Tasty crafts that are more appropriate for adults with these 5 liquors you can make at home.
Whether you see it as the last month of Summer, or the first of Autumn, September is a fabulous month to Get Outside foraging. Currently laden with nuts, fruits, and berries, our hedgerows are a veritable larder of free food. So pull on those wellies, stick a carrier bag in your pocket and get the whole family outside picking this beautiful bounty.
Wild liqueurs are simple to make, taste delicious and since most of them benefit from maturation, make really great presents to gift at Christmas. Here are five easy Hedgerow Liqueur recipes to get you started.
Sloes are the fruit of the Blackthorn shrub (Prunus Spinosa). A member of the plum family; it has been used here in the UK as stock proof hedging for centuries. Consequently, in rural areas, it is a very common sight indeed.
The fruit, which starts off green, ripens to a beautiful black with a blue/purple wild yeast bloom to them. Raw, the fruit is super tart and astringent, but like many wild fruits they make a wonderful, jewel like jelly, and can be made into a delicious liqueur which here in the UK we call Sloe Gin.
Traditionally Sloes are picked after the first frosts, as this is when they are at their sweetest. Old recipes call for the pricking of each fruit with a thorn from the same bush, or a silver pin to allow the alcohol to permeate the fruit and draw the flavour out.
To avoid having to prick the individual fruits, I favour the method of picking the fruit and freezing it first. There are many advantages to taking this approach. Firstly, it means you can pick your fruit in batches, as you come across it, and save it up in the freezer until you have enough to use. Secondly, the freezing process sweetens the fruit for you, so you don't have to wait until the first frosts. And finally, freezing damages the cell walls of the fruit, allowing the juice to impart its flavour to your spirit, without any fiddly preparation first.
Simply take your frozen fruit, and roughly half fill a bottle or jar that has a well fitting lid. Top up with gin, and leave to infuse in a cool, dark place for at least three months, giving it a shake when you remember. After three months, strain and sweeten with a simple sugar syrup made from an equal quantity of sugar and water heated until the sugar dissolves.
Sloe Gin continues to mature over time, and each year's batch will have a slightly different flavour and sweetness depending on the conditions of that year. This one from last year has now mellowed into a very smooth port like liqueur with a really dark colour and delicious taste.
Hazelnuts, Cobnuts, and Filberts are the nut from the various species of Hazel Tree (Corylus). All are delicious, and archaeological evidence shows that they have been eaten here in the UK since the Mesolithic period.
Hazelnuts begin to ripen when the leaves on the trees change colour. Once the papery outer covering starts pulling back from the nut, they are edible. They can either be picked and eaten green when they may not be to everyone's taste or left to ripen in a warm, dry place. For those who don't happen to a hazel tree while out walking, or are beaten to the spoils by the local squirrel population, they are also readily available both shelled and unshelled in supermarkets at this time of year.
Lightly toast enough shelled hazelnuts to fill half a jar (I use a litre jar and about 400grams of nuts). Top up with 4/5ths Vodka and 1/5th Brandy and leave to infuse for at least one month in a cool, dark place, giving it a shake when you remember. Strain, and sweeten with sugar syrup to taste. This liqueur will benefit from being left to mature for another couple of months after bottling. The residual nuts are delicious added to cakes and brownies.
The European Elder (Sambucus nigra) is another European plant that has a deep-rooted history of use both as food and medicine. Note: Only the flowers and ripe berries are the edible parts of the plant, with the leaves, stems, and roots considered toxic. There have been reports of other species of Elder across the world having higher levels of toxicity than Sambucus nigra which grows wild here in the UK, so I would advise you not to use any alternative Elder species in this recipe.
Half fill your jar with ripe elderberries which have been stripped from their stems and top up with vodka. Leave to infuse for at least one month in a dark cupboard, giving the jar a shake when you remember. After the month has passed, strain and sweeten with sugar syrup to taste. If you want to use the residual fruit, it should be cooked before use.
Even the most nervous of foragers can usually identify Blackberries (Rubus). Traditionally picked for jams and crumbles, they are found in abundance during September with folklore advising against gathering after Old Michaelmas Day (11 October) when the devil then spoils them.
Blackberry Whiskey is a particularly fine liqueur, which improves with age. Half fill your jar with ripe Blackberries, top up with whiskey and allow to sit for three months in a cool, dark place, giving it a shake when you remember. After three months, strain, sweeten with sugar syrup, and bottle. This particular liqueur benefits by being left to mature, so if you can, stick it to the back of the cupboard and leave it for a year.
Rosehips are the beautiful red fruit of the rose (Rosa) bush. All roses and their fruit are edible, although flavour varies depending on the variety. If picking from a garden, do make sure the bushes are untreated with chemicals.
Another fruit traditionally harvested after the first frosts, like Sloes they benefit from 24 hours in the freezer to sweeten and soften them before using.
Half fill your jar with the frozen rosehips, the zest from a lemon, three cloves and half a stick of cinnamon. Top up with brandy and allow to sit for at least a month, shaking periodically. When ready to strain, sweeten and bottle, this liqueur is lovely sweetened with a sugar syrup made from brown sugar.