Category Archives: drink

Crabbie’s Alcoholic Ginger Beer

Here’s a photo from summer days (they seem a long time ago now don’t they?) of a bottle of Crabbie’s Alcoholic Ginger Beer. I stumbled upon it in a pub in the middle of a long walk in Devon and thought it was just the ticket. It proved refreshing and soporific and was surprisingly spicy. I thought it might be a muted flavour, either because of the alcohol or what I perceived as the ‘market’, but it was really quite delicious. I’ve not found it since, but judging by the fact I’ve just spied it as sponsoring the British Comedy Awards, I don’t think it’ll be long before I see it again.

If I see it soon, it might be just right mulled. If I don’t see it till next year, I look forward to another sunny country day and a long, cold drink!

Elderflower and mint cordial

This was a bit of an experiment as I wanted to use some of the mint which is growing copiously in the garden. I knew it would either make a deliciously refreshing cordial or something that tasted like toothpaste. Thankfully it turned out to be just right.

Ingredients (makes enough to fill 2 x 75 cl bottles)

  • 15 large elderflower heads
  • 1.5 litres water
  • 350 g caster sugar
  • 100 g brown sugar
  • 25 g citric acid (finally found it in a chemist’s, read the saga of the citric acid here)
  • 5 full stems of mint
  • 1 orange
  • 1 lemon

How to make it

Boil the water (should be about one very full kettle’s worth) and pour it over the sugar and leave to cool. Once it’s cool, stir in the citric acid.

Lightly rinse the elderflower heads to remove any dirt or little insects (but don’t plunge them in water). Peel the orange and lemon with a vegetable peeler and throw the peel in with the elderflower heads. Slice the fruit and add. Pick five tall, young stems of mint and add to the fruity and fragrant mix. Pour the now cool water, sugar and citric acid mixture over the fruity concoction. Cover with cling film and leave to infuse for a day.

Strain the fruit, through muslin or cheesecloth ideally to make it as clear as possible. The cordial should be put into sterilised bottles (I pour boiling water into the bottles, right to the top, pour the water out and leave them to dry in a hot oven for about 20 minutes) and the lids tightly added.

I was really pleasantly surprised by this cordial as it was heady and fragrant, but had a zingy and completely refreshing edge. It was the perfect antidote to a full morning’s gardening:

During which I found these growing merrily! I’m going to eat them before anyone, or anything, else does!

Halcyon days, and a mission that would make Guy Ritchie proud

There’s no place like home and, for me, that means there’s no place like the Westcountry on a summer day. Having spent recent summers tied to a desk at a university library, or cooped up in a sticky city, or semi-stranded on a tropic isle where the sun sets at 6pm every evening, I’ve been longing to get back home. Home to hot air balloons, cricket, ducklings on canals, fayres, cider festivals, bandstands, open fields and ekeing out hazy evenings with a blanket on knees.

One of the most evocative tastes of a British summer, aside from strawberries and new veg smothered in butter, is the elderflower. Near where we live all the elderflower were plucked from the riverbanks some time ago, so when I spotted a bush still bearing white flowers, I had to take my chance and merrily denuded everything within reach. I collected over 60 heads (perhaps a little over-ambitious) and made home with my haul.

now follows… the citric acid saga
in which many frustrations befall the frolicking foodie


3pm: with a veritable heap of flora, the ingredients to make cordial must be sourced – sugar, water, lemons, oranges… fine. Citric acid? Well that must be with the bicarbonate of soda.

4pm, a well-known supermarket: OK, so it’s not in home-baking. Or specialist foods. Or the medicines aisle. Or the cleaning fluids. Or the alcohol. I’ll ask this helpful chap. OK, looking it up on the store’s system. None. Bugger. Looking it up on the Sainsbury’s mainframe. ‘no populated content for this search’. That means that there is none, in any Sainbury’s supermarket, anywhere. Onwards.

4:30pm, a well-known chemist: So people cut their drugs with it and you can no longer sell it? I could try and independent pharmacist? OK…

4:35pm [by this point, running Anika Rice-stylee down the high street]: You do sell it! YESSS! Oh… you can’t get it for love nor money? Elderflower cordial season y’say. Funny, that.

4:40pm, an independent kitchen shop: Oh you’d love to help me, m’lover, but everyone’s been asking for it! You’ves no idea what’s got into every man and his wife!

4:50pm, a health food shop: Well, I’m at least the tenth person to ask today for this citric acid stuff. Not quite sure what it’s for, but tell you what if you like, there’s the man that owns the little chemist on the end of the bridge, good Lordy, can’t even remember the name of him. Could be Gerald, or maybe Germone? Definitely began with a G of some sort, and, well, he’s pretty good with stocking stuff, he is. What’s it for anyway?

4:55pm, Gerry’s pharmacy (no clearer idea what his name really is): Why haven’t I tried the home brew shop? WHY haven’t I tried the home brew shop!!

4:59pm, outside the home brew shop (which is next to a small church with a bell tower), the clock striking out 5pm as I turn the corner to face the front door. CLOSED. I raise my fists to the sky, shake them helplessly at the air and let our a prolonged ‘Nooooooooo’. I resist falling to my knees and sobbing into them. Just.

5:00pm, car: slight mini-tantrum thrown.

6:00pm, kitchen: elderflowers reluctantly placed in a shallow bowl of water and covered with cling film. Cordial scuppered.


Home brew shop closed till Wednesday. Phoned every independent pharmacy in town. None, anywhere. There’s been a run on it, apparently. Then I get a phone call back… there will be a delivery. They can’t say when. They can take my name and my number. They can’t sell me more than 100g, cause the law’s on their back. But they can do me two packets, if I can come in at lunch time.

I go in at lunch time. I sidle up to the pharmacy assistant. Got any citric? No, all out. She eyeballs me. I’m on the list, I try feebly. Oh, well, she says. That makes all the difference, she says. She unlocks a drawer below the till and takes out ‘the list’. She crosses my name off and hands me two small boxes of acid. I pay cash, and stash them in my handbag.

Got to be careful round these parts, anyone’ll have you for 100g of citric acid.

Sunshiny Sunday: Barbecue Halloumi Skewers

Sunny Sundays prompt the lighting of barbecues across the nation and after niffing the lovely smells weekend after weekend, today we joined in. We invited our fishy friends around (which is no insult, they are vegetarians who eat fish – pescetarians officially but ‘fishy friends’ makes me chuckle) so we were to prepare a mostly meat-free barbecue. Halloumi first came to mind.

Great minds thought alike and our friends also brought ingredients for halloumi, and tuna, kebabs. As per the natural order, the boys took charge of the barbecuing and sat at the table threading the skewers: halloumi-courgette-cherry tomato-pepper-mushroom. They too took charge of the cooking:

‘Just chuck the oil over as well, it’ll be fiiiiiiiine’

The tuna kebabs were first to be cooked (brushed with garlic infused oil and lime and sprinkled with salt and coriander). Consensus was that they were the best things to have ever come off a barbecue.

We were, however, mistaken. The halloumi skewers – picture at the top of the page – (brushed with lemon infused oil and sprinkled with salt and mint), slid into a lightly barbecued pitta bread were absolutely delicious. The courgette-cherry tomato-halloumi combination was particularly good!

I now have a spare chunk of halloumi and a recipe from said fishy friends for a halloumi salad including spinach and oranges…

(As a side note, we started the barbecue by supping some English wine from very close to where my parents live. It was the 2007 Sharpham’s Dart Valley Reserve, and very nice it was too! I’ve had English white wine only once before, from a place called Wissett in Suffolk and it was NOT good. This, however, was light and crisp and I don’t know if we were simply overcome with summer, but we could definitely sense a taste of the most summery of fragrances: elderflower.)

Cream Tea

Over this Whitsun Weekend, I’m off visiting my parents in Devon. Devon is a county in the Westcountry (the south-western peninsula) which remains rural and has an abundant and beautiful coastline. Because of the number of cows (everywhere) the Westcountry has a foodie reputation for dairy products (notably butter, cream, icecream, rice pudding and custard) which gave rise to the Ambrosia company’s advertising slogan “Devon knows how they make it so creamy!”.

For me, cream teas are strongly associated with garden tea rooms and are best eaten outside. Yesterday, we went to Coleton Fishacre (pronounced: coll-erton) which is a beautiful house of the arts and crafts/deco style with a stunning interior and gardens that extend forever down to a swimming cove and the rugged Devon coast. After having my breath taken away by the deco styling, and then by the walk up from the cove, it was time for an afternoon cream tea. And so we ordered (cream teas are a staple in the Westcountry) and sat just outside the house, overlooking the gardens, out to sea. My mum and I shared this cream tea:

Because cream teas are so ubiquitous in the south west, I never even considered that they don’t have the same status elsewhere. Sometimes I crave a cream tea and, living in the north as we currently do, I’ve found it nearly impossible to find a tea room that does one and it’s taken me 6 months to locate a shop that sells the one absolutely unchangeable element of a cream tea: CLOTTED CREAM. Oh, it sounds repulsive I’ll give you that. But it’s divine. I’m not quite sure how it’s made, but it has a firm buttery top and a thick liquid bottom.

I suppose this is the point where I address the burning issue of constructing the cream tea. I should warn you that, although I respect diversity, I am unwilling to compromise on this issue*. There are times when I’ve seen the jam being put on first, inevitably by a grockle (local term for a tourist) where it’s been hard to control the urge to turn over the tables and challenge such unorthodox behaviour. I have even witnessed someone eating a scone like a sandwich. I believe education is the only way to solve this problem, so let me state categorically that it is my belief that the scone is split, and each half is treated as a separate delicious entity (though favouring one half, as I do the top half, is unavoidable) and that the cream is spread on first, the jam dollops on top.

Wikipedia states that this is the Devonian way – which makes sense I suppose. Doing it this way provides what I think is the best textural combination. It also allows you to get the most cream on (with a knife) and the most jam on (with a spoon). Besides, spooning clotted cream is incredibly difficult. When it comes to the fruit scone/no fruit scone issue I am less dictatorial. Do as you please.

So I sat with my cream tea, with wonderful Devon all around me, until I came to my last morsel.

*I wish this was tongue-in-cheek, but, well, I’m deadly serious

Pimm’s O’Clock

When I was at uni in Cambridge, Pimm’s was a total staple of the “summer season” of garden parties, punting trips and post-exam jubilation. There were no worries, no appointments, no timetables. Of course, we were so lost without structure that we imposed Pimm’s o’clock in the afternoon. For me, there is little else that screams summer relaxation like Pimm’s. At least not in England.

I don’t think I had a glass last summer (what with being on a desert island and everything) so I was so happy to stop off at the supermarket after work and gather the necessaries for my first Pimm’s in a long time. On my list was cucumber, apple, orange, lemon, strawberries, mint, ice cubes, lemonade and of course the classic Pimm’s number one cup.

When I arrived at my friend’s house she was totally excited because she’d never had Pimm’s before! I supposed it was maybe a Southern thing (living oop north as I do now) but she said, “nah, it’s just posh”.

The fruit is sliced up, Pimm’s and lemonade added in a 1:3 ratio (but I tend to go on the stronger side). I go overboard on the fruit, partly because I think it tastes ace, but mainly because everyone loves delving into the jug and having a nibble.

The ingredients of Pimm’s are a bit of a mystery, but after a phonecall to Diageo today the main ones are gin, orange liqueur, spirit caramel and sugar. And best of all it is suitable for a gluten -free diet!

I’m feeling like it’s Pimm’s o’clock again already…

p.s. I have some Pimm’s cocktail stirrers and should have used them in my picture!

Silver Birch Wine

This ethereal looking wine was given to me by my brother for looking after his four children (!!). He also gave me a home-made lego lampshade, make of this what you will. I was very intrigued by it, and had read the back several times but didn’t dare touch it.

What made me finally crack it open was its featuring on a dish on The Great British Menu, a TV programme currently on the BBC aiming to find a great modern British chef to cook at the Erotic Gherkin for Heston Blumenthal (himself a gastronomic alchemist) and chums.

The programme showed Chris Horridge visiting the winery, the tapped silver birches and finally having a tasting with his chef rival.

The exchange between them was priceless. Chris brandished the bottle, Elisha took a sip and pulled an indescribable face. Chris justified his choice, saying “well it’s fine in a marinade…”

So with that, I took my own first sip. At first it tasted of nothing in particular, fairly sweet. Then a very peculiar taste indeed emerged which was mellow but almost musky. I sipped my way through a glass of the stuff, but it did have a definite after taste. TLM said it was like paint stripper, which I found hard to argue against.

So in conclusion: I expect the majority of the purchases are made on a curiosity basis and there are few repeat customers. The lego lamp however, rocks.

Peppermint Tea

If I didn’t know better, I’d think that there was actually some sort of drug in peppermint tea.

I was first given a peppermint teabag in a school staffroom after a long, stressful day. I looked at it scornfully, unconvinced by the claims that it is soothing, good for the digestion etc. I’ve always hated herbal tea, thinking it ludicrous and often tasting too much like ribena anyway. So with much trepidation, I poured the boiling water over the bag and as soon as the vapours hit my nostrils, I collapsed into a serene state.

I am now evangelical about the wonders of peppermint tea (with honey ;)). If you’ve never tried it, I command you to go and buy some teabags. They need to be nice ones like Twinings (the one pictured is by a company called Teapigs and it is the epitome of peppermint tea). They work absolute wonders, and taste great (much better than that chammomile chuff people try and pass off as nice). Do it, do it!