Friday, 29 November 2013

Stinging Nettle beer

   This is my first foray in to the art of the homebrew, I've dabbled with Sloe gin and fruit-flavoured vodkas before, but never created my own alcohol using only sugar, yeast and weeds.  Don't let the word 'beer' fool you, this isn't like a lager or ale you'd get from the shops, more of a fizzy, boozy Elderflower cordial - really very refreshing, a great summer tipple!

Gloves are obviously a must when picking Stinging Nettles (Urtica dioica), but use plastic ones, as you'll still get stung through cotton or material gloves, for a number of days afterwards actually, as the sting has a nasty tendency to hang around. Pick only the tips of fresh nettles - the top 2-6 leaves, depending on age.

Infuse the nettles in boiling water until cool

Stinging Nettle infusion / tea

This recipe is from Andy Hamilton's book 'Booze For Free', which is a must-have for those interested in creating weird and wacky beverages - from Horseradish vodka to Sumac lemonade, this book is all you need.  The ingredients listed below are straight from the book, but for my brew I adjusted the quantity of all the ingredients proportionally to how many Stinging Nettles I had collected, if I remember correctly it was around ⅛th of the stated volume.


- 22 litres of water
- 2kg (4 carrier bags full) of nettle tips
- Juice of 2 lemons
- Juice of 2 oranges
- 3kg sugar
- 100g cream of tartar
- ale yeast

You'll need:

- Large saucepan / cauldron
- Fermentation bin (I used a sterilised bucket)
- Muslin / cheesecloth
- Siphoning tube (I didn't use one)

Boil all the water.  Place clean nettles into a fermentation bin and pour the boiling water over them. Allow to infuse, cool, and then strain back into the cauldron/pan.  Add the lemon and orange juice, sugar and cream of tartar.  Heat gently and stir until the sugar has dissolved - do not boil.  Pour back into the fermentation bin and leave to cool to room temperature before pitching the yeast.  Cover tightly with a muslin cloth and leave in a warm place for three days.  Siphon/pour into bottles and leave to condition for a week before drinking. Serve cold.

After pitching the yeast

Cover with a cloth for three days

Cloudy brew before the silt settled

As I didn't siphon the pitched yeast mixture that had sat for three days, the silt got stirred up when poured into the bottles - after a day or so it'll settle and your beer will turn clear like the picture below.

Beware - this stuff is explosive!  It's OK of you're opening a kilner jar of the stuff, but if you've bottled in a bottle with a narrow neck it acts kind of like a Stinging Nettle roman candle, covering the roof in precious booze. 


Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Rosehip syrup

To be updated soon...

Monday, 18 November 2013

Chestnut flour power - a how-to guide

  Making Chestnut flour requires a lot of will power, be warned...4 hours later and after repetitive strain injury had firmly kicked in, the Chestnuts were peeled.  No recipes in this post, just simply a how-to guide (for those that dare to endure the torture). Overdramatic? No.

Chestnut flour is a very versatile ingredient, it can be used in pancakes to polenta, and from pastry to pasta.  I have yet to decide what to use mine for, so I have put in the freezer for safekeeping - if left in the fridge I've heard it only lasts a week or thereabouts.

Easy pickings

How to peel Chestnuts:

A lot of guides on the internet tell you to score the outer shell and roast the Chestnuts first (see my Hogweed Tempura post) before peeling.  This is very ill-advised, as trying the get the inner nut out of the shell after roasting is even harder than the method used here, and definitely would have increased the time it took to get the lot finished, which have I mentioned, by the way, took long enough!

A better method is to get a pan of water to a rolling boil, chuck your Chestnuts in, boil for 5 minutes, and drain.  This way you don't pierce the skin, and so stand a better chance of getting your nut out whole.  As I had never done this before I made the mistake of putting a whole carrier bag full of Chestnuts in to boil at once, and draining at once.  I soon found out that peeling the Chestnuts when warm was far easier and that I'd shot myself in the foot by boiling the whole lot. So;

- Boil only a few large handfuls at once 
- Drain and put the Chestnuts in to a bowl of cold water 
- Once they are cool enough to touch, start peeling straight away
- If you have a knife with a curved end like my mushroom knife - see below - I would recommend using it, it makes it       so much easier to peel the Chestnuts

Chestnut production line

So once you have all your Chestnuts peeled and have recovered from temporary tennis elbow, you need to dry them off.  I have a dehydrator, so used that, alternatively you could use an oven on a very low heat - around 40/50ÂșC. Spread the nuts on greaseproof paper and leave dehydrate, this does take a while! (5 hours or more).

Dehydrator in action

Dehydrated Chestnuts

Once the Chestnuts are dry or semi-dry, put them in a blender and blitz.  I over-dehydrated my Chestnuts slightly so that they resembled rocks rather than nuts, so I had to leave them in the blender for five or ten minutes until they had a flour-like consistency. After this they got 'pestled' in the mortar to get the remaining large chunks out.  As it would have been even more work to turn the coarse powder to a fine powder, I left it as it was...rustic I believe people call that?!

If I were to do this again I would not have dehydrated the Chestnuts quite as much - would have made the bllizting process easier.

P.S. Top tip - don't open the blender straight after you've turned it off, leave the flour to settle for a minute before lifting the lid, otherwise you'll get covered in a cloud of Chestnut flour, trust me.

Once I have made something with this flour, I'll be sure to post the recipe on here, so keep an eye out.

Coarse Chestnut flour