It muggy and my t-shirt clings to me as I pedal my bicycle around London. Shards of dust gather and sting in my eyes. I can only imagine how my lungs must feel. The buses that I squeeze past belch out grimy, sweltering heat. Everything is grey: the concrete streets, the sky that threatens rain, even most of the people trudge greyly through the clammy air.
When, on another unusually warm September afternoon, I read about a bar that has just developed a novelty menu of cocktails that include foraged ingredients, I jump at the chance to sample this refreshing taste of nature. The Duck and Waffle is located in the Heron Tower, on Bishopsgate, and offers the chance to sip unusual cocktails whilst gazing over a delightful view of London’s skyline. All dressed up in my smart shoes (the bar has a dress code!), I headed to meet my friend, Lauren, for an uncharacteristically glamourous night out.
It was only then that we realised the cocktails were £14 each. There was actually a main meal option that was priced lower! Plus, presumably, half of the ingredients were foraged and therefore free to procure.
We decided to swerve the bar and find an alternative way to escape the grey heat whilst getting slightly boozy. Forage our own cocktail ingredients, we said. That’s definitely a thing that can be done in South London, we said.
Sure, I usually clamber up our ancient apple tree to pick some apples for pie, eat the lettuce that has already gone to seed in the cracked earth of the vegetable patch and snack on elderberries that overhang railway tracks. One year, I even made a sweet jam from foraged cherry plums. But none of that is particularly glamorous. This year, we were going for sophisticated.
Crawling around in the bushes of the local common may not have been the smoothest start, but the results were delicious. The best product we made was rosehip syrup which we used as a substitute for sugar or gomme in several cocktails. We washed and blended the rosehips, boiled them with water and strained them. Finally, we added sugar. It produced a fairly mild taste that would have been disguised by whisky and overpowered by Wray and Nephew rum. So we used vodka, grapefruit, ground pink peppercorns and a dash of honey. We then experimented with a few other concoctions, mainly gin based but with elements of apricot liqueur or grapefruit soda.
Another hit was when we broke out the sloe gin, a foraged drink we made earlier. (Blue Peter knew how to do it.) With this, I made a simple sloe gin bramble with lemon, sugar and a berry garnish. The best approach is to mix and match; stick to the basic rule of 50ml alcohol, 25ml, fruit, 25ml sugar and then experiment. Go wild! (See what I did there?)
Wild cocktails are definitely a top way to seek out London’s nature in an aid to relaxation. What are your best foraged recipes?