Foraging Firsts – Beech Leaf Noyau on the Trent & Mersey Canal

Yesterday I mentioned that I need to fill my time.  This is never more true than when on our narrowboat.   I used to do a lot of reading. And I mean A LOT of reading. However, my date with the snow and the railway sleeper back in November has curtailed that somewhat.  Among other things I managed to crush my right eye socket which has required two lots of surgery to repair.  I did ask for bionic laser death rays to be inserted (a whole new dimension could have been added to my hard stares) but the medical profession did not oblige.  Perhaps they feared for the repercussions knowing just how many hard stares I am wont to give.  Things are much improved but as I now juggle 3 pairs of glasses, none of which are sunglasses, resuming my reading position at the pointy end has not yet happened. Consequently, on our recent trip around the Leicester Ring, I was in need of distraction.

Drifting gently along the waterways seems to provide an ideal opportunity to gather all manner of wild food and this trip was the first opportunity to put that theory to the test.  Spring was definitely springing and all manner of wildlife was in evidence.

I didn’t aim big. Although it could be argued it was expensive but I’d prefer to say classy. However, that was the Captain’s fault, not mine. The plan was to make Beech Leaf Noyau from Pam Corbin’s excellent Preserves, No.2 in the River Cottage Handbook series. In preparation I had bought a litre of cheap gin and was eagerly anticipating spotting the ‘young, silken leaves of our native beech tree’ that Corbin waxes lyrical about. However, the Captain was adamant that mid April was far too early for beech to be in leaf and what with him being a country boy and all, I listened and left the cheap gin behind. Consequently, when on our very first day of cruising we found ample supplies of leaves, I simply had to use the Gordon’s. I mean, what’s a girl to do? I did spend the rest of the week listening to mutters of ‘Waste of perfectly good gin …’ but I am confident he’ll change his tune come the crisp November evenings when we curl up in front of a roaring fire and sip my delicious liqueur which I am confident will taste of bottled Spring. Possibly. The drips I licked from my fingers boded well.

Beech Leaf Noyau
Makes 1 litre
1 loosely packed carrier bagful of soft young beech leaves
500ml gin
300g granulated sugar

Pack the beech leaves into a glass jar until 9/10s full. Pour gin over leaves, making sure they are well covered. Leave to steep for 7-10 days so the leaves can release their striking green pigment. Strain the infused gin through muslin or a jelly bag.
Put the sugar and 250ml water into a pan and heat gently to dissolve the sugar. Allow to cool completely before adding to the infused gin. Add a couple of capfuls of brandy.
Put a couple of fresh beech leaves into sterilised screw-top or stopper bottles, add the noyau and seal.
Wait until winter before drinking. Use within 2 years.