How to make wild spiced mulled apple juice

Wood Avens

Wood avens aka clove root, herb bennet  or Geum urbanum L

Of all the seasons Autumn is the one that evokes more feelings of nostalgia than any other. A whiff of bonfire smoke or the smell of windfall apples fermenting at our feet can evoke long forgotten memories.  The traditional festivals of this season across the planet reflect this as many will involve the dead in some form or other. From day of the dead to all hallow’s eve (Halloween).

It’s the time when the mercury can start to drop and the nights draw in. A time when we are in need of something warming and comforting. A time when we forget drinks with ice and start to warm everything up. A time to start mulling everything and a time when your priority should be to curl up, mulled apple juice in hand, in front of a fire with a good book. 

Mulled apple juice

Andy Hamilton and Tom Heap

Andy Hamilton and Tom Heap about to go foraging

This will work equally well with wine, (hard) cider or dark ales such as porters and stouts.

However, this non alcoholic version can be enjoyed at any time of the day and with all of the family.

The spices involved can be found in many gardens, parks or common ground right across the Northern Hemisphere.

Equipment

small saucepan
wooden spoon

Ingredients

1L/2 pints apple juice
Two cloves roots/wood avens roots (washed)
4-5 juniper berries
1 sprig of spruce tips or small handful pine needles
pinch of hogweed seed
1 star anise
1 cinnamon stick

Put all the ingredients into your saucepan and heat until it is gently simmering. Stir and keep simmering for about ten minutes. Taste a spoon full and ensure that you are happy with your flavour, remember you can always add more or less of something if you are not.

Serve your mulled apple juice in china tea cups and don’t forget the trick to good mulling is to simmer and not to boil.

Andy’s wild booze walks – Bristol and Bath

Andy’s Wild Booze walks – New dates and venues added

Andy hamilton on the iplayer

As seen on Radio 4 Food Program (Click to listen)

When you take a sip of a Martini you could be imbibing hundreds of wild plants as both vermouth and gin can be made from any number of plants. Some of these plants can be fairly exotic, others may be growing in your back garden and it is very possible to make your own wild infusions that will taste every bit as amazing as your favourite gin or vermouth.

On my wild booze walks I take a group of people out and introduce them to the plants that grow at our feet. Plants that all have a secret history. It’s also a bloody good laugh going out with a group of people and having a drink outdoors.

Twice this year I’ve had to add new dates to my wild booze walks due to demand and below are dates that still have spaces available. I’ve decided too to travel further afield this year and take my booze walks to new place. Ok, just Bath right now but watch this space for dates to be added in other UK venues around the country (well perhaps one nearish to Manchester). If you would like me to come to you then please do let me know by filling in the form at the bottom of this page.

Andy’s Wild booze walk Bristol

Andy Hamilton clifton bridge squareWhat could be better than a stroll along aside the gentle flow of the river Avon. Along through the beautiful Avon gorge and under Brunel’s masterful suspension bridge. With a group of like-minded people for company and a best selling booze author pointing out some of the wonderful plants that can be turned into great drinks? Well doing all that with a drink in your hand of course!
WEDNESDAY 22nd JULY 2015, 2.30pm. Currently taking booking for Andy’s wild book walks through Eventsbrite

Andy’s Wild booze walk Bath

A stroll along aside the gentle flow of Kennet and Avon canal as narrow boats chug past and the hazy autumn sun sets across this world heritage city.
FRIDAY 2nd October 2015, 5.00pm Currently taking booking for Andy’s wild book walks through Eventsbrite

Praise for Andy’s wild booze walk in Bath

Along the Kennet and avon canal

Along the Kennet and Avon canal

“I recently organised a stag night and having listened to Andy on radio 4 thought a booze walk would be a good idea. Andy took eight of us along the canal in bath, educated us on the intricacies of making booze from the hedgerows and the history of artisan drinks. Peppered with anecdotes, facts and fable Andy’s engaging and relaxed approached fitted well with the banter of the rest of the group. Andy’s samples of wild booze along the way eased us in to a night of excess. A thoroughly enjoyable afternoon and highly recommended to small groups interested in making and sampling some of the stranger drinks in life”.  Alasdair Dawson

Praise for Andy’s Bristol Walk

“A delightfully green and pleasant, yet truly educational, walk, a few minutes from the city  centre, punctuated with varied and delicious, mostly alcoholic, refreshment, provided and indeed created by our most congenial host.  A charming group of people who somehow became ever more affable as the walk went on!” Roger Greenhalgh

Private bookings

Currently taking booking for private walks, including less raucous Stag and Hen dos, small weddings, birthday’s ect. Date’s available in 2016 and a handful of weekday dates are available in 2015. Please use the form below to contact me.

 

The Lunchbreak forager – Hawthorn

Hawthorn – Crataegus – What is Hawthorn?

Hawthorn Berries

Hawthorn Berries

Hawthorn is planted as hedging and therefore can be found on the edge of car parks, in public parks and, for those in the countryside, it can also be found on the edges of farming fields.

Botanical description

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.

Collecting Haw berries

Haw berries are abundant so it shouldn’t be long until you find some. They are often planted as hedging so look around the edge of car parks. They fruit from September and into October, after which they can still be found on the tree but you might have to fight with maggots to what is left!

Bird enthusiasts with quite rightly insist that the haw berry is a food highly prized by many of our native birds and therefore a valuable source of fuel as the days grow shorter and the mercury drops. You need not worry too much as haws are so prolific that unless you are picking the metric ton there should be plenty left for the birds. However, if there is just one bush it is perhaps best to leave this alone.

Folklore suggests that picking from a single tree is a no-no, too. It is considered that the a

hawthorn bush

hawthorn bush/shrub/tree

single hawthorn tree is a gateways to the fairy kingdom and they will be angry if you pick from it. Rumour has it that there are single hawthorns that are considered to be grumpy trees. A white which in Bristol insists that one particular tree growing in a very public park is one of the moodiest trees she has ever met!

A good haul of haw berries can be picked in one lunch break. The trick I find is to take off as much of the stalk as you can whilst picking at this stage to save you having to do it later. It seems much less of a laborious task doing it as you go on a bright autumnal lunchtime than later at the kitchen table. Having the radio or an MP3 player can help and listening to rhythmic music such as a good piano concerto or some dubstep can really liven up the picking.

Collecting Haw blossom

Hawthorn is one of the first trees to blossom in early spring and as the snow melts, days lengthen and plants start to grow. It 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.

Eating on your lunch break

Haw berries can be munched on raw and have a mealy texture reminiscent of avocado: chew on a few and spit out the pips. The leaves, too, can be munched straight from the tree or added to your lunch-time sandwich, but are much tasier when they first come out, by late spring they are already past it. The first leaves are known as bread and cheese despite tasting nothing like either. Add a small handful of leaves in with a hard crumbling cheese like Cheshire for a sandwich to look forward to.

Lunch-time drinks

The blossom which blooms white-pink and even crimson in April/May time can be used to make a rather refreshing tea it is also very good for you (see medicinal uses).  Simply put one tsp of dried blossom or two of fresh into a small tea pot and pour over hot water. Allow to infuse for up to five minutes before drinking. You can also add ginger or dried lime flowers for extra flavour.

Homework

This recipe below for toffee apples was a life saver when I was doing some TV for the BBC, I was in the process of moving house and doing lot of book promotional talks  and so very stressed with no  time for anything. I’m rather ashamed to admit that the first time I made it was live on air and I had no idea if it would work properly. Luckily the results were wondrous and I still follow the recipe to this day!

Ingredients

50g of assorted hedgerow fruit (haws, sloes, hips etc)
225g sugar
150ml water
half tsp red wine vinegar
2 tbsp maple syrup
25g butter
6 apples
6 fat twigs/sticks

Method

Boil the hedgerow fruit in the water for 10 minutes until it starts to change colour. If using hips, sloes or anything that can’t be mushed between your fingers easily then freeze overnight and thaw before using.

Strain through a muslin cloth and measure 110ml of the resulting water. It should’ve changed to a lovely redish/purplish colour (depending on what fruit you are using). Gently heat stirring in the sugar until fully dissolved and adding the rest of the ingredients. Bring the mixture to the boil and keep at as close to 138°c as you can for 10 min. You’ll be able to tell when it has done by dropping a bit of the semi-solid liquid into cold water, if it turns to a ball it is done.

Pull the stalks out of the apples and whack the sticks in. Roll them in the semi-solid until coated and repeat. Leave to harden on a grease proof paper.

Some tips about foraging

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!