Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Wasp Wars & Purple Wine Explosions

One of my earliest attempts at creating foragers wine involved wild damsons, and they turned out to be very wild indeed.
As young lads, we often used to play in the local woods, which involved a quick trip across the local railway branch line, fording the Monks Brook, walking through a cow field and hopping over a style - there was our place of boyhood adventure. There we built dens and tree houses, frightened pheasants with home-made spears, caught lizards, slow worms and grass snakes (we all now know that you should never do this) and fought wars with crab-apples and catapults.
A Lovely Grass Snake
Late one spring, we discovered the foundation ruins of a small building, we called it the Gravediggers cottage; it was probably just a couple of bricks left on the ground.  Next to it we found a damson tree bearing unripe fruit. We planned all kinds of ways to use this purple hoard once it had ripened; including, giving them to mum to make stuff out of, and inevitably… Damson wine of our own recipe.
As spring crept toward summer and we watched for signs of ripe fruit dropping, other, uninvited guests came to join the party, WASPS! The stripy blighters had deliberately built an underground nest, right beneath our tree.  To make matters worse, they were eating OUR damsons. 
Yellow Jackets at Four 'O' Clock!
 That's OK, we've got 2 hours then.
Despite the striped no-fly-exclusion-zone the insects established around OUR tree! The next day we declared war and visited teenage shock and awe upon the wasps, I think we all got stung at least once but we did manage to liberate our tree in the end.
The Damson wine did eventually get made and it cleared to a beautiful pinkish-purple hue, somewhat akin to methylated spirits. Fortunately, it tasted better than meths. I admit that it may have tasted sweeter due to our recent victory but it was sparkling too, fizzing with Champagne like bubbles. If only we had had the foresight to store it in Champagne bottles
Looks Explosive...
Luckily for all concerned the explosion occurred at night; glass shards embedded themselves in the plaster of the dining room walls and ceiling, and the mess was very messy. You live and hopefully, you learn from your mistakes but my interest in wine making did not stop with damsons; I went on to make others including ginger, elderberry, rice and even water wine. The latter was purely to satisfy my curiosity and personal messianic complex, using only tap water, sugar, and yeast. Needless to say, it tasted quite vile and I never did manage that other thing with the loaves and fishes either.
I should point out that this terrible tale of anarchy, chaos and destruction occurred about 35 years ago, I am now older and wiser. We know, for instance, that wasps play an equally important part in the role of ecology as butterflies and we should not attack or kill them (even to protect a fruity purple hoard).
Summer Fruit Liqueur - Beware!
Now, back to the future and last year I made green walnut schnapps, which now tastes lovely despite looking like used engine oil. I also made a summer fruit liqueur, employing vodka, raspberries, blackberries and other foraged things - it is a beautiful red colour and is dangerously delicious...

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