Thursday, August 29, 2013

Blackberry Vodka Liqueur

Blackberry Vodka Liqueur
Driving a desk (or a dining room table) is all very well but I do try to sortie out most days at lunchtime for a break.

Right now it's quite important that I do get out because I'm preparing for a talk at the Springfield Sanctuary Herb Festival and I 'wildcraft' most of the materia medica that I use to illustrate my talks.  That said, by the very nature of 'wildcrafting', it's not like going to a shop, so you don't always get what you were looking for and more often than not, something else absolutely wonderful just presents itself and demands to be harvested and used.

This afternoon I posted on Facebook that I had happened upon a gorgeous swag of hops on the tow path of the Kennet and Avon canal near my home and my friend Ruth said she'd thought of me while blackberrying on Greenham Common today... As one confidence begs another, I was forced to confess to more than a few hops as today's bounty - I was indeed guilty of bringing home some lovely blackberries again today... The foraging habit is quite addictive and admitting to it is part of the solution!

 While Ruth is presently jamming away, my blackberries sit in a bowl awaiting cream for pudding. However I was reminded that last year I made a blackberry vodka liqueur. I didn't blog it at the time but I did take pictures so here goes... It's a doddle really - weighing it really isn't necessary but some folk like to have an idea of scale.

Basically you are looking at about a cup of sugar to a pound of blackberries, layered into a jar and covered with vodka in the jar. You need enough to keep the fruit beneath the surface which in my case was less than a full 75cl bottle.. so about 50 cl. Or about 500g blackberries to 250g sugar and as much of the vodka as it takes.

Don't mess with caster sugar or any fancy vodka. The blackberries transform granulated sugar and cheap supermarket vodka!

 Then just layer it in, sugar and fruit, right up to the top.
 Pour over the vodka...
Cap the jar and stick it in a dark cupboard for a few weeks. Until Christmas ideally. Then strain it through muslin and bottle.
Fresh and frozen

You can use the sweet boozy fruit in desserts like pavlovas! The weird thing is that the vodka content prevents it from freezing properly. So in the picture above the new fresh fruit picked today is in the left hand tub and some of the fruit that made the dark liqueur last year is in the frozen right hand tub. Some colour extracted, obviously, but the fruit in the frozen tub still has the texture of fresh fruit!


Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Springfield Sanctuary Herb Festival 2013

Speaking at the 2012 Festival.
Photo credit Debs Cook

This year will be the third year that I have been a speaker at the Springfield Sanctuary Herb Festival in the Cotswolds. The 'Celebrating Herbs' festival runs from Friday 6th to Sunday 8th September 2013. The other speakers are all amazing - practising medical herbalists and experts in wildcrafting - there are practical workshops and guided herb walks. Camping is available in the field. The programme is here as a printable pdf.

Camping at the Festival.
Photo credit Chris Head

I generally take an historical and folkloric approach to my talks. Last year I spoke on Herbal Fumigants:"Burning, suffumigation and smudge: using smoke to clear the air" based on the idea that many people believe that the practices of burning herbs and smoking were brought to us from the New World with tobacco. So I took a look (with demonstrations) at the Old World uses of non-tobacco smoke, from the incenses and entheogens of the classical period to Bald's Leechbook which tells us "geréc þone man mid þám wyrtum" (smoke that man with the herbs); through the early modern period and into the 20th century.

Demonstrating a mugwort 'smudge' stick.
Photo credit Debs Cook

At the request of a number of people in the audience, as well as some overseas members of Sarah Head's herb apprenticeship programme who were unable to attend, I did promise to make an extended version of my notes available as an e-book, and it is as I start to prepare this year's offering that I'm prompted to get that out before I actually deliver the next one! I do hope some of my herby friends can be persuaded to review it - let me know and I will gift you a copy.

With my 'pirate's chest' of goodies.
Photo credit Debs Cook
This year the title of my talk is "The historical legacy of blessings, curses, and charms in modern western herbalism." I shall be bringing along my wooden box of goodies with loads of things to demonstrate again, (last year's audience called it my pirate's chest!) I think that interacting with the herbs is so valuable to supplement booklearning - it's one of the main reasons why people choose to attend festivals and join groups.

Sarah Head runs Springfield Sanctuary herbal apprenticeships and I am proud to number myself amongst her alumni. Her blog 'Tales of a Kitchen Herbwife' is here.

Springfield Sanctuary is part of Wynyards Farm, a small arable farm in the Cotswolds belonging to Sarah Head's parents, Pryce and Marjorie Watkins.

Debs Cook's Herbaholic website 'Herbal Haven' is here.