One of the larger expenses on your shopping list for Christmas may well be the fizzy white and the rich red to go with the Christmas feast and the extra special spirit to sip warmly by the yule log later. You can get all of these from the hedgerow and with a little bit of forward planning they will all be ready for the big day.
Your preparations start in late May/early June with the flowering of the best hedgerow drinks tree bar none – the elder. Elderflower champagne, if you get it right, is a perfect replacement for that fizzy white stuff that costs a lot.
The elderflower champagne recipe I use is:
10 to 20 elderflower heads with the stalks removed (I like a strong elderflower flavour – 20 heads gives a strong flavour). The bouquet seems to be stronger if you pick them early in the morning before the sun and the insects have got to work. Don’t wash them, just shake out any beasties
Juice from two lemons
I gallon of water
Sparkling wine yeast (ideally)(The one I used on this year’s brew is Gervin GV10 but you’ll get away with any wine yeast really)
Pour boiling water over the florets and the sugar in a fermenting bin and dissolve sugar. Top up to 1 gallon with cold water. Add the lemon juice and yeast when the water is luke warm. Cover and leave to ferment.
Leave till the specific gravity is down to 1010, strain and bottle into plastic fizzy drink bottles –eg Irn Bru, coke etc. Don’t use other bottles as they are likely to explode. If you haven’t got a hydrometer then you’ll just have to guess – you want it to continue fermenting out some of the sugar after you bottle it but you don’t want to have volcanic eruptions on opening the bottle. This means bottling when the fermentation has slowed but not stopped. It is likely to take about a week but possibly up to two weeks to get to the bottling stage depending on the temperature.
It is ready to drink after a week or two in the bottles and it can be difficult to save a bottle or two till Xmas. My tip is put a couple of bottles to one side away from the others and try and forget where you’ve put them!!
You’ll have a sediment in the bottom of the bottles (it all adds to the flavour!) but you can with careful pouring get sparkling clear glassfuls. I put them in the freezer to chill (not freeze!) before opening as this reduces the strength of any volcanic eruption you may have on your hands and means the sediment doesn’t rise as quickly.
In September the berries will be ripe on the elder and this is your second opportunity to use the hedgerow drinks tree. Elderberry wine is a wonderfully deep red fruity wine. You’ll need:
3lbs elderberries stripped off the stalks
Sachet of wine yeast
1tsp citric acid
Put the berries into a large pan and mash them with a potato masher. Add two pints of water and the sugar and bring gently to the boil and simmer for ten minutes. Leave to cool and then pour into a plastic fermenting bucket. Make up to a gallon and stir in the citric acid and yeast. After 5 to 7 days siphon into your demijohn, top up with cooled boiled water if needed and fit the airlock. Leave till the fermentation has stopped and bottle into sterilized screw topped wine bottles. For a good wine you’ll need about a year from start to finish to mature.
If you want something non-alcoholic this is a great Christmas drink with the added spices. You’ll need a good carrier bag full of berries on stalks. Remove berries from the stalks and put them in a pan, just covering them with water. Bring to the boil gently and then simmer for 20 minutes. Strain the juice through a jam bag or similar.
Measure the juice back into the pan and for every pint add 1lb of sugar, a cinnamon stick and 6 cloves. Bring back to the boil and simmer for 15 minutes. Allow to cool and then strain out the spices and put the juice into sterilized bottles.
Dilute to taste. Delicious served hot as non-alcoholic Christmas punch.
In the summer we pick cherries, both wild and ornamental, but you can experiment with any wild berries for this; we get best results with the bigger juicier ornamental cherries. You can eat them as they are or do what we do with some of the year’s harvest and make cherry vodka or gin.
It is really easy to do and unless you really like very sweet liqueurs there’s no need to add sugar or anything else to this. Put the cherries in a bottle – we fill the bottles to the top – and then top up with a cheap vodka/gin and leave for six months or more. The end result is fantastic both as a drink but also you get to eat all the cherries that have been soaked in the spirit too!! A wonderful treat for Christmas.
If you’d like to find out more about wild food why not join the North East Wild Food Club or come along on one of my public wild food forays. You can even get a gift voucher and give the gift of wild food for Christmas. For more details see the advert in this issue or visit www.natureholiday.co.uk