Friday, 5 October 2012


A walk through the woods is a peaceful past time even when you're foraging. Foraging for what you ask? Beech leaves. We have a stand of beautiful beeches by our house. And armed with a book that Jared bought for my birthday we were on the hunt for delight, young, waxy beech leaves.

See back in the late 1960s and early 1970s when money wasn't so plentiful and our consciences were raised to all things natural, self-sufficient, and meant that you were "getting back to the land", you owned books like Diet for a Small Planet, Back to Eden, and Richard Mabey's 1972 tome Food for Free. Never mind the fact we also got into knitting, weaving, beadwork, camping, fishing, foraging, mending clothes instead of buying new ones, making gifts, cooking and eating healthy foods inside of instant and over-processed ones, and generally living a down-sized, simple life. Ah those were the days of recessions gone by. (But wait. Are those the latest trends today? You have to love it when certain lifestyles return every other generation or so.)

One thing that Jared and I both learnt back in those days was that we don't like dandelions. Don't like dandelion wine. Cooked dandelions are the best way to waste perfectly good garlic and lardons. And dandelion roots were the bane of readying our garden for veg and fruit planting. Well, burdock root took the number one slot. Dandelions came second.

The other thing we learnt was that some foods should only be consumed when the need to survive is greater than the desire to appreciate certain tastes and flavours. Caution flags went up when we scanned Mabey's book and found a recipe for Beech Leaf Noyau.

Noyau. Yes, as in crème de noyau. Hard to find outside of France. Actually, hard to find in France. Créme de noyau appears in a slew of recipes in Louis Fouquet's 1896 cocktail book Bariana: Recueil Pratique De Toutes Boissons Americaines Et Anglaises. But Beech Leaf Noyau. This could be just as bad as dandelion wine. But we thought: "Maybe we should do a test batch just to see what it tastes like."

Armed with a few fistfuls of young, waxy beech leaves, we headed into the kitchen.

We packed the leaves into a jam jar and topped it up with Sipsmith Gin. We placed the jar in a cool, dark place for a fortnight and patiently awaited the result.

Gob smacked! After we strained the liquid into a stopped bottle we poured a splash into a tasting glass and sipped. Gob smacked! Complex, herby, and nutty on both the nose and the palate. We didn't bother to add sugar and brandy as Mabey suggested. We've decided to leave the Beech Leaf Noyau as is. Why? Because it may not be a replacement for crème de noyau and all of its apricot kernel nuttiness, but it is a fine alternative to yellow Charteuse. Want the sweetness in your drink? Add gomme syrup to taste.

We tried it in a variation on Harry Johnon's Bijou Cocktail:

1 part Martini & Rossi Italian vermouth
1 part Plymouth gin
3-4 dashes beech leaf noyau
1 dash of Regan's Orange Bitters
Stir ingredients over ice. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Add a Luxardo cherry and a lemon peel.

If you want to try Mabey's version, add 350 gr of caster sugar dissolved in 250 ml of boiling water to every 500 ml of beech-infused gin. Then add a dash of brandy.

Glad there is a full stand of beeches behind the house. Come next spring, we'll be at the ready to forage for a full basketful of beech leaves.

1 comment:

  1. Beech leaf noyeau needs the sugar