Chapter two: In which we gather fruit in the forest, make two recipes, and contemplate a move to Murmur-valley.
Our first Welsh forest adventure was to look for sloes. Sloe gin and tonic is the drink of dreams it not only tastes fantastic but looks so sophisticated – all purple and bubbles and the glint of ice. Here is the recipe we made:
Take a quantity of fat purple-black sloes – most recipes tell you to gather after the first frosts but this is unnecessary – anytime from September to October is fine (here in the UK). Wash the sloes thoroughly and prick through with a needle to release the juice. Put enough sloes in a bottle to reach one-third of the way up. For a sweet drink add four tablespoons of white sugar – we prefer a more complex taste and add two tablespoons of sugar. Next add the gin. Don’t be tempted to use cheap gin as your efforts will taste foul. We use Gordon’s. Seal tightly and shake every second day. Keep out of the light otherwise the colour fades. It needs at least three months for the flavours to mix so by Christmas your sloe gin will be perfect.
There is a family story of a bottle of sloe gin that was left (on purpose) for seven years. It developed in to the perfect sloe liqueur so if you can wait that long (and we rarely can) it might be worth the self-control.
Our second forage in the woodland around our Welsh temporary home was for blackberry’s, there were so many and we made a delicious blackberry and apple crumble using our favourite topping recipe from a 1970’s book by Sarah Brown:
Rub 50g (2oz) of butter in to 75g (3oz) of plain wholemeal flour. Then mix in 75g (3oz) of porridge oats, a handful of seeds – sunflower or pumpkin work well, 50g (2oz) of demerara (brown) sugar and four tablespoons of sunflower oil. Sprinkle on to the dish of blackberry and apple which you have already cooked. Place in the oven at 180c/350f for 25 minutes until well browned.
When I was a child I had a favourite second-hand book illustrated by Georg Lemann. It tells of two young bears bored with life and living on a mountainside with their father. One day they hit the old mailbox by their cottage gate and find a letter, stained and ripped, inviting them to live in a house in Murmur-valley. Father is reluctant to go but then a huge rock falls from the mountain destroying their house. He has no choice, he must join his excited sons on a journey to a place he is sure no longer exists. They have many frightening adventures but just as Father Bear and the two youngsters have given up hope they hear the sound of water in the distance. Scampering through the barren landscape they turn a corner and there is Murmur-valley and a cottage waiting for them in a secluded woodland dell – just as the letter promised.
We often find places in Wales that remind us of Murmur-valley, high wooded hills, mountain peaks, chattering streams and a secluded cottage. We could work quite happily in the cottage in the illustration, a cosy, warm and creative space – although it might be a tight squeeze if those pesky bears had already moved in.
Illustration: Copyright Georg Lemman C 1960’s (?)