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The last week in September I saw damsons for sale in my local Supermarket but at extortionate price, £4.99 a kilo, I ask you? As with my previous hedgerow makes it’s not the right thing simply to buy my ingredients in the sterile environment of a supermarket, I want to know where they were picked, to pick my own if I can. I wanted to make some damson gin for Christmas and perhaps some damson wine too, so I persuaded my Dearest that we needed to take a road trip up to the Lyth Valley over the County boundary in Cumbria.
The Lyth Valley has made the Lonely Planet beautiful world list. The Lonely Planet has published a new book to showcase beauty from across the globe,they describe the valley thus: “The unspoilt Lyth Valley is tucked in a hidden corner of Cumbria, where trees are laden with fruit and rolling hills are the most magnificent green.”
This hidden corner of Cumbria is famed for its damsons. In autumn, the trees are laden with purple fruits and roadside stalls appear advertising damsons for sale. That’s where we were headed; a stall we often pass and which I am always happy to see still trading. Up close it’s just a shack, but the produce on sale is good fresh locally grown goods.
We got the last of her damsons ripe to the point of no return. She advised me to use them up immediately, so I did, a brew of wine and a jar of damsons steeping in gin were put to bed that very evening. It may have cost me more to drive up to the Lyth Valley to buy my damsons but a glorious sunny autumn afternoon in the Lyth Valley is priceless.
Damsons were originally imported from Damascus for their dye, and given the name ‘damascene’ – later shortened to damson. ( Prunus domestica subsp. insititia, or sometimes Prunus insititia), also archaically called the “damascene”) some say it was introduced by the Crusaders but others claim the Romans brought them, and there were damson stones found in archaeological digs of Roman York.
The proprietor, had a wonderful elderberry tree hanging heavily in fruit, she told me many people had asked her what she planned to do with the fruit to which her reply was “absolutely nothing” she said I could help myself… if only I’d known a couple of weeks earlier.
The 17 year old set me an impossible task, she needed a new bag for College and she knew exactly what she wanted, the problem was it needed to be waterproof and it wasn’t. Knowing how important it is for her to have things which look right, which have credibility, I undertook to “try” to make it waterproof.
First step was to buy some proofing spray in the hope that we could give it a waterproof coating. My Dearest innocently believed he could simply buy the most expensive waterproofing spray from one of those outdoor activity shops, and spray it on, and Presto! It would cast water like a duck’s back. Ha! Great idea… two applications later no sign of it casting water.
I’ve always been a greater doubter than him so I already had plan B in my mind. If I could not make the outside waterproof then I needed to create a waterproof barrier between the outer layer and the contents of the bag.
We visited a number of shops to find a fabric with waterproof properties but found none. The internet is so wonderful, found what we wanted, ordered and arrived in a week and cost less than the diesel would have cost to seek what we wanted out of town.
I wanted the bag to look as close to what had been coveted and purchased at great expense, well great expense to one who has so little to spend. I determined to unpick the lining, use that as a pattern to cut the inner lining, and then line the lining, stitching the whole thing back together, so the inner lining is invisible.
I even made a little waterproof pocket for the back pocket which might otherwise soak up water from the outer and would have been the wrong side of the waterproof lining.It is almost exactly as it was before, I defy anyone to see any difference.
I just hope it works, because poor girl has a long a weary commute each day on bus and foot, if we have a wet winter she will have a very soggy wet rucksack and damp contents, her art work will not be improved by water. Let’s all pray for clement weather, cold but DRY.
So yes he did make me some labels for my lovely luscious wine , I’m not sure what it says about him, or me for that matter,(I did not model for the label that I can assure you) but it’s bottled, and “cellared”. I may give it a try at Christmas, or perhaps I should leave it till after Lent, as I will be abstaining again in Lent next year.
Having developed a yen for hedgerow harvesting; making good things out of my wild gatherings, I have begun another wine brew. A chance conversation with an expert brewer of wine set me off on a mission to brew a perfect red wine. Elderberry, blackberry and something else, a secret other berry, not strictly in season but easily available frozen, in various proportions to give perfume and body and tannins, will it be awful or perfect? It’s nearly ready to bottle now but it won’t be ready to drink till Easter, or maybe I’ll store it till next Christmas.
The first thing to gather were the elderberries, back to the spot where we picked the flowers in early summer, someone had been there before us so we struggled a little to find them plentiful and ripe, and equally not wanting to strip the trees bare we spent a little longer picking a few here and a few there. Washed and picked from the stems, they were frozen, with the intention that the freezing process would help break down the cell structure of the berries to release juice, colour and tannins.
Next were the blackberries, these took two days to pick, we went out to pick and were rained off, being a hardy Northern girl a little rain does not bother me, this was torrential rain, coming down like stair rods, the kind of rain which batters your head, runs through your hair and down your neck; even I admitted defeat.
The next day was bright and breezy, a perfect picking day, we still got scratched and nettled, but the berries were beautifully ripe and juicy.
The berries were briefly boiled to break down and sterilise, then soaked in a bucket with water overnight before the wine yeast, and nutrient were added and mashed for several days. Then the liquid was strained off the berries, the grape concentrate was added, and put in a demijohn to brew. The liquid fermented vigorously for a week but slowed to a gentle tick, and will be racked off the lees this weekend, cleared and bottled.
Perhaps my Dearest will make me a label for my bottles if I ask him nicely.