Drive around the island just now and there are two plants that catch the eye. The full green of spring hasn’t quite arrived, but the bare branches of the blackthorn are flecked with creamy blossom and there is an orange haze at a driver’s eye level, caused by the fruiting cones of the bog myrtle – called sweet gale because of the scent it gives to the winds.
Blackthorn is in the rose family. Some of its blossoms will mature in time to the fruit we know as sloes, those dark purple berries very often co-opted into the creation of sweetened autumn gins. Its close sister tree Hawthorn is a donor to The Botanist recipe. Curly, dried, aromatic sweet gale leaves also feature in our gin, another of the 22 local botanical ingredients.
Our quest to make easy seasonal cocktails often revolves around flavouring simple syrups and finding foraged garnishes. Now, for the sake of variety, and because those fragrant sweet gale cones are about as bitter as things come, we gave making cocktail bitters a try, with a particular nod to our transatlantic friend Ellen Zachos as our inspiration and guide. See here.
On this occasion, it was a three step process, just because I was on the way to a picnic with a wee jar of honey about my person when the experiment began… I gathered about 24 bog myrtle cones and chopped and crushed them, added them to the honey and left them to think about it. (This step is the improvisation.)