I'm a big fan of Sloe gin, but the pursuit of different ways of using my wild gatherings is an addictive and enjoyable one. A fruit-whisky-sugar combination works fabulously well in the Scottish classic Cranachan; I see no reason why this should be any least successful. High hopes rest on getting a bit of game involved with the soon-to-be ruby mixture during the cold winter months of the new year, not to mention a cocktail or two.
40cl Whisky (it's best not to use anything to fancy/expensive, in a similar fashion to Sloe Gin making)
125g Granulated sugar
Roughly two large handfuls of Sloes
Half a cinnamon stick
A couple of cloves
Pour the sugar into a bottle with the Whisky, add the spices and then fill to the rim with sloes. Gently agitate the bottle daily for the first 7 days and weekly thereafter to help everything blend together. It'll taste good after about three months, but patience is rewarded.
The willows seem to have been worse affected by the storm. Jagged splinters of wood fissure skyward along the river bank as we trudge down the hill towards the wood; the weather is brooding and unsettled. Clear blue sky and blazing sun one moment, a dark cloak of slate cloud and rain the other - we shelter under an old Oak during one particularly enthusiastic monsoon and stumble upon a large Hen of the woods mushroom nestling at the base of the trunk. Teamed with a pocketful of Sweet Chestnuts that we found earlier on in the walk, lunch appears to be gradually coming together. This is the beauty of foraging for me - the element of chance involved in any one given foray. You can use pumpkin or squash in this recipe; a sprinkle of crispy sage leaves are a worthy addition if you have them at hand.
600g Pumpkin, skin removed and cut into chunks Fresh Thyme Freshly ground nutmeg Olive oil 3/4 Pint chicken stock 200g Plain flour A handful of wild mushrooms (I used Hen of the woods, but shop-bought mushrooms work equally well)
1 Garlic clove, finely chopped 1Tbsp Chopped roast chestnuts A large knob of Butter
1 Heat the oven to 180c/160c fan/Gas 4. Spread the pumpkin chunks out evenly in a large roasting tin. Season, add a drizzle of olive oil, teaspoon of fresh thyme leaves and a pinch of nutmeg, then roast in the oven for 30 minutes. 2 While the pumpkin is roasting, heat the stock in a saucepan. Add the roasted pumpkin to a blender, then pour over the stock. Blitz until you have a smooth, thick, soup-like mixture, then pour back into the pan. 3 Keep the pumpkin mixture on a low heat and slowly sieve in the flour, stirring continuously as you do so. It'll gradually start to thicken to a dough-like consistency. Spoon into a bowl and leave to cool. 4 There are plenty of ways of shaping gnocchi, but in this instance I found this technique to be a quick and easy way that suits the dough consistency of this recipe. Take two spoons. Use one spoon to chop off a gnocchi-sized portion of mixture in the bowl, then scoop up using the side of the bowl to form a rugby ball-shaped gnocchi as you do so (see step pic). Use to second spoon to scoop underneath the little gnocchis (gnocchlets?) and let them drop into a hot oiled pan. Fry until golden.
5 Melt the butter in a pan with the garlic, then soften the mushrooms in the hot butter for 5 minutes. Just before serving stir in the chopped chestnuts then spoon over the crispy gnocchi.