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Posts tagged ‘food’

Danish walnut beer

July 16, 2013

Gabriel Hemery

As with all good stories, this one begins in the dentist’s chair. In between garbled arghs and minuscule nods, my dentist and I ‘discussed’ my work as a silvologist and landed eventually on the topic of my research on walnut trees. It turned out that he called home the tiny island of Ærø in the Baltic Sea of southern Denmark, although he’d been practising in England for many years. There in the garden of his family’s property, he was the proud joint owner of a walnut tree and locally, he told me with a glint in his eye — and I’m sure a smile behind his mask — there was a local brewery that made a wonderful walnut beer.

Ærø walnut beer

Ærø walnut beer

I thought nothing more of the conversation until my next visit, six months later for a regular check up. He greeted me with the usual cheer while reaching into a sterile white cupboard to produce, with a flourish, a bottle of walnut beer. I was flabbergasted, not only that he’d remembered our conversation, but that he had so generously brought me a bottle to sample. He recounted with delight how he’d hidden the alcoholic drink during various inspections!

The 7% alcohol beer is brewed by the Rise Brewery and is called No. 5 Walnut Duke Hans. It is a bock type, made with various malts, aroma hops and walnut extract. The company describe the resulting dark beer as:

“a fantastic harmonious, maroon, strong bottom-fermented Bock beer with a delicate walnut flavour.

I really enjoyed my sample  — my first ever walnut beer — and was delighted to find that the brewers can supply by mail order.

Now, I need to find something to offer my dentist in return. Perhaps a bottle of my recently matured home-made elderflower champagne would go down well.

Plant more trees or Manage existing woodlands? Have your say …

November 14, 2011

Gabriel Hemery

Poll at

Should we be planting more trees or managing our existing woodlands? I have strong views on this that may not be shared by others. I’ve written on my blog before about the hundreds of thousands of hectares of woodlands in England that are not being managed (England’s wall of moribund woodland). I have also had a poke at the large number of short-sighted planting schemes that are resulting in low-value (read ‘unsustainable’) woodland littering our countryside (More forest plantations less green fuzz). Finally, I have discussed the likely scenarios of a future where, with 7 billion people to feed today increasing to 9 billion by 2050, land will be too important for food production to permit an increase in land area dedicated to the growing of wood fibre (Land for trees or food).

Next time I tackle my teenage daughter over the state of her bedroom, I could say “Never mind, just leave it and have this empty room next door and start over!”.

In short I believe simply that we should be managing our existing woodlands better before we plant more. If I was allowed a caveat it would be “to manage existing… at least while we plant more” so I may be tempted to answer “Both”. But what do you think? I would like all my readers to have a say by completing this poll. I am sure I can be criticised by trying to persuade my readers first and then ask them their views, and I’m sure a social scientist would have a field day! However, I am confident that there are many readers with equally strong views that will differ from mine and that they will not hold back in setting out their arguments by using the Comment box below, so we should have a good debate to help inform. So over to you …

I will keep this poll open for several months in the hope of a good response rate. I am sure that this poll need not only apply to English forests and land use, but also to many other countries around the world. So wherever you’re from, do have a say.

Gabriel Hemery

Weekly photo challenge: fall

September 25, 2011

Gabriel Hemery

Walnut collecting family with donkeys in Kyrgyzstan
Walnut collecting family with donkeys in Kyrgyzstan

Fall (Autumn) in the walnut-fruit forests of Kyrgyzstan, I came across a father returning home with his two young children and a large horde of walnuts. Photo: DMC-GF2, 15mm (30mm 35mm equiv), f4.0, 1/125sec, ISO100, handheld.

For this week’s photo challenge and theme of ‘fall’, I thought that this image was very fitting. It’s a double entendre, as not only was the photo taken in the Fall (Autumn), but I was amazed how these three managed to balance on the donkey without falling!

I was pleased with the photo as all three of the family are looking at the camera, and I like the way the youngest is just peeping over her father’s arm.

This was a good example of the advantage of always having a camera ready; not just by having it in your hand or around your neck rather than tucked deep in a bag, but also by having it ready with the best settings. I normally prefer to shoot using as many manual settings as possible but I am not proficient enough to be able to take successfully a quick shot of the unexpected. So, I normally leave the camera on the ‘idiot’ or full automatic mode just in case I need to fire off a quick shot without thinking of all the settings I might need.

Deep in the walnut-fruit forests of Kyrgyzstan, miles from the nearest track passable by a 4×4, I was climbing a narrow path when the family group suddenly appeared around a corner. I asked quickly (with gestures only as I don’t speak Kyrgyz) whether I could take a photo, and after Dad’s nodding approval I managed to take just two frames as they carried on past.

See more of my Weekly Photo Challenges

Gabriel Hemery

Tree rat and squirrel pie

August 8, 2011

Gabriel Hemery

Grey squirrel in oak tree

Grey squirrel in oak tree

The grey squirrel is perhaps one of the most commonly seen of British mammals being highly visible in parks, gardens and woodlands.  This, in combination with its large eyes and bushy tail, often make it an attractive and popular animal in the public eye.

Grey squirrels are, however, a serious pest and the bane of woodland managers across Britain. They strip the bark of young trees, which can severely reduce their growth, increase susceptibility to disease, cause dieback of stems and branches (often a safety hazard in public spaces), and can kill trees; especially when the bark is stripped right around a stem.  They also eat song bird eggs and have driven out the red squirrel from its native range.

The species, that some now regard as a ‘tree rat’, was introduced to Britain by the Victorians about 130 years ago.  It is more aggressive than Britain’s native red squirrel, which has been squeezed further and further north in the country.  Greys also carry squirrel parapoxivirus or ‘squirrel pox’, to which they seem resistant, but which is fatal to reds.  The IUCN has listed the Grey Squirrel in the top 100 globally worse invasive species (source).

According to the Forestry Commission there are 2.5 million grey squirrels in Britain but only 140,000 surviving red squirrels. The Red Squirrel Survival Trust is working hard to promote the survival of the red squirrel by advocating targeted control of the grey squirrel, and has attracted a lot of support and media interest in its work.  If you live in Cumbria, Northumberland or other remaining strongholds of the red squirrel in Britain you can get involved in the RSST’s work in these areas.

If you are wondering what can be done with all the grey squirrels that need to be culled, there is a growing interest in it as bushmeat.  British woodlander Ben Law writes in his book, The Woodland Way, that the secret is to marinate the meat overnight and then casserole it slowly in wine, garlic and sage.  Other recipes include roasting, barbecued strips and squirrel pie.  I have eaten grey squirrel myself once, and although it was palatable, it was psychologically tough with “tree rat” echoing around my mind with every chewy mouthful.  Advice on butchering squirrels and other recipes are provided by the Hunter Angler Gardener Cook.  Enjoy!

Gabriel Hemery

Pickled walnuts

June 13, 2011

Gabriel Hemery

Walnut drupes in June - perfect for pickling

Pickled walnuts are an English delicacy and yet a curiosity to walnut lovers in other countries.

Walnut drupes in June - perfect for pickling

Walnut drupes in June - perfect for pickling

In some of the most famous walnut regions of the world, such as Grenoble in France, the idea of a pickled walnut raises eyebrows. This region of France produces wonderful food items including many based on walnuts. Beyond the readily available fresh walnuts you will be tempted by candied walnuts, walnut sweets, walnut nougat and walnut jam. With a meal you can enjoy many wonderful tarts and cakes, savoury breads, walnut oil and walnut-covered cheese. Not forgetting walnut drinks too, with aperitifs such as Eau de Noix or Ratafia, and walnut wine. But no pickled walnuts!

So what inspired the English to invent the pickled walnut? Simply; necessity. Often the English summer does not produce enough heat for walnut trees to produce a good crop of fully-formed walnuts that can be picked for their nuts. Instead the whole fruit, technically a drupe, can be picked before the shell has formed inside.

Walnuts are rich in anitoxidants and an important part of a healthy diet; as Hippocrates knew only too well. They are thought to help in reducing inflammation in the arteries, lowering cholesterol and even reducing heart diease. There is disagreement as to whether roasting walnuts reduces the level of antioxidants compared to fresh walnuts: I have no idea about the effects of pickling.

I can’t just impart these fascinating facts without providing readers with a recipe. Here’s a tried and trusted one, and right now is the time to get ready to start pickling.

Recipe – Pickled Walnut

Pickling walnuts takes about three weeks from the picking to the end of the preserving process but it is very simple. Here’s my recipe.


For the brine
Walnut fruits (freshly picked) 1kg
Salt 120g

For the syrup (for every kg of walnut fruit)
malt vinegar 500ml
brown sugar 250g
allspice ½ teaspoon
cinnamon ¼ teaspoon
cloves ½ teaspoon
grated fresh ginger ½ tablespoon
garlic 1 clove (optional)


Picking and preparing the walnut fruits

  1. Pick the walnut fruit (drupe) before the end of June, before the nutshell has formed inside the green husk. You can test for readiness by inserting a sharp point, such as a strong pin or darning needle, into the green husk at the end where it was connected to the tree. If you meet no hard resistance then you know there’s no shell formed inside and you’re not too late!
  2. Wearing rubber gloves prick each walnut fruit with a fork a couple of times. The gloves are important as the innocuous-looking brown juice will stain your hands for several weeks, despite all attempts to clean them – you have been warned!
  3. In a bucket or other suitable container, cover the walnut fruits with a brine solution (water and the salt). Leave for one week.
  4. Drain and repeat with a fresh brine solution and leave for another week.
  5. Next, drain the walnuts and lay out in single layers on trays, in a dry and airy place. Within in a few days they will turn black (like your hands still are if you didn’t wear gloves!). You may want to check every walnut with a darning needle, discarding those where you meet resistance from a hard shell inside. You are now ready to begin the pickling.


  1. Create a pickling syrup. Combine all the ingredients in a heavy-based saucepan. Bring the mixture to the boil.
  2. Add the prepared walnuts and simmer for 15 minutes.
  3. Remove from the heat and allow to cool. First spoon the walnuts into large jars, and when almost full, cover with the syrup mixture. Apply a tight-fitting lid. Stored in a cool place, such as a garage or outhouse, they will last for years in their jars.

Pickled walnuts are wonderful served as they are with cheeses and cold meats, and also great in many cooked dishes. Here are a few recipes on the BBC food pages.

Gabriel Hemery

Tree honey

May 18, 2011

Gabriel Hemery

miel de chataignier

Miel de châtaignier from a recent foray to France

I love honey.  I also love France and visit whenever I’m able to, often returning home to Britain with several jars of local French honey.  The first time I came across Le Miel de châtaignier I was intrigued.  My dictionary told me that this was honey of the sweet chestnut (Castanea sativa).  But, surely, sweet chestnut is wind-pollinated so how was it possible that bees were collecting its pollen and the French apiculturers (beekeepers) were able to make sweet chestnut honey?

The literature tells us that sweet chestnuts are wind-pollinated but I’m not so sure that this is completely accurate.  As Peter Thomas explains in his excellent book (Trees:  their natural history p. 133), in reality there is a blurring between wind and insect-pollination in trees, with the pollen of all the major European wind-pollinated trees (ash, birch, hazel and oak) having been found on honey bees.

In the case of sweet chestnut it has sticky pollen, which you will notice if you brush your finger against a flower.  Its flowers are also sweet-smelling and always seem to attract a lot of insects.  Typically, wind-pollinated flowers do not have sticky pollen and do not smell sweet.  Furthermore, try tapping a sweet chestnut flower to see if a cloud of pollen is released as it is for wind-pollinated trees such as alder, hazel or walnut:- it is not.  So, in my view, sweet chestnut is most definitely insect-pollinated and perhaps almost exclusively.

Sweet chestnut honey is quite dark and strong-tasting, and not necessarily my favourite for spreading on bread or toast although it’s excellent in cooking.  Here’s a summary of the some of the popular, and less well-known, tree honey varieties.


Acacia honey, made from Acacia spp. tree flowers, is remarkably clear and pure and is one of the most popular and sweetest of honey varieties.  Due to a high level of fructose it stays as a liquid (i.e. not crystallising) for a long time. Its low sugar content makes it the honey of choice for diabetics.  It has a neutral taste (unlike sweet chestnut honey!) making it a popular with children and suitable for sweetening drinks.


Lime honey is produced from the cream-coloured flowers of the lime  or basswood (Tilia spp.), having a light colour yet a strong taste.  Some say it has a ‘woody’ flavour and it is a popular honey for marinades and salad dressings.


Eucalyptus honey is a popular and widely-produced honey.  Given the large number of different Eucalyptus species, its honey differs widely in colour and taste.  Generally it has quite a herbal taste, with a hint of menthol, and may not be to everybody’s tastes (especially children).  It is said to be an effective cure for colds and headaches.


Leatherwood honey is made from the flowers of Eucryphia lucida, a small tree native to Tasmania.  It has a unique floral yet spicy flavour and is considered a gourmet honey, being exported around the world.  It is excellent in cooking as it adds not only sweetness but a wonderful aroma to cakes and muffins, and to warm beverages.


This is a generic honey, similar to ‘forest honey’, and is a popular honey in Greece.  It has a strong smell and is not very sweet, having a rather bitter taste.  It is a little like Acacia honey in that it will remain a liquid for a long time.

Strawberry Tree

Strawberry Tree or arbutus  honey comes from the small tree Arbutus unedo native to the Mediterranean; where in Sardinia it is known as miele amaro (bitter honey).  As this suggests, it has a strong bitter flavour but it is appreciated by honey connoisseurs.

Sweet Chestnut

Sweet Chestnut honey is made from the flowers of Castanae sativa and has a strong aromatic flavour and a slightly bitter after taste. It is dark in colour and richly aromatic, some say pungent!  It is not very sweet and slightly bitter.


Tawari honey is made from Ixerba brexioides native to New Zealand.  The honey is golden in colour and is said to have a butterscotch flavour that is very subtle.  It is prized in the kitchen for desserts, being a favourite on pancakes and ice cream.

Gabriel Hemery

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