Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Juniper = Gin

The weather was sizzling on the August Bank Holiday and we wanted to go somewhere nice for a day out but any beach within easy reach would be clogged and the journey back in a hot car would clearly be a nightmare. We decided eventually to go for a walk and picnic at delightful Danebury Ring (an Iron Age hill-fort).
I bought a bucket to collect Elderberries and containers for Raspberries and Juniper berries, which I knew from previous experience existed here. As it turned out, there was not enough Elderberries available and the Raspberries were not ready either. I gave up on the original plan and continued my search for Juniper.
On my route around the embankments I heard a deep humming buzz, "Bees!" I thought... Sure enough, after tuning in my ears to the sound, I located a large beech tree with a bee's nest hidden behind a hole in the trunk. Hundreds of bees were busily buzzing in and out and all around the entrance. I crept up close, took a photo and then scurried off to continue my search.
Juniper berries are primary botanical in the manufacture of gin and they lend it the distinctive aroma and flavour. As I had recently struck up a relationship with award-winning local artisan distillery, Twisted Nose, I thought I would gather a few berries to take back for experimentation and comparative purposes.
The Juniper is a fascinating tree and Juniper groves always look slightly eerie; it is the only fir native to the UK and survives only on very specific soil types, which  happens to suit the ancient downs, in the South. I have seen it on several of the hill forts we frequent. The berries (which are actually miniature fir-cones) ripen in a three yearly sequence and you get ripe and unripe berries on the same tree. This, along with horribly spiky, needle-like leaves, makes collecting them in any quantity very difficult and painful.
Soon my fingers were throbbing painfully and I resorted to using my penknife to avoid further injury, there must be an easier way. However, the sun was still shining and the kids were off playing on a rope swing somewhere in the nearby trees, so I persevered. Eventually I collected enough berries to fill my small container and reported back to the picnic rug.

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