Using up Boozy Fruit from Hedgerow Liquor

I have spent much of the Summer and Autumn setting copious quantities of fruit to stew in vast amounts of various alcohols.  I have made Wild Cherry Ratafia, Haw Brandy and Raspberrycello.  Damson Gin, Sloe Vodka and Blackberry Whisky.  Not to mention the Raspberry & Apple Gin, Creme de Mure, Elderberry Liquor, Currant Shrub, Beech Leaf Noyau and the inevitable Sloe Gin among many others.  Indeed, I may I have made mention of my alcofrolicking before.

Inevitably all this alcohol means the fruit is well preserved when the time comes to drain it off (arguably it has imparted all its flavour and is fit only for the bin.  I am not sure about composting things once sugar or alcohol has been involved but no doubt any gardeners among you could tell me?).  However, somehow this does not seem right.  Carl Legge suggests a wonderful trilogy of recipes for sloes which uses the same batch each time so clearly sloes, at least, still have plenty to offer.  I currently have a batch of Sloe and Rosehip wine and Vodka on the go following Carl’s advice and am looking forward to the final part of the trilogy when I get to make the jam.  So far it’s all, er, hopeful?  The wine looks pretty:

but I’m not so sure about the vodka or its potential for jam:

but I shall persevere.

Covering damsons or sloes in melted chocolate (with some citrus zest and christmas spices for variety) is another lovely way to use boozy fruits up.  The hit of whatever alcohol has been used for soaking makes these a very special after dinner treat.

Today, though, I decided to experiment with my tried and tested Christmas cake recipe.  On Friday, I had bottled a batch of Plum Brandy and a some Plum Rum, and what with plums featuring quite strongly in Christmas cooking folklore, I decided these fruits would make a welcome addition to the cake mix.  I simply stoned and weighed the plums, then substituted them for a mix of the other dried fruits.  As these plums had all come from our summer boating trips, I decided to add to the foraged nature of cake by using my chestnut flour in place of the ground almonds.  The result is a light coloured, densely fruity cake that I will feed with Plum Brandy between now and Christmas.  Having made some little ones for hampers, the Captain and I sampled one and I have to say it tastes delicious!

Hedgerow Christmas Cake

2kg Dried Fruit + boozy fruit, chopped & stoned – I used: 500g brandy & rum plums; 400g currants; 400g sultanas; 300g raisins; 225g glacé cherries; 175g mixed peel.

100g Chestnut Flour (use ground almonds instead as alternative)

grated zest of 2 lemons

grated zest of 1 orange

400g softened butter

400g dark soft brown sugar

6 eggs

4 1/2 tbsp plum brandy (or other hedgerow brandy/rum to match boozy fruit)

2 tbsp black treacle

100g self-raising flour

375g plain flour

1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1 1/4 tsp mixed spice

1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg

Grease and double line a 9 inch deep square cake tin.  Pre-heat oven to 150c/Gas 2.  Combine fruit in mixing bowl and stir in chestnut flour with citrus zest.  In another mixing bowl cream together the butter, sugar and treacle with an electric hand whisk until light and fluffy.  Sift the flours and spices together in a third bowl.  Beat the eggs into the creamed mixture following each addition with two tablespoons of spiced flour.  Mix in the plum brandy and then fold in the remaining flour.  Add the fruit mixture and stir to combine.  Spoon into the prepared tin, spreading out evenly.  Cut out double thickness strips of brown paper to surround the outside of the tin and tie in place with string to prevent the outside edge of the cake becoming too hard during baking.  Place just the below the centre of the oven and bake for approximately 5 hours until a skewer, inserted into the centre, comes out clean.  Remove from the oven and leave to cool in tin for ten minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.  Keep wrapped in lining paper then further wrap in foil and store in an air tight tin for up to two months.  Each week, peel back the layers and feed with a couple of tablespoons of plum brandy (or your chosen hedgerow brandy/rum) drizzled over the surface).

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Foraging Course – Edible Eastside

On Saturday, the Captain, my Mother and I set off for a foraging adventure.  I was excited.  Very excited.  More excited than was seemly.  Have we established that it does not take much to excite me?  I think we have.  My excitement was magnified, however, because this was the first foraging course that I had both booked and actually managed to attend.  I had booked to go on a course with my Mother ages ago and one of lovely friends had booked a mushroom day for my birthday.  I wrote about them here.  Unfortunately, both of these were on top of my operation so I had to cancel.  Disappointed does not begin to cover it.

So, discovering via Twitter that Edible Eastside were running their first foraging walk as part of Birmingham Food Fest 2011 AND the walk was to take place along the towpath could not have been more perfect.  This course may very well have been written with the Captain and me in mind.  I first lost him before we even entered Edible Eastside’s yard situated in Birmingham’s Eastside and housed among a superabundance of canal heritage.  The yard itself was part of the nineteenth century Fellows Morton Clayton buildings and the Digbeth Branch Canal was just a hop, skip and a jump away.

The Captain rejoined us as Jayne Bradley described her vision of an ecologically sustained initiative to promote urban gardening and food production.  We then set off with Pam Smith, the project’s horticulturist and gardening advisor.

Her knowledge of plants, folklore and history were impressive and her enthusiasm was second to none.  She was a great believer in only eating things that were worth the picking, and frequently commented that such and such a plant was edible, but it tasted like hay.  Paraphrasing Terry Pratchett, she reminded us that all plants are edible, it’s just that some are only edible once.  We learnt things like the more brown patches there are on a silver birch, the more ghosts inhabit it.

That cleavers can be boiled and used to make antiperspirant as well as eaten.  That nettles make excellent string.  That Woodruff can enhance the flavour of alcoholic drinks.  That I have forgotten so much more than I thought would even though I knew I would forget just about everything.In all, we only wandered from Typhoo Basin through the Curzon Tunnel and up the first couple of locks in the Ashton Flight but in that short stretch alone, it was hard to see how you would starve, if push came to shove.  As well as the nettles, woodruff, cleavers and silver birch, we also found:

Oregon Hollygrapes (Mahonia Aquifolium); Elder;

Chinese Bramble (Rubus Tricolor); Mugwort; Chickweed; Plantain; and so much more.  Much of it may taste like hay, but you would have lovely nettle string bags and there would be no evidence of perspiration thanks to your Cleaver splash-on.  And there would always be the silver birch ghosts for company.

This wonderful afternoon was rounded off with a nip of Pam’s Sloe Gin and the opportunity to taste Jayne’s delicious smelling cooking.  Sadly, I had completely run out of energy so having fortified myself with sloe gin (could you really see me passing up on that?!), we took our leave.  A great day and I look forward to the next.

For the Captain’s take, check out his blog from the 28th October, when his post should be live.

Sloe journey to Froghall

The protracted hunt for the illusive sloe is at an end.  I am victorious.  I was sure we would come across some on this trip but I must confess that as we entered the latter half of our week my confidence was shaking.  Not because they are not fairly prolific hedgerow plants, but because they are pretty difficult to spot from a moving boat.

However, despite my visually compromised state, travelling up the Caldon Canal on Sunday I did finally see some.  I think I only caught a glimpse of the tiny blue fruit because there were several bushes, some of which were old and sparsely leaved.  I squealed my delight.  The Captain came to an abrupt halt and we both leapt overboard and began picking in earnest.  Once again, the trusty boat hook came into its own as most of the lower branches of these bushes had been stripped, probably by other foragers.  The upper reaches were still heavily laden so we were happy to relieve them of their burden.

Just as we were about done, we were joined by another couple of foragers, keen to make sloe gin.  Matt and Em had just been on a foraging walk and had lots of local knowledge which they were kind enough to share with us.  We returned the favour with a short ride on Wand’ring Bark and a cuppa.  It was the least we could do having pretty much nicked all the sloes …!

Once we dropped them off, we continued along the Caldon heading towards Froghall.  The Captain was very keen for me to experience the Froghall tunnel and the wharf beyond, having managed to squeeze the boat through last October when out with the Seventeen year old.  In fact, as we approached the tunnel, he turned into something of testosterone fuelled exhibitionist out to impress his first date.  Doing the equivalent of a wheelie he launched at the tunnel with cavalier abandon.  Given both the tunnel’s reputation and the sight in front of us, I was not entirely convinced this was a good idea:

Sure enough, fairly early on in our journey, there was a loud crash and the sound of splitting timber.  The Captain slowed down.  At a slower speed we had no trouble getting through and the while a chunk of the door has fallen off, it is easily fixed and getting to the other side was well worth it.  Froghall Wharf is quite simply beautiful.

We had the place to ourselves until the next morning when we were joined for the day by a friend who I have not seen since we were seventeen.  That is a very long time ago!

We spent a happy day tripping down memory lane and pricking sloes for the gin.  They are now all soaking happily and I am done with stocking up on cheap supermarket booze for hedgerow liquor.  I did have a quandary about recipes as I have several variations to choose from.  I tried a couple which I give you now:

Sloe Gin

450g sloes, frozen overnight / pricked

600mls gins

450g / 225g sugar

Few drops almond essence (optional)

Put all ingredients into a large glass / ceramic container and shake daily until sugar dissolved.  Then shake weekly for about three months.  Pour into sterilized bottles and store for 18 months if possible.