With the bright frosty starts we’ve been having this last week, it seemed like a perfect opportunity to take Sadie for a walk on Therfield Heath and check out the progress of the wild pasque flower colony growing there.
It was early and the place was once again fairly empty. The sun was still low in the sky and I hoped to take some backlit photos of massed pasques. Sadly, there wasn’t the density of flower heads, even though there was a good coverage. It was quite fun looking towards the sun and seeing all the funnel spider webs covering the hillside though.
Anyhow, we both enjoyed a good look at the flowers, but then moved on to investigate the wooded area, beyond the colony, called Fox Covert. Fox Covert is a small nature reserve that is characterised by mature beech trees and white helleborine orchids. The helleborines aren’t out yet, but soon will be.
At this time of year sunlight streams down to the forest floor, illuminating the root systems and casting linear shadows from the straight, tall tree trunks.
That is already changing, because the leaves have begun to unfurl.
Beech leaves seem to epitomize the freshness of spring.
They are a translucent, bright green and are covered in silky hairs that fall away as they age.
It is at this tender stage that they are just right for making a delicious drink called Beech Leaf Noyau. I found a recipe for this some years ago in the Roger Philips’ ‘Wild Food’ book and the drink itself was a surprising revelation, but his and most other recipes that I’ve read for this are in fact based on the one found in classic 1972 foraging book ‘Food for Free’ by Richard Mabey.
I’ll repeat it here, because it is worth trying to make it if you can manage to gather some beech leaves. It is made with gin and is like a light spring-time version of sloe gin, with slight hints of french herbal distillations such as Charteuse.
Beech Leaf Noyau
You will need:
- 700ml (bottle) Gin
- 400ml (approx) of beech leaves stripped from the branch
- 225g of white sugar
- 200ml brandy
- 300ml water
The method is very simple:
Place the leaves in a jar and cover with the gin. Leave for 3-4 weeks, then strain off the infused liquid. Make a syrup to add to the beech gin by boiling the water and dissolving thesugar. Let it cool. Then mix together with the gin and additional brandy. This process has double the volume, so you will end up needing two bottles to contain the resulting liqueur.
Keep it as long as you can keep your hands off it.