Coltsfoot, comfrey, and gorse… but wine?

I have a very small, pocket-sized book called Home-Made Wines and Liqueurs: How to Make Them, by Ambrose Heath. He was a prolific cookery book writer, editor and journalist, born in 1891 and dying in 1969. The book was one of a series by various authors, and included Ice Cream Dishes, Cocktail Snacks and Canapes, Dishes Without Meat and Biscuits and American Cookies.

Many of the wine and liqueur recipes are from fruit and vegetables, as you might expect, especially from a book published in 1953, not long after the war, when people were using what they readily had to make things they otherwise could not get. So, apples, apricots and blackberries, and well-known other ingredients such as dandelion and cowslip – and even such things as beetroot and carrot… But coltsfoot (“this well-known picturesque if pernicious weed (tussilago farfara) whose bright yellow-rayed flowers appear before the leaves in early spring”) comfrey (“this unusual wine made from the roots of wild comfrey (symphytum officianale) which is commonly found in watery places and on the banks of rivers and streams”) and gorse (ulex, furze or whin) – isn’t that rather prickly?

Hedgerow wine sounds delicious, but mangold? I think mangold is what I know as manglewurzel which is a type of beet most commonly used for animal feed, but also edible for humans – but there is another mangold which is a type of chard – I cannot imagine using that to make wine! Other roots with recipes, turnip wine, parsnip wine and potato wine – tomato? I don’ think so ,not for me thanks… Sage wine? Sounds utterly disgusting! Red clover wine?

Imagine picking two quarts of red clover blossoms – a quart is two pints or nearly five cups… Come to think of it, imagine picking two quarts of flowers from the prickly gorse! There is no mention of the quantity of coltsfoot, but another recipe I came across says five litres of the little things – where would you find that quantity? And as for the roots of the comfrey you have dug up from the banks of your local stream, according to Mr Heath you need four or five roots cut into pieces four or five inches long – not very exact!

Here is a link to the coltsfoot wine recipe:

https://monicawilde.com/coltsfoot-wine/

Revisiting cowslip mead

With so many lovely cowslips around this year, I’ve been looking back at what I’ve written about them in the past:

The first time I ever tried mead was at a medieval banquet which the student’s union organized when I was at Manchester Poly. I remember the banquet being enormous fun where we all ate and drank enormously and then for some reason I drive home for the Christmas holidays with a decorated boar’s head on the seat beside me.

Being a great reader of just about everything during my childhood, I had often read historical novels when mead was drunk so I can imagine  I was very excited to try it for the first time. I don’t think I liked it very much, but that probably didn’t stop me drinking it!I’ve treid drinking it a couple of times since, and I still don’t care for it greatly.

However, I came across a recipe for mead in the little book I have by Ambrose heath, ‘Home Made Wines and Liqueurs and how to make them’. he has what he calls ‘a simple bee-keepers recipe’ in which you should boil for ¾ hour four pounds of honey dissolved in a gallon of water with an ounce of hops, half an ounce of root ginger and the pared rind of two lemons. Then it should be poured into a cask (he has a whole section on casks and how to prepare them) and fill it to the brim, and while it is still warm add an ounce of yeast. Once it has finished fermenting (no mention of how long this might take) add ¼ ounce of isinglass (which he writes as ‘isingless’) and bung the cask tightly. Six months later bottle your mead!

Ambrose heath has an appendix with notes on mead which he says was once ‘far more important and complicated drink’ and he mentions ‘The Closet of Sir Kenelm Digby’ – an early cookery book published in 1669, which has twenty-six mead recipes. Heath mentions the Worshipful Company of Mead Makers from Cornwall, but says nothing more about them. In Cornwall when Heath wrote his little book in 1953 there was a mead making business in Gulval near Penzance; there were apparently nine different mead drinks: mead, sack mead, metheglin, sack metheglin, bochet, pyment, hippocras, cyser and melomel. he gives a two page recipe for sack mead… which seems awfully complicated for a home mead maker!

Ambrose also includes a recipe for cowslip mead; cowslips smell divine, but would cowslip mead taste divine? here is his recipe:

  • 1 gallon water
  • 2 pounds honey
  • 1 large sliced lemon
  • 1 gallon of cowslip flowers
  • 2 sprigs of sweet briar (if you can find it, not essential)
  • ¼ ounce yeast plus a little extra honey
  1. make a syrup with the water and honey, boiling uncovered for ¾ hour, skimming it well
  2. pour a pint of syrup over the sliced lemon
  3. pour the rest of the syrup over the cowslips, stir well, cover and leave in a warm place for 24 hours
  4. add the lemon syrup and the sweet briar
  5. add the yeast dissolved in a little honey
  6. let this work for four days then strain into a cask
  7. keep in a cool place for six months then bottle

Quince wine update

I mentioned a little while ago that I was going to try making quince wine from a generous bag of lovely yellow fruit a generous friend had given me! I was going to use an old 1930’s recipe from Ambrose Heath’s little book, Home Made Wines and Liqueurs. I  guess the recipe is actually much older than that, Heath gathered country recipes from many different sources.

This is the basic recipe which I followed to a certain extent:

  • wipe and grate twenty large, sound, ripe quinces leaving the core
  • simmer in a gallon of boiling water for 15-20 minutes
  • strain with pressure though a jelly bag
  • allowing 2 lbs of white sugar to 1 gallon of warm liquid, and the thinly-pared rind and juice of two lemons, stir together until the sugar is dissolved
  • add ¼ oz yeast of a bit of toast and leave closely covered for 24 hours
  • remove the toast and rind and pour into cask
  • leave open until fermentation has ended, bung and leave as long as possible – it improves with keeping, then bottle

I didn’t have twenty large, sound, ripe quinces – I had small quinces but I worked out that they were about half the quantity Heath suggests.  grating quinces is one heck of a lot of very hard work, so I confess, I just cooked them whole, but followed the recipe, ‘straining them with pressure’ until I didn’t think anything more could be extracted. I had no live yeast – which is what he must have used, so I worked out the quantity of dried yeast, didn’t bother with the toast, and just sprinkled it onto the warm quince/sugar liquid. It began to ferment so I have poured it into a container and now am awaiting fermentation cessation… Then I will bung it and eventually bottle it… Who knows whether it will be drinkable… but all it has cost me is a pound of sugar and my own efforts!

Quince season again…

According to Ambrose Heath in his pocket sized book on Home-made Wines and Liqueurs and How to Make Them, making quince wine is really straight forward…

  • wipe and grate twenty large, sound, ripe quinces leaving the core
  • simmer in a gallon of boiling water for 15-20 minutes
  • strain with pressure though a jelly bag
  • allowing 2lbs of white sugar to 1 gallon of warm liquid, and the thinly-pared rind and juice of two lemons, stir together until the sugar is dissolved
  • add ¼ oz yeast of a bit of toast and leave closely covered for 24 hours
  • remove the toast and rind and pour into cask
  • leave open until fermentation has ended, bung and leave as long as possible – it improves with keeping, then bottle

Firstly, I don’t have a cask – will another sort of container suffice? Secondly I am only guessing, but I think he means live yeast – what would be the equivalent in dried yeast and would the toast still be involved?

I will report back on this – I may very well end up making quince jelly for Christmas instead!

Cowslip mead…

The first time I ever tried mead was at a medieval banquet which the student’s union organized when I was at Manchester Poly. I remember the banquet being enormous fun where we all ate and drank enormously and then for some reason I drive home for the Christmas holidays with a decorated boar’s head on the seat beside me.

Being a great reader of just about everything during my childhood, i had often read historical novels when mead was drunk so I can imagine  I was very excited to try it for the first time. I don’t think I liked it very much, but that probably didn’t stop me drinking it!I’ve treid drinking it a couple of times since, and I still don’t care for it greatly.

However, I came across a recipe for mead in the little book I have by Ambrose heath, ‘Home Made Wines and Liqueurs and how to make them’. he has what he calls ‘a simple bee-keepers recipe’ in which you should boil for ¾ hour four pounds of honey dissolved in a gallon of water with an ounce of hops, half an ounce of root ginger and the pared rind of two lemons. Then it should be poured into a cask (he has a whole section on casks and how to prepare them) and fill it to the brim, and while it is still warm add an ounce of yeast. Once it has finished fermenting (no mention of how long this might take) add ¼ ounce of isinglass (which he writes as ‘isingless’) and bung the cask tightly. Six months later bottle your mead!

Ambrose heath has an appendix with notes on mead which he says was once ‘far more important and complicated drink’ and he mentions ‘The Closet of Sir Kenelm Digby’ – an early cookery book published in 1669, which has twenty-six mead recipes. Heath mentions the Worshipful Company of Mead Makers from Cornwall, but says nothing more about them. In Cornwall when Heath wrote his little book in 1953 there was a mead making business in Gulval near Penzance; there were apparently nine different mead drinks: mead, sack mead, metheglin, sack metheglin, bochet, pyment, hippocras, cyser and melomel. he gives a two page recipe for sack mead… which seems awfully complicated for a home mead maker!

Ambrose also includes a recipe for cowslip mead; cowslips smell divine, but would cowslip mead taste divine? here is his recipe:

  • 1 gallon water
  • 2 pounds honey
  • 1 large sliced lemon
  • 1 gallon of cowslip flowers
  • 2 sprigs of sweet briar (if you can find it, not essential)
  • ¼ ounce yeast plus a little extra honey
  1. make a syrup with the water and honey, boiling uncovered for ¾ hour, skimming it well
  2. pour a pint of syrup over the sliced lemon
  3. pour the rest of the syrup over the cowslips, stir well, cover and leave in a warm place for 24 hours
  4. add the lemon syrup and the sweet briar
  5. add the yeast dissolved in a little honey
  6. let this work for four days then strain into a cask
  7. keep in a cool place for six months then bottle