Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Making Sloe Gin in Large Quantities

The following are my tips on the easiest way to make sloe gin in large quantities. Firstly only make it in years when the sloes are plentiful but make a lot when you do! There is no point taking ages to pick your sloes, in good years the bushes are festooned with berries and you can rapidly gather them. You should be able to pick enough sloes to make 8 litres of sloe gin in an hour.

On returning with the sloes put them in a sink to wash them and pick off any stems that are left in the berries to prevent the sloe gin getting a woody taste and simply freeze them. This encourages the skins to split thereby avoiding having to prick the sloes with a pin. I then assemble everything needed to make the sloe gin. I use 2 and 3 litre jars that mustards and mayonnaises come in, but I have also bought large half gallon screw top jars from Ebay. I use Constance Spry's ancient recipe so the only other ingredients needed are sugar, gin and ground almonds or (almond essence). Perhaps almond essence is safer to use as it is less likely to give an nut allergy. I buy the cheapest London gin I can find and this year 2009 I paid £10.19 per litre.

I then simply assemble by adding 365 grammes of sugar to a 2 litre jar. Then put on top one and three quarter pints of sloe berries still frozen and add 7 drops of almond essence to which I top up with gin until full. I then put the lid on and give the bottle a good shake to entirely soak the sugar and settle everything down and then top up again until the bottle is brimful. I then store the gin down the cellar shaking the jars occasionally when I remember.

I generally leave the gin for the best part of a year before removing the stones. I have heard that leaving the berries in for along time can cause the gin to taste bitter and woody but have not personally found this and plenty of mine gets left 2 years with no ill effects. On decanting I pour into a sieve over a large jug and allow all the liquid to drain through and throw the berries away. I then simply filtrate the gin to leave it clear by passing it through a cotton hankerchief. Lastly I store the sloe gin in litre water bottles to release the large jars for the next crop of sloes.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Fishing the Mayfly on the Derwent at Chatsworth

I was lucky enough to enjoy a day with Richard Yardley and Rob Rusby on the Derwent at Chatsworth early in June. Though Richard wished me to go the week after to try and get the best chance of hitting the hatches of Mayfly at their optimum, we have the annual Gypsy Horse Fair in Appleby and that precludes sneaking off fishing, however attractive the invite. As I was travelling North anyway early Tuesday morning, it worked out perfectly and I was on time at 10.00 am at the car park by the bridge in readiness to fish the river in the parkland of Chatsworth House.

It was a scorchingly hot morning with not a cloud in sight as we tackled up whilst chatting to Matt the river keeper who thought that we would see a decent hatch of mayfly mid afternoon onwards. We therefore agreed to fish for a little bit, but to have an earlier lunch to maximise the afternoon and evening. I elected to fish to start with on a nice stretch with trees each side to try and get a little protection from the bright sun, there were odd fish rising I think mainly to black gnats of which there were swarms dashing about. I wanted to stick to fishing a dry fly as I have every opportunity to nymph on the River Eden at home and I am trying to become more proficient at using a dry fly. Unfortunately the selection of flies I had bought from John Pape included every type and stage of mayfly dressings and a few old favourites like a tups and greenwells glories but no gnats. I persevered and did manage to pick up one decent fish on a greenwells that I was pleased with. Richard came by and had done much better nymphing. A gentlemen walking by with a Jack Russell enquired if a chap who was tackling up nearby with a spinning rod was with me. On being told that he “was not” he phoned Matt. The chaps girl friend then came down and asked “If I had a spare float for her boyfriend?” I did not have the heart to tell her that her boyfriends fishing was about to be terminated. Shortly afterwards Matt arrived with two policemen and the boyfriend duly had his rod confiscated by the constabulary!

We went off to lunch at the Devonshire Arms in the qaint village of Pilsley and all had Roast Beef with a pint of Bakewell bitter, which was fine and hit the spot. We then went through the grounds of Chatsworth itself, by the front of the house and around behind the cricket ground where I had enjoyed a memorable evening a couple of years ago when I first witnessed the dance of the mayflies. We split up and agreed to meet at 5.00pm for a bottle of an excellent Provencal Rose that I had enjoyed in the past. Initially things were tough and I moved through several pools searching for any rising fish. Having tried fishing faster water trying to induce a take eventually I sat on a convenient bench a little chastened and just watched the river. I saw a decent fish rise opposite me underneath a large oak tree and at the same time noticed a few proper mayflies drifting down the river. For once I had the perfect match in my fly box so I changed my fly and went back in well downstream of the tree with some optimism. Immediately a fish rose in a stream the other side of some weed and a cast across with the leader landing on the weed for once was on the money and I tightened into a nice brown trout. It was well hooked and I managed to keep its head up and not lose it in the weed. This signalled a good hours and a bits sport and I caught a further 6 fish all brown trout of varying sizes and ended up nearly an hour late for the rose! I need not of worried as I was first back and Robert and Richard had also enjoyed a productive time though Robert was complaining of lost fish and fish that he had failed to hook which made me feel a lot better and a little smug.

We drunk our rose and set of for the evening and I fished upstream of the car park with some luck. There was not an extravagant hatch of mayfly but enough kept hatching to keep the trout and me interested. Not many rose to just generally tempting them but excitingly I had much more success when casting immediately to rising fish. What a thrill when the cast is accurate and well presented and the fish takes almost straight away! You can never tire of this and time just flies and very soon it was starting to get dark and we stopped and rounded of the day with an excellent curry and a few lagers on the way to Roberts house in Sheffield. Many thanks to Richard for the chance to fish these lovely waters in such hallowed surroundings, a real honour and a special day.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Les Jardins de Loïs, Beaune

We were lucky enough recently to be invited to Beaune for the harvest by Phillipe Dufouleur and his wife Anne-Marie. Robert Rusby from Hallamshire Wines organised everything and we flew to Geneva from Liverpool hired a car and arrived in just short of three hours at Les Jardins de Lois in the centre of Beaune. I had heard rumours that Phillipe had recently added a Chambres d' Hotes to his winery and had made a good job of it but I was not prepared for the splendour and comfort of the finished article.

We drove through some large double doors in the wall of an attractive property looking over the Hospices de Beaune and were immediately struck by a sense of tranquility, perhaps engendered by the lovely flowers and a glimpse of the garden down some steps. First impressions count and everything was so neat and charming. We were shown our room all of which are named after his vinyards by Phillipe and were simply gobsmacked! Clos de Perrieres is simply stunning, as befits his premier vinyard and brings a new meaning to bed and breakfast. A lounge and large bedroom are complemented by a spacious bathroom with a huge bath and if this was not enough alongside is steam room. I also took Father to his room and was equally impressed, especially by his shower that reminded me of a roman baths.

Breakfast is taken in a pleasant room and is continental. However though simple, very well done with freshly squeezed orange juice, homemade jams and lovely fresh croissants and bread. When all this is complemented by proper strong coffee I am always happy to do things the french way! One of the other joys of this property is that is built above the cellars and the winery which are literally underneath you and extend right out underneath the street. Therefore a stay can be combined with a tasting in the cellar.

We were lucky enough to have a tour of the vats first with Phillippe that contained all the 2009 harvest. The harvest unfortunately for us had been very early so we had missed the grape picking however we much enjoyed going around the vats whilst Phillipe explained his techniques of wine making and what he is trying to achieve with the 2009 vintage. He is genuinely excited about it and we can only pray that the euro drops before we have to decide how much we can afford! We then had a tasting of 2007 wines for the first time along with some stars from 2005. I was impressed with the 2007's and will look forward to tasting them again next spring at Roberts annual wine tasting and buying some. Our tasting and little holiday was then made complete and special by taking all the bottles upstairs and enjoying a prolonged lunch in the garden.

I have perhaps saved the best bit till last. The garden here is a joy, laid out over 200 years ago with tall pine trees, magnolias, a large type of ornamental lime tree, an orchard, almond and walnut trees it is over an acre in size and just a delight. Lunch was prepared by Anne-Marie, lovely melons, jambon persille, homegrown tomato salad, lovely bread and a cracking cheeseboard with Roberts favourite cheese L'ami de chambertin. All on a fantastic autumn day sat in the shade with good company, in the middle of beaune with all the bottles from the tasting with no time constraints this was for me the highlight of the trip or any trip.

We did manage eventually to leave the garden. Father opted for one of the comfortable recliners in the shade of the magnolia but I managed to drag Rose with some difficulty and Robert away to go and have a look at Phillipe's vinyards. I was keen to actually see the vinyards and their location and aspect so when I open one of Phillipe's wine I can visualise them. We started with Clos de Perrieres which was recently reclaimed and replanted and is potentially one the very top wines in Beaune. The whole vinyard is less than a hectare and Phillipe has roughly half of it. It is right at the top of the slope and I was astonished by the stoniness of the soil and wondered how they managed to cultivate it. They had obviously been very selective with their choice of grapes for the harvest and there were lots left on the vines that we tried. Wonderful sweet fruit that endorsed the excitement about the 2009 vintage. I buy Clos de Roi and Cents Vignes every year and we worked out where they were from our map and drove around for a look. Anne-Marie looks after the vines and we noticed how neatly cultivated and maintained her vines are and were lost in admiration at her hard work.

If you are thinking of going to Beaune, Les Jardins de Lois is situated on the inner ring road and the centre of Beaune is perhaps 400 metres away. There are a host of restaurants within easy walking distance at all levels as well as some very well stocked bars in this most charming of cities. Do have a look at their website which has the tariffs on it. As you may have gathered it has my whole hearted recommendation and I cannot wait to return!

Les Jardins de Loïs, Beaune

Hotel in Cumbria


We went to this charming little restaurant on our last night in Beaune. Booking is essential as it only small and very popular and we witnessed numerous people being turned away. The service was knowledgeable and friendly, there was an an excellent wine list and some serious cooking in a cosy unpretentious atmosphere.

I knew that we were in trouble when on arriving at the restaurant we were greeted with a blackboard proclaiming "le truffes et arrivee!" The truffle menu had to be ordered for at least two persons and Robert and I could not resist it. At a cost of £60.00 each it did not make for a cheap night but the food was very good and they were generous with the truffles which we had on 4 successive courses. Starting with foie gras and creamy potatoes then moving on to oueffes coquette which was perhaps my favourite use of the truffles. We then had a fish course of a local white fish which was excellent. Rose had the same fish as a main course but served with a red wine sauce which perhaps overpowered it a little. Sadly I am yet to be converted to fish and red wine as a combination.

We then moved onto our main course of Burgundian beef, very good but I think that truffles go best with dishes of delicate flavour that allow you to pick up all the nuances and smells of the truffle itself. As puddings were included in the price and even though I was full to bursting I ordered a rose pannacotta and was I pleased that I did. This was a simply awesome sweet of rose scented, creamy smooth pannacotta that was just so good that I made everybody try it! A real triumph that summed up this lovely little restaurant that I would heartily recommend to anybody going to Beaune.

25, rue du Paradis 21200 Beaune. Téléphone : 03 80 24 91 00

Restaurants in Cumbria

Friday, 5 June 2009

Sea trout and Salmon Fishing at Newton on the River Lune

River Lune May 28th 2009

I had received a lovely invite to fish on the River Lune from Rob and Annie Rusby and although I have a lot of things going on at the moment, the temptation to go got the better of my conscience. I managed to get off straight after lunch and arrived at the fishing below Kirkby Lonsdale at 3.00pm. As the Rusby's were delivering wine and not arriving until 4.30pm I elected to fish the top most pool Coneygarth, as I had plenty of time to walk up there, and the two labs Tia and Bolly would get some exercise. A quick look at the river revealed a nice water of perhaps a foot above summer levels with a good tea coloured stain to it.

As I had been invited primarily to fish for salmon I put my salmon rod up and after some deliberation elected to put a fairly bushy size 8 cascade double on. However remembering successful times for sea trout later in the season in the past I decided to add a dropper and try to cover all eventualities. The wading is very easy in this pool and I do not think that the bottom is rocky or weedy so I felt it was worth the risk of fishing two flies. Having added a smaller thunder and lightening type double as a dropper I set of.

The afternoon had got even better, it was warm still but some cloud had come over and I walked upstream with some optimism. The pool has a fast running neck which runs into a widening main pool which continues on for some distance gradually getting slower. On this height of water the pool was still a good 200 yards long. I went in just below the neck and was relieved that by tapering my leader and using different sized flies they were turning over perfectly even though I was spey casting rather than overhead casting as I wanted to fish fairly square. After about a dozen casts I got a take as I was stripping near the end of the swim. It dashed of and I thought sea trout immediately and after a brief fight I beached a nice 2lb sea trout on the large cascade which I returned. As I continued down the pool I caught a further 2 sea trout all on the cascade of a similar size and was starting to regret not fishing with my sea trout gear as the fish were outfaced by the 15ft salmon rod.

I then went back to the top of the pool and as the water was clearing rapidly and had fallen back a little I started higher up the neck in the much faster water. I was rewarded with three more sea trout in quick succession and a feeling of pleasure and elation at seeing and catching so many sea trout. The last few years have been increasingly tough for catching sea trout over the whole country and it would be fantastic if there is a recovery in numbers. I returned all the sea trout but would have been tempted to have kept one but did not as I thought that the law prohibited taking all migratory fish until June 15th However on catching up with Robert and Annie they asked if I had kept one and I said “no its illegal” Robert informed me that it was legal to keep a sea trout and that the laws just apply to spring salmon. I disagreed and several friends in the hotel later agreed with me, but a quick google in the morning proved us all wrong and an apology to Robert was due.

Sadly the clearing of the water and a slight drop in temperature signalled the end of the sea trout though Robert did catch a 2lb plus brownie which the water there is stuffed with. We rounded of a special afternoon for me with a meal back home at The Tufton. I owed Robert a favour so I did the wines out of my own cellar. A 1997 Alsace Pinot Gris, Grand Cru as an aperitif and to go with various starters. A 1998 Château Corbin-Michotte to complement the local racks of lamb. Definitely the highlight of the evening the Corbin was judged blind by Robert and he placed it initially as an older wine of perhaps Figeac or Ausonne class in St Emillion. I was delighted as I have several cases of it and have much pleasure in store. With cheese and putting the world to rights we enjoyed an old favourite from Beaune, Phillipe Dufouleurs 1997, Cents Vignes. A perfect end to a wonderful day.

Sea Trout Fishing
Salmon Fishing
Vintage Wines in Cumbria

Thursday, 4 June 2009

The Nut Tree Inn Murcott near Bicester

Surfing round the internet for somewhere special to eat the Oxford side of the Cotswolds I was delighted to find the Nut Tree with its recently awarded Michelin Star. In our old farming days we used to visit the Nut Tree quite regularly, as it was about an half an hours drive from our farm near Tring and had a deserved reputation for excellent steaks. It was run by a very genial mine host who got on well with my father and I have happy memories of some enjoyable times there.

It was with a sense of anticipation and slight trepidation that I drove through Murcott to the pub as my last visit would have been all of 25 years ago and I often find that revisiting places after such a gap often gives a slight feeling of disappointment that things are not as you remember. However for once in my life it was better than I remembered. A lovely, picture postcard, thatched building, very nicely kept up with a friendly feel on entering. Two ducks were waddling gently out the door as we walked in and with a smile we elected to sit outside on the back terrace as it was a perfect afternoon.

A one choice luncheon menu was incredibly priced at £17 for a Michelin star production but as nearly always happens I suspect, we ended up choosing different dishes off the full menu to try and fully sample the food. For starters we shared some Seared Scallops with Lemon Curd, Caviare and Fennel that was simply fantastic. The superbly cooked diver caught scallops with the sweetness of the lemon curd and the crunchiness and flavour of the fennel, was a truly winning combination. Weirdly we felt that the caviare was not needed and we would rather have had another scallop! I have an army friend who's dictum is “time spent on reconnaissance is seldom wasted” and I had read the website and picked up on the passion and reputation for pork dishes so we had the Pork Terrine. Again this was extremely good with a true depth of flavour that went perfectly with the Alsace Pinot Blanc that we had chosen. The wine list was not huge but adequate and the mark up perhaps not unreasonable.

For main course we had Slow Roasted Belly of Pork that really hit the spot, a real favourite of mine. A Salmon Fishcake with a Gratin of Spinach and Tomato Butter Sauce that was bursting with flavours and every morsel was cleared up! For a sweet we shared a soufflé of lime and coconut with some mango sorbet that was just sublime. My bill came to £82 and compared to what you can spend to sample Michelin star food, extremely reasonable. The service was unhurried, efficient and friendly, always a winning combination. I will definitely return given the opportunity and do not intend to leave it another 25 years and we would both thoroughly recommend it to anyone going down the M40 or anybody lucky enough to live close by. It would perhaps also be a good idea to pay a visit before the prices go up!

Restaurants in Cumbria

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Spring Salmon Fishing a Fickle Affair

Each year on the completion of the shooting season my thoughts turn immediately to salmon fishing and I experience a desperate yearning to get the rods out and get started. So when Frank rung with an opportunity to kick the season off on the River Dee fishing West Durris and Lower Crathes I said “yes” immediately. It is a world famous beat that I had never fished before and was a chance to get started a week earlier than usual.

We commenced fishing with the two Roberts on Monday 16th February on a nice morning but with a rising water, which sadly by the end of the day was up to 6ft and still rising. I did get an appreciation of what a fantastic beat we were on, a veritable oasis of fly water for nearly all heights of water. Though unfortunately for us not at 6ft plus. We did fish on the Tuesday and caught a few kelts, but the highlight of the day was a casting demonstration from world champion Gordon Armstrong who was fishing with us. Equally remarkable was watching Franks 12 year old son Tom casting after just one day of tuition from Gordon. Not a big lad for his age but using a 14ft rod with a full sunk line he gave a perfect imitation of Gordon’s technique casting a good 25 yards plus with fantastic turnover of the fly. A lesson for us all in that timing and technique are a lot more effective than power!

On Wednesday though the water had dropped below 6ft and was falling and we felt we had more of a chance. I was put in second pool below the bridge and although the water was still very high it was possible to slow the fly down enough to stand a chance. As I got half way down and was covering the stream past a little promontory I had a good solid take just as I was slowly stripping line near the end of the swim. A good fight followed and I started to look for a beaching place, but to no avail. I then tried On Wednesday though the water had dropped below 6ft and was falling and we felt we had more of a chance. I was put in second pool below the bridge and although the water was still very high it was possible to slow the fly down enough to stand a chance. As I got half way down and was covering the stream past a little promontory I had a good solid take just as I was slowly stripping line near the end of the swim. A good fight followed and I started to look for a beaching place, but to no avail. I then tried ringing Robert on my mobile but no signal! The fish was still fighting well and perhaps had been on for 20 minutes when Mike French and Robert hove into view to change pools a welcome sight. The fish soon netted we estimated at 17lbs, what a start to the season. I then offered the pool to Mike who said "no finish it of" I went back to about a pace behind where I had hooked the fish and lengthened out my line and first cast hooked another fish of some 12lb. Both fish had been in the river for a few weeks and we speculated that they had possibly come back down stream on the flood.

This first trip was also notable for the extreme numbers of kelts that we caught many of which were fish quite recently spawned that had run the river late. A mention also for The Banchory Lodge Hotel where we were very comfortable, well looked after and the food was especially good.

Salmon Fishing Breaks

Political Rant

Just a couple of heartfelt gripes to get them of my chest! In the last budget the chancellor put duty on alcohol that has mainly hit the responsible middle classes and used the excuse of binge drinking and under age drinking to try and appear socially responsible. If he really had tried to do something about the problem of excessive drinking by young people with some of the extra money he garnered I think most of us could have stomached it as a package. But to hide the need for extra revenue which he does need behind a few pious utterances makes ones blood boil!
The excessive booze consumed by binge drinkers and youngsters largely comes from supermarkets who use alcohol as a loss leader to attract people to spend money on other products priced properly. Though it is nice to have a cheap bottle of wine or can of beer cheaply at home the effects are far reaching. Pubs have become very expensive and no longer especially in rural areas provide a centre point for the community. When we grew up our local had people from all generations in it and you mixed and picked up social skills and went there to meet people. The presence of older people who you knew perhaps helped prevent the worst excesses! This community has been lost. Youngsters get together in groups on their own and the culture is to get wrecked sometimes before you have even gone out!

I feel the chancellor should have adopted the following measures. Prevent supermarkets selling booze as a loss leader. He would receive more revenue from duty and VAT and actually make binging alot more expensive. It would allow pubs and independent retailers to compete on a level playing field and create jobs. Secondly have a campaign a bit like the aids one years ago explaining the dangers of alcohol to young still maturing bodies. The reason that you cannot buy alcohol until you are 18 is not because you cannot vote! It is actually because the liver is capable of regenerating itself if you give it a chance when you are adult but does not when you are young. Alcohol cannot be processed properly and it will permanently damage the liver for your entire probably fore shortened life. Having this explained to me when I was a young teenager would have changed my habits especially accompanied by a few gory pictures of damaged livers. It would educate both teenagers and parents and though it would not stop everybody it could only help.

Sadly our government is shallow and only concerned with staying in power, never with doing the correct thing. All problems are shelved of onto future generations instead of risking anything that maybe difficult for the electorate to chew on. We are financially bankrupt after years of good times with nothing put by led by a weak people just obsessed with their own situation.

End of rant, at least I feel a little better! Must stress that these are purely personal views and anybody is welcome to disagree!

Tufton Arms Hotel

Saturday, 17 January 2009

Buying old vintage ports at auction

I have been buying old vintage port from 1917 onwards for my hotels and fishing expeditions for some 12 years now all from auctions or from ebay at the rate of 4 to 6 cases per year and I have never had a bad bottle of port. What set me of on this train of thought is I ran into an old friend yesterday who I had not seen for ages who I sold a bottle of the Sandemans 1917 port to some 12 years ago now and he wanted to know if I had anymore so good was it. When he mentioned the port I immediately thought the worst and it was a relief to hear how good it was! These 4 bottles of port came from a house clearance and were discovered beneath some slates in an old potting shed where they had presumably been since world war 1. The wax seals were broken but all 4 bottles were brilliant.

When buying wine and port at auctions it has always been a worry that the goods you are buying have been stored badly or have simply gone past their best and you will get something home that is rubbish. Unless you are buying from big auction houses selling complete cellars or large lots with a bottle that has been opened there is a risk. However I would urge you with old vintage ports to just get stuck in and get them bought where ever you find them.

Though these experiences are not conclusive I would urge you to view the risks of buying old port as worth taking. Do some research on the years and port houses you are considering buying to get the style that you prefer and get to an auction or click on ebay and buy some. You will also derive pleasure from having really old bottles of port around in your cellar. Much of the enjoyment in life is cleaned from anticipation and what could be more keenly anticipated than a very fine old vintage port?

Nigel Milsom looks after the wine lists in his two hotels The Tufton Arms Hotel in Appleby, Cumbria and The Royal Hotel, Comrie, Perthshire.