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Wales, United Kingdom
In autumn 2010, my husband Ian and I both quit our jobs, sold our house and left the flatlands of the east for the mountains of Wales. Our goal is to create a more self-sufficient lifestyle in a place we actually like living. Whilst Ian will continue to earn some money as a freelancer, my part of the project is to reduce how much we spend by growing and making as much of what we need as possible. The purpose of this blog is to keep friends updated with how the grand project is progressing, but all are welcome here. If you're not a friend already, well perhaps you might become one.

Friday, 10 January 2014

Foraged Food Friday: Honeysuckle

This was my third home-brew beer experiment, and I was getting a bit cocky by this time. Although I didn't explicitly recall it at the time, I think I must have read Atomic Shrimp's sweet gale beer recipe, as I had the idea of using treacle to make a dark beer. It probably would have been better if I had remembered where I got the idea from, and checked just how little treacle he used. Not only did I use treacle, I also added molasses. I saw some for sale and bought it out of curiosity, just to see whether it is the same as treacle (no, it's not. It tastes like muscavado sugar, whereas treacle has a more caramelly, burnt sugar sort of flavour. Similar, but not quite the same.) Since I then had a jar full, I decided to use in beer.

Having found dandelion leaves too bitter to eat as a vegetable, I wondered if they might serve well as a bittering agent in ale. They're not very aromatic, so I then wondered what I might use to complement them. This lead me (via flowers in general) to honeysuckle. The flowers smell so wonderful, and I've heard that children pick them to suck the nectar out, so they seemed like a good bet for a flowery, aromatic flavour that might stand up to both treacle and dandelion leaves.

Honeysuckle flowers (Lonicera periclymenum)
These are my neighbour's flowers. I did not pick these ones.

Here are the notes I wrote on this recipe at the time:-

  • Two large handfuls of dandelion leaves
  • about 20 honeysuckle flower heads, picked on a warm evening
    (NB see Jade's notes on honeysuckle: Wild Pickings: Honeysuckle Not seen before using flowers. Probably best to use them in beer!)
  • 370g malt extract
  • 370g molasses
  • 454g treacle
Bearing in mind that the berry is poisonous, I pulled the flowers off the green centre. I wondered about removing the green base of each flower - I didn't, but seeing Jade's notes, wonder whether I should have done. For a bitter ale, perhaps it'll be OK.

Flowers filled the larger basin, covered in hot water and steeped for... half an hour? An hour?
Leaves put in saucepan and boiled for 20min-half hour; strain off liquid and repeat.
Pour hot liquids onto sugars in bucket, fill, wait to cool (got down to 38deg. It was a hot evening) then add yeast - last used for blackcurrant wine, so a hint of blackcurrant in this, too.
Bottled after one week in bucket (probably a bit too long). Smells very treacly!

Dandelion and honeysuckle ale

Frankly, this ale is a bit peculiar. Firstly, it's not smooth at all. I'm not sure what the opposite is - rough means something else - but the bubbles, such as they are, are fairly large, which is not the effect you want in this kind of beer. It didn't taste good at all to start with, but after a few months it's mellowed to something quite drinkable. It's still rather odd, though. The flavour is dominated by the molasses and treacle, so I can't really tell what contribution the honeysuckle's making, if any. There's a certain bitter depth to it, which balances the treacliness, so the dandelion is doing its job, but I can't pick out the floral notes. This probably has more to do with the unfamiliar taste from the sugars than anything else.

I can't really call this beer a success, though I'm happy enough to drink it. It leaves me with no verdict at all on honeysuckle flowers - they might be a good flavouring for beer, I just can't tell from this. I might try again next year, or I might have a go with other flavourings. Either way, I'll skip the molasses next time!

Also harvesting this week
Evening primrose roots

Also eating
Birch bolete mushroom (from dried)
Green laver (from dried)
Courgette puree (from frozen)
Sloe and elderberry puree (from making wine)
Hogweed seed

Also drinking
Bay herb ale (the last bottle, that I told you about a few weeks ago but didn't actually drink)
Blackcurrant cordial
Blackberry wine
Sloe wine

Foraged food challenge summary page here.

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