes to get them all mushy adding the sloes right at the end.

Push through a sieve and then weigh the resulting puree.  You’ll need the same weight in sugar as you get puree (if you get 500g then add 500g of sugar).  When you have worked out your mush/sugar ratio stir it in over a low heat until fully dissolved.

Bring to the boil then simmer for about 1 hour or until the mixture is thick, it will need to be stirred a fair bit. Pour into sterilized jars and seal.

Roger suggests that this goes well with cold meat and game and I quite agree!


Sloe Gin and the Shameful history of Britain

Sloes by Roy


Imagine the first ever sloe gin ever made and you might picture a chocolate box Tudor Britain. Perhaps a pastoral scene an adorable old lady returning home with a wicker shopping basket full to bursting of sloes, carving off a sugar from a sugar-loaf and mixing it all with a spot of gin in a massive earthenware pot whilst her herbs dry and carefree children play amongst the fallen leaves.  It’s the sort of image that sells Britain to the world, a charming timeless autumnal event.

However, looking at sloe gin’s history it may not be the twee, country drink it first appears to be. The existence of every ingredient in sloe gin involves some of the most shameful aspects of British History.

There is good reason that it is difficult to find a source that mentions sloe gin before late into the 18th Century as the three principal ingredients were not in abundance until Britain started to flex its muscles both internally and abroad. Gin itself took off in a big way in the UK during the early part of the 18th Century after the government did two things, they put a heavy-duty on imported spirits and allowed unlicensed gin production. This helped start the so-called “Gin Craze”, famed in Hogarth’s Gin alley hogarthGin Alley engraving. Londoners on average were supposedly drinking up to 14 gallons of gin a year, that’s the equivalent to 10 shots a day for every man, woman and child! More often than not this gin would have been very low-grade home distilled stuff. I’ve tried various “moonshines” made in a similar way and all could have done with something to temper the hint of paint stripper.

I’m sure the more discerning gin drinkers would have been looking for something to disguise the taste and there was one chief ingredient in abundance. At the time the slave trade was in full swing and Britain was forcing Africans to work on plantations in the West Indies in order to produce cheaper and cheaper sugar. This meant that sugar consumption increased fivefold from 1710 to 1770. Thanks to the slave trade the price came down and this once rare commodity could even be used by the lowly farmers wife in her tea.

It wasn’t just the sugar that would have been in abundance but the last principal ingredient of sloe gin, sloes! During the 18th century Britain had seen 500 years of inclosure (enclosure) acts. But is wasn’t until 1750-1860, when Britain had an ever-increasing population to feed that thousands of people were kicked off common land so that the ruling elite could profit from it (sound familiar?)

The land that was being enclosed was previously open fields and so thousands of bushes were needed to mark the edges of fields.  Preferably too bushes with an inbuilt defence namely, hawthorn and blackthorn. Of course the fruit of the blackthorn is the sloe this meant all of a sudden there was an abundance of the tart little fruits.

Next time you sit back and drink a glass of sloe gin try to think of the golden age of Britain remember that it would never have got here if it were not for the toil and displacement of countless slaves and the taking away of the homes and livelihoods of our country folk. Essentially sloe gin stands for all that is wrong with England rather than all that is right.

We can’t change our shameful past but we can make a conscious effort to treat the people of the world and the countryside a little better. We can give money to the Woodland trust to ensure that Blackthorn is planted not to keep the common folk off the land but to help our native wildlife, we can buy Fairtrade sugar and ensure a better life for the modern sugar cane farmers and we can even buy organic gin supporting a better practice of farming. In short we can ensure that our modern sloe gin is the product of a better world and not an exploitative one.

Sloe Gin Recipe

Sloes by Roy


Sloes grow on the blackthorn bush (Prunus spinosa)which are not only very common throughout Europe but can be found on all of the non-frozen continents of the Earth.

I have heard it suggested that you should beat the blackthorn to get the sloes. To do this you need to put a sheet under the bush and beat with a large stick. Then simply wrap up the sheet and walk away with your bounty. I prefer to be a lot more zen than this and individually pick each sloe. I find that listening to Radio 4’s Woman’s hour whilst picking fruit one of life simplest and greatest pleasures.

Questions always arise about the first frost, should only gin be used and which sugar to use. So in turn, the first frost thing is irrelevant now that we have freezers as you can just bung the fruit in there and the frosting and defrosting action will help sweeten the fruit. You don’t have to use just gin, in fact any strong spirit will work. I have experimented with rum, vodka and whiskey and each have worked equally as well. One of my Twitter followers (@dogcatchicken) is going to try Sloe Tequila, I look forward to hearing from him how that turns out, there is no reason why it shouldn’t work! Finally, any sugar can be used as long as it is Fairtrade (see why) but if you are using darker sugars they can discolour the sloe gin, I tend to stick to unrefined granulated.

To make sloe gin

Everyone seems to have a slightly differing approach to sloe gin and I’m no different.


750ml/1.5 pints gin
340g/12oz Fairtrade Sugar
500g/1lb sloes or a mix of sloes and damsons
1 vanilla pod (optional)


Large sealable jar


Wash the sloes (and damsons) and place in the freezer, many still suggest that you should prick each one and Nigel Slater (one of the greatest food writers in the UK) even suggests that you should use a silver pin! It’s really up to you and if you like the meditative nature of this approach prick away. Personally I like to put a bag in the freezer overnight and then let them thaw (repeating if necessary) this approach is a lazy but simple approach to bursting the skins.

Once you have your sloes with split skins place into a large jar along with the vanilla pod (if using) and cover with sugar. Top up with gin and shake, occasionally returning to the jar to shake it again. Keep up this routine for the next 3 months. Alternatively, you can boil 200ml of water and stir in the sugar then use that but this waters down the final product.

Strain into clean bottles; it can be drank straight away but it will mellow with age so is best left for as long as you can manage. My advice is to make as much as humanly possible each year so it is impossible to drink it all, that way you should always have a bottle of vintage stashed away. I have some from 4 years ago now and its delicious, but this is only because I made so much booze when I wrote Booze for Free that I forgot about it!

Himalayan Balsam, eating invasive plants -The Lunchbreak forager

Himalayan Balsam - Invasive species

Himalayan Balsam – Invasive species

If I was to mention Policeman’s helmet,  Bobby Tops, Copper Tops,  Gnome’s Hatstand, Kiss me on the mountain and Impatiens glandulifera or Himalayan Balsam I’d be talking about the same plant. For a plant that only reached the UK in 1839 it has rather a lot of names, perhaps partly due to its invasive nature. Himalayan Balsam might not be the most invasive plant (that prize goes to Japanese Knotweed), but it certainly is one of the most invasive plants that we have you just have to come across a patch of the stuff to realise that.

So why is Himalayan Balsam such a menace? Well each plant can produce up to 800 seeds and each of these seeds is capable of being shot up to 7 meters (22ft) away. Imagine sowing 800 seeds across 7 meters of land, then the next year 800 plants sowing 800 seeds across 7 meters of land. Often too the plants will take root along river banks and I’ve seen Himalayan Balsam growing at the top of a river system one year only to find it growing all along the system over the next few years.

The happiest control of these plants is to eat them, I do find it fascinating that so many of our troublesome plants can be eaten.

Himalayan Balsam can be found growing almost anywhere it likes, but in practice more often than not this means close to rivers and on the edges of woodlands.

Pan fried Burdock and Balsam balls on a wild salad with a Corsican pine needle dressing

The addition of burdock gives this dish super-food status. Burdock has been used for centuries as a key herbal medicine. A study by Farnsworth Kiansu suggests that burdock even has anti-tumour properties.

Ingredients – for the balls

80g burdock root (grated)
1 tablespoon Himalayan balsam seed (crushed)
1 egg (beaten)
100g white flour (sifted)
1 tablespoon water
Oil for frying


Place all the ingredients bar the flour and water into a mixing bowl. Slowly add the flour mixing all the time until the mixture begins to stiffen.  Kneed and add the water. Roll into balls and fry for a couple of minutes or until golden and crispy.

For the wild salad

Pick any wild edible leaves and flowers you can get your hands on and chop them into ribbons; this might include – Dandelion, yarrow, mustard, jack by the hedge, nasturtiums leaves and flowers, red clover flowers, evening primrose flowers and daisy leaves and flowers.

The leaves that can taste slightly more bitter such as dandelion, yarrow, daisy and even jack by the hedge should kept at a 10:1 leaf ratio or the salad will be over powered.

For the Corsican pine needle dressing

I keep this vinegar in a balsamic vinegar bottle at home and when guests come and eat I leave it amongst the other condiments on the table, they are always shocked when I tell them it is made from pine needles.


A handful of fresh green Corsican pine needles
500ml cheap white vinegar


Place the pine needles into a clean jam jar and top up with vinegar. Seal tightly and leave inside a cupboard for 2-3 months. Filter out the vinegar into an empty balsamic vinegar bottle and serve to unsuspecting friends.

Himalayan Balsam seed falafel

This quick and easy recipe is a twist on the original falafel recipe, but equally as tasty and perhaps a nice unusual one to serve up at dinner parties.


1 tsp Cumin seeds
1 tsp Coriander seeds
1 can of chickpeas- drained
1 cup of Himalayan balsam seeds
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp wholemeal flour
1 carrot finely grated with the moisture squeezed out
1 chilli finely chopped
1 tbsp chopped fresh coriander
1 garlic clove, crushed
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
1 lemon zest only
Rape seed oil for frying


Toast the cumin and coriander seeds in a dry frying pan for 1 min then mash in your pestle and mortar or give a quick whizz using the seed bit of your blender/food processor. Blend the rest of the other ingredients. Roll into balls about the half the size of rats head. Heat about 1cm/half an inch of oil in a large frying pan and roll your balls about until browned. Put onto kitchen paper and then serve in a pitta bread.

Lunchbreak forager – Plums and some quick and easy plum recipes

Lunchbreak forager– Plums

damsons on a plum tree

damsons on a plum tree

Juicy Victoria plums, or wild sweet purple damsons and greengages; plums have to be up there as one the greatest foraged foods (and plum wine is a great wine too). A heavy branch of damson hangs over my back lane and the plums are rich for the picking, although in doing so I am breaking the law here in the UK. UK law states that fruit on an overhanging branch (from a tree, not a bush or shrub) is the property of the land owner. Apparently, you should offer the fruit back to the owner. But this is just fruit growing in gardens, what of the law of the land with regards foraging on other land both here and stateside?

UK plum law and hedgerow foraging

I once had a letter from an angry landowner who suggested by talking about foraging I was advocating stealing. The law on hedgerow picking suggests that anyone can pick as long as it is not for commercial gain. That is not to say that you shouldn’t be courteous, don’t over pick one area (which also leaves some for the birds) and stay on public footpaths/areas. Most landowners are happy to have you pick but like apples you should always be wary of the odd crabby one!

Foraging plums and other fruit in the USA

There are some American state laws that prohibit foraging in certain areas so check  before foraging in municipal parks and other state owned areas. Mind you Steve Brill was arrested in Central Park before being employed by them, it was enough to be the making of him. Also, if you can it is best practice to always ask permission before foraging on someone’s land.

What to do with your plums – Quick Plum recipes

If you have managed to outwit a judge and have gotten away with a big haul of plums then you are going to want do something with them on your lunch break. The obvious choice would be just to stuff your face there and then but if you have so many you may want to try out drying them, making microwave plum jam or even sugared plums.

Microwave plum Jam

250g Pitted Plums
1 lemon
250g Sugar


Wash the plums, if you haven’t already pitted them then get someone else in the office to do it with the promise of jam, it’s a boring task! The easiest way of doing so is to cut them in half and pull out the pip. Chop up into quarters and squeeze the lemon juice over them in a microwave proof bowl. Microwave on full power for 5 mins until the plums start to soften.

Stir in the sugar and microwave for 20 mins again on full power, checking every 5 minutes or so to ensure they are not getting totally nuked. You could then worry about the setting point like most English people are obsessed by, but this is microwave jam for God’s sake – chill out a little!

Leave to stand for 5 mins and then stick into one large or two smaller sterilised jars*. You could then make some microwave porridge and add it to that, yum! Or even, as the Russians do, try adding a spoonful to hot water and having it as a drink.

* Jars can be sterilized using homebrew sterilizing solution or by putting in an oven, on low, for 20 mins.

Sugar Plums

This recipe happens to be raw and vegan but don’t let that put you off as they are delicious. Actually, many raw vegan cakes and sweets are pretty delicious. Not that it’s a diet that particularly attracts me! Might be a bit tricky to dry the plums you your lunch break as it takes some time (see below sugar plum recipe for drying instructions). So really this is a lunch break recipe with some home work.


170g almonds
200g dried plums
200g dried figs
50g brown sugar
1 crushed star anise
Quarter of a tsp caraway seeds
Quarter of a tsp fennel seeds
Quarter of golden syrup
200g caster sugar


Chop up the fruit and almonds, if you have access to a blender then this job will be infinitely quicker. Combine the fruit & nut mixture and everything but the caster sugar. Roll into balls the size of bulls testicles and roll in the sugar.

Invite your workmates to get their laughing gear (mouths) around your balls.

Drying plums

Dried plums

Dried Plums

Dried plums are very morish and great to get your gums around; they can be hidden away and snacked on throughout the day. What’s more they will keep for a long time and are pretty healthy to boot.

Once you have picked the plums then put them on a baking sheet and dry at 80°c/175°f for 12 hours, prick (the plums, I’m not being abusive), and put them back in the oven for another 12 hours. Bigger plums may need a further few hours but you should monitor them carefully to ensure they don’t turn to dust.

Straight Glasses help curb binge drinking, apparently

Drinking out of a straight and a curved glass

Drinking out of a straight and a curved glass

Dr Angela Atwood et al* recently published a paper that suggests binge drinking can be influenced by drinking from long straight glasses rather than round glasses. In the study participants were given a glass of lager either in a half or pint round glass or a half or pint straight glasses and a control group were given a lemonade in either glass. Somehow they managed to twist the arms of 160 (I presume) students aged 18-40 to take part in this experiment. According to the Mail and Bristol University the results suggest that Glass shape influences how quickly we drink alcohol.

Participants were 60% slower to consume an alcoholic beverage from a straight glass compared to a curved glass. This effect was only observed for a full glass and not a half-full glass, and was not observed for a non-alcoholic beverage

It’s a worthy study, although you wouldn’t think that if you read the comments on the Daily mail website! When I think about my own binge drinking antics I have observed that there are often other more influencing factors at work. To stay with the idea of glasses then my experiences in Germany spring to mind. Each region serves their beer in different sized and shaped glasses and when I was in Cologne, for instance, my lager was served in a small straight sided glass holding 200ml (just less than a third of a pint). It was very difficult to binge drink with glasses this size, what’s more most of the drinking was happening in a relaxed atmosphere sitting down in bars and restaurants. Everyone around me was drinking moderately and so there seemed no urgency to drink quickly.  Hamburg on other hand was a whole different matter, on the Raperbarn (famous Hamburg street) beer was being served in pint glasses and people were drinking on the streets, on public transport and in local parks. The atmosphere was electric and the booze was cheap. In this atmosphere it was almost impossible not to get drunk as a lord.

From this experience the glass was indeed part of the problem but not just the shape, the size and the atmosphere in which it was served in too.Perhaps the decline of pub culture and the rise of cafe culture in this country will see us making more of a change in our drinking habits than just the glasses we drink from.


* For those non Latin speakers “et al” simply means and all, its academic speak when there is more than one person on the paper but they are not named. Often, it means they are undergraduates in this instance I just think it makes better reading to have one name sorry – Nicholas E. Scott-Samuel, George Stothart and Marcus R. Munafò