Neither of us has a pear tree* – apples are the priority on our patches – but we do have neighbours who grow a few and this year they seem to have lucked out with bumper harvests. One neighbour’s tree was so laden with fruit that bags of conference pears have been distributed to half the houses in Nick’s street. So despite our apple preference we now have a glut of pears to deal with.
The most obvious things to make with pears are crumbles and tarts, but when those options have been fully exercised what other uses are there? Here’s some surplus pear inspiration…
Pears don’t properly ripen until they have been picked. So while you’re waiting for them to soften and ooze with juice, take advantage of their crispier nature by shredding them on a grater. Grated pears can be used in numerous ways, from mixing into your morning muesli or porridge, stirred into a salad or coleslaw, baking into bread or buns, or our favourite – whisked into a pancake batter.
Like most fruits, pears are happy to spend a while in the freezer. Core them, slice them, box or bag them and stuff them in the freezer until ready to use. Besides using them for some of the other ideas in this piece they’re particularly useful for whizzing into a smoothie when the fresh fruit bowl is low on resources. You can also whizz them up before freezing and make yourself some pear lollies.
Pear jam isn’t the most obvious preserve but it’s a tasty one, particularly if combined with a few well chosen spices. Pear and ginger works a treat but you can easily get carried away with other spices too. We’ll be using our pear surplus to try this recipe from Ginette Mathiot in House & Garden – pear jam with vanilla and clove.
Just as spicy pears work in a sweet preserve, they also go down a treat for a sticky, savoury chutney as an alternative to apple. BBC Good Food has a recipe that looks ripe for tinkering with and we reckon the resulting pickly pears will pair great with Stilton cheese.
Yes, we’ve saved the best until last. The most well known pear-based booze is perry, but unless you specifically have perry pears then you’ll struggle to make anything decent. Instead, try making a cider flavoured with pears by chucking a few fat-bottomed fruits in with the apples.** Pear wine is also well worth attempting, producing one of the best light country wines we’ve ever made – you can our pear wine recipe on this website.
Pear liqueurs are also rather popular and can be made at home by infusing pears in sweetened spirits. It’s not something we’ve tried before but if any neighbours swing by with any more pears then it will be top of our list
We first came across Cotswolds Distillery‘s single malt whisky earlier this year and were immediately impressed: a fine, full flavoured spirit that tastes every bit as good as its Scottish counterparts. There aren’t many whisky distilleries within easy reach of us, so we arranged a trip to Oxfordshire, staying at the nearby Feldon Valley, and joined one of the distillery’s tours to find out more about this exciting enterprise.
The distillery was founded by whisky enthusiast Dan Szor, a New Yorker who fell in love with the Cotswolds and wanted to distill the essence of the location into a new spirit by working with local produce and suppliers. As is the case with most start up whisky distilleries, Dan and his team began making gin while waiting for the first whisky to mature.
Here’s our own distillation of the distillery tour in pictures…
The Cotswolds Distillery uses local barley to make its whisky, which is sent to Warminster to be malted before being mashed on site. The local cycle is complete with the spent grains being collected by neighbouring farmers to use as feed for their livestock. The wort is fermented for around four days – longer than is standard practice – before the resulting alcohol is ready to distill.
Two copper stills (named Mary and Jane) provide a double fermentation for the alcohol, with the good stuff (the ‘heart’) separated out from the first and last spirits to come off the still (the ‘foreshots’ and ‘feints’). This separation process ensures that only the alcohol with the best flavour gets transformed into whisky.
The whisky is aged on site and at a warehouse in Liverpool in a mix of bourbon, port and sherry casks. Tour visitors get to try the ‘new make spirit’ – the strong, colourless liquid that comes off the stills – while breathing in the sweet oaky aromas from the barrel store.
Cotswolds Distillery gin begins life as a neutral grain spirit which is diluted and has botanicals added – in the case of the distillery’s main Dry Gin this includes local lavender along with juniper berries and other botanicals. A German copper still provides the magic and, as with the whisky, the distilling team carefully selects the good stuff (the ‘hearts’) from the bad stuff (the ‘heads’ and ‘tails’) – the unwanted spirit heading to a local biofuel company while the hugely popular gin gets shipped all around the world.
The distillery tour finishes with a tasting of both the whisky and gin – and any of the other special spirits you care to try (we were mightily impressed with their Lavender Bitters and ‘Cotswold-vados’, a 46% cidery spirit aged in calvados barrels). Unlike most whisky and gin producers, Cotswolds Distillery doesn’t chill filter its spirits, which they believe gives their product maximum flavour, besides turning the drinks cloudy on the introduction of water.
The distillery also runs a series of Masterclasses, with customers able to choose between ‘gin blending’ and ‘whisky blending’ for a more in-depth understanding of the making, tasting and art of blending spirits.
Many of the Cotswolds Distillery’s more unique spirits are only available to buy on site, including an excellent cask strength whisky that is bottled for customers in the shop, straight from the PX Sherry casks it has been matured in.
To find our more about Cotswolds Distillery and book a place on their tour, visit their website at cotswoldsdistillery.com
If you’re ever in the mood for an instant hot and refreshing caffeine-free drink, then snipping off a few leaves from a herb plant and dunking them in water is always a winner. But which home grown herbs make the best tea? We’ve been extensively growing, snipping and infusing all summer and can now reveal our five favourite home grown herbal teas.
It’s an obvious choice but with good reason. Nothing else can quite compete with mint’s bold, refreshing flavours. Any mint will do, from the classic spearmint to the extra-pungent peppermint or one of the more unusual flavoured varieties you might come across. But true tea connoisseurs should consider Moroccan mint, the one favoured by the mint tea loving nation behind its name.
2 Lemon Verbena
A close second to mint is the often overlooked lemon verbena. Like mint it produces an abundance of leaves throughout spring and summer, and its flavours are similarly strong, quickly yielding in a mug of hot water. Its citrus notes are on the sherbety side of lemon, making it an invigorating brew.
We like rosemary in most drinks, using it to flavour beer and as a garnish for a gin and tonic, so it’s hardly surprising it features high in our top tea list. Just one fresh spring releases a complex collection of flavours and aromas, from pine and lemon to some bitter tea-like notes. Give a sprig a go.
4 Lemon Basil
Most lemony herbs make a decent tea with lemon balm being a strong contender for this list. But for something slightly different we think lemon basil is worth growing. It’s easy to propagate from seed and is flavoured like a herbier version of lemongrass – just a few leaves make a tasty cuppa and can also pep up any number of Asian-style food dishes.
This evergreen herb may not seem the most obvious choice for tea brewers but it’s probably the most similar to a regular cuppa on the list, with an obviously savoury edge and the kind of bitterness that makes you go ‘aaaahhhhh’ after every sip. Heed our sage words of advice and dunk a few leaves in a cup of hot water.
What’s your favourite herb for making tea? Let us know and we’ll give it a brew.
This round-up of the best drinks we’ve been sent to review is full of variety, with a couple of beers, a grapefruit gin and a mead flavoured with herbs and hops. We’ve also got an excellent non-alcoholic spirit to mix with your tonic and a bottle opener shaped like a bear’s head. All of which receive our roars of approval.
Gosnells of London, Citra Sea Mead, 4%
Gosnells of London produce a very modern kind of mead, taking the ancient beverage beloved of monks and making it lighter, less boozy and altogether more sparkly. We don’t always go for modern interpretations of old drinks, but Gosnells meads are bright and breezily refreshing so we approve.
Just as those merry monks would’ve added different flavours to their basic mead recipe, Gosnells have also increased their range of honey-based boozes to include a tart pink hibiscus flavoured mead and – our favourite – Citra Sea, that has the addition of lemon, tarragon and hops complete with a slightly salty (sea-inspired) finish. Those extra flavours give it an added lick of refreshment and some complexity that would surely satisfy any thirsty monks.
We get sent new releases to review from Lagunitas on a fairly regular basis. This is fine by us. They may be owned by one of the beer giants (Heineken), something that makes some reviewers sniffy about their products, but their IPA remains one of our favourites and their new brews are consistently good. Daytime IPA is a stripped-back version of the full strength classic, delivering a paler, lighter and drier drink with much less alcohol.
There may be fewer of the sticky fruit and pine flavours, but with a lower ABV this beer doesn’t need to be overloaded with hops, and the brewers have added just enough to allow a mango, pineapple and lemon fruit salad to come to the fore. It’s exactly what we would expect – a less intense sibling to Lagunitas IPA that is ideal for daytime drinking.
We were not at all familiar with Newcastle’s Tyne Bank Brewery so were excited to receive their range of seven core canned beers to work our way through. We dived straight into one of their more unusual sounding brews – a rhubarb and custard pale ale – which tasted great, so excitement for the remaining six escalated considerably.
Despite being rather good at funky modern flavours (a strawberry and cream beer is also in the range) it was their less experimental APA, Silver Dollar, that we awarded top marks. We liked that there was a strong presence of malt flavours that was set off a treat with some earthy, hoppy notes. We also liked that most of the citrussy flavours provided by Centennial and Amarillo hops came through in a dry and lingering bitter finish, making it less of a fruit-fest than many other contemporary APAs and keeping the malt in focus.
This may not be booze but it’s relevant enough to get a mention in this piece. Men’s Society is a Norfolk based business that produces gifts for men with “a deep sense of British quality, craftsmanship and wit.” They sent us a few of their booze-related items including a Hangover Recovery Kit that Rich will test out on our next brewery trip and a bottle opener in the shape of a bear’s head.
The bottle opener is ace. It’s a solid, weighty chunk of metal than can be screwed onto a wall – inside or outside – and is destined for our brewery shed. Bottle tops are prized of by the grizzly’s ferocious jaws with its top two fangs sticking out in a way that makes the act speedy while reducing slippage. With cider-making season nearly upon us we’ll be spending a few days pressing and a few evenings prizing, and we’ll see if that leads to any bears with a sore head…
Dunnet Bay Distillers, Rock Rose Pink Grapefruit Old Tom Gin, 41.5%
Rich recently declared Dunnet Bay’s Rock Rose Scottish Botanicals Gin one of the best in the land, describing it as “full of verve and vigour.” This time it’s Nick that has got his chops round a couple of the distillery’s boozes, getting to enjoy samples of a grass vodka flavoured with cold brew coffee and a new gin flavoured with pink grapefruit and muscovado sugar.
The gin has all of the zesty vigour that so appealed to Rich, with the grapefruit lending a bright, citrussy finish to the punchy, peppery juniper, while a mellow sweetness rounds off the edges to give it a late-night sippability. A delicious pink twist to an outstanding gin.
Over the past 18 months we’ve been sent quite a few alcohol free spirit substitutes but, apart from the popular Seedlip, very few that we’ve tried have merited coverage. So we were naturally a bit sceptical when we received a bottle of Caleño through the post. It’s described as a “non-alcoholic, tropical free spirit, inspired by Colombia” which makes it sound more like a marketing creation than anything we would naturally gravitate towards. But we cast aside our assumptions, gave it a fair tasting and were pleasantly surprised.
These drinks aren’t meant to be taken neat, but we test-sipped it on its own and were relieved to find a mix of subtle flavours rather than anything forthright and nasty – slightly tart berries and in the background some simmering, plummier fruit flavours. It’s quite sweet, but not tooth-curlingly so, and the sugary flavours subside when paired with the bitterness of tonic, while those fruit notes give it a fresh aroma and delicate, sophisticated flavours. Despite the use of juniper, Caleño isn’t simply a booze-free gin, but something all of its own and, with tonic, is an excellent alternative to alcohol.
Like decent beer? Of course you do. Want to be in with the chance of winning a delivery of eight awesome beery boozes? Stupid question.
We’ve teamed up with beer subscription aces Beer Me Now to offer you the chance of winning one of their boxes full of quality bottles and cans of ale. The online subscription business is one of the best around, impressing us every time we open a box with not only the quality of their beers but also their ability to source booze from breweries we’ve not even heard of before. To give you an idea of the kind of beers we’re on about, scroll down for a booze review of a recent box. But for now you’ll be eager to know how to enter the competition, right?
How to win
To stand with a chance of winning, simply log into Twitter, make sure you are following @thirstygardener and @BeerMeNowHQ, and retweet our Beer Me Now competition tweet with the hashtag #BeerMeUpScotty
All names successfully completing the criteria above will go into into our ‘tankard of hoppy dreams’ and the winner will be picked out randomly on Monday 2nd September 2019.
Check the Ts&Cs below, seek out that tweet, and keep your fingers crossed…
What’s in the box?
We can’t guarantee exactly what will be in the competition winners box, but we got our hands on one of Beer Me Now’s most recent selections to give you an idea of the quality on offer.
Along with brews from the excellent Wild Horse Brewing Co, Wiper & True, Siren, Mourne Mountains (a barrel-aged stout, no less) and Lost and Grounded there were three treats from breweries we’ve not even tried before. These were…
Legitimate Industries, Identity Theft, 5.3% A small batch brewery in Leeds, this APA is the hazy, fruity kind with lots of New World hop flavour and is high gluggability.
Station 1-1-9, Black IPA, 6.7% This Suffolk beer is dark and hoppy with some fruity citrus flavours squeezing through the toasty malt tang to prominence. It’s nice and boozy too.
Abbeydale Brewery, Heathen Pale Ale, 4.1% OK, so Abbeydale have been around a while and we think we might have tried their beers before, but certainly not recently. Anyrate, they’re based in Sheffield and this APA is just the kind we like: crisp and clean malts, tropical hops and a good depth of citrussy bitterness.
Terms and conditions
Entries must be submitted by midnight on Sunday 1st September 2019.
The decision of the judges is final and no correspondence will be entered into.
The winner will be drawn at random from all entries received by the closing date.
Failure to respond and/or provide an address for delivery, or failure to meet the eligibility requirements may result in forfeiture of the prize. Should the Promoter be unable to contact the winners or should the winners be unable to accept the prizes by 9th September 2019, the Promoter reserves the right to award the prizes to an alternative winner, drawn in accordance with these terms and conditions.
Entry is open to residents of the UK except employees (and their families) of the prize suppliers.
Use of a false name or address will result in disqualification.
Entrants must be over the age of 18 on 1st September 2019
Entries that are incomplete, illegible, indecipherable, or inaudible (if made by phone) will not be valid and deemed void.
No responsibility can be accepted for entries lost, damaged or delayed in the post, or due to computer error in transit.
The prizes are as stated, are not transferable to another individual and no cash or other alternatives will be offered.
In the event of a prize being unavailable, the promoter reserves the right to offer an alternative prize of equal or greater value.
The winner(s) agree(s) to the use of their name, photograph and disclosure of county of residence and will co-operate with any other reasonable requests relating to any post-winning publicity.
When Nick was recently asked if he would like to review the new restaurant at Feldon Valley in the Cotswolds he had a key request in his reply: “Can my toddler come too please?”. Here’s how he and the young one got on…
The restaurant at Feldon Valley in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds is well fitted with smoke alarms, security cameras, fire alarms and other such devices which link to a complicated looking control panel near the entrance, providing just a small indication of the scale of a site that incorporates accommodation and a golf course. The attention I paid to such matters is purely down to my decision to dine there with my two-and-a-half year old son who was on the verge of a toddler meltdown – a tour of alarms (one of his favourite subjects) provided a welcome distraction between courses.
Taking a toddler to a smart restaurant can be stressful for everyone within earshot of the tiny mouth (and even more so for the parents) but Feldon Valley’s staff were hugely accommodating, helping me to avert any meltdowns, while our fellow diners were so relaxed that they claimed not to mind the occasional excitable shout at each new discovery of an alarm.*
We were staying at Feldon Valley as part of a weekend trip that included a tour of the Cotswolds Distillery, a 25 minute stroll away, meaning I could taste their whisky and gin without having to worry about driving. I had been planning the tour for a while as it’s en route to other family members, so when Feldon’s representatives enquired if I would like to review their recently opened restaurant it seemed too good an opportunity to turn down.
Along with our toddler, my wife and I stayed in one of the modern lodges that were only completed in May 2019 and comprise five stylishly designed buildings constructed of wood and glass with clean, angular lines that cut out from a strip of woodland and overlook the golf course to the manicured Cotswold hills beyond. Our suite was well kitted out with a kitchenette and lounge, while the terrace provided some perfect post-toddler-bedtime relaxation as we watched a hare dance in the bunkers** and bats flit through the dusky sky.
We need not have left the comforts of our lodge all evening, but I was here to review a meal, so we took our seats in the similarly wood-and-glass constructed restaurant just a short stroll across the car park. The view here was elevated, with outdoor terraced seats looking down upon the practice greens, while the interior was laid out with plenty of space between tables and a wide expanse of glass separating the restaurant from the bar.
We skipped starters (tired toddlers make you do that), despite being tempted by the watercress and bramley soup, and I tucked into a pint of Hooky from the nearby Hook Norton brewery while waiting for the main courses to arrive. The plates of food perfectly reflected the feel of the restaurant: clean and modern, yet unpretentious. They were well measured proportions with enough fine-dining expertise to feel special, but minimal fuss, making your eyes tell you to eat rather than spend an age simply staring and poking, wondering what each ingredient might be.
I went for the vegetarian option: ricotta dumplings with sprouting broccoli, peas, courgette and regato cheese at a very decent £15. The broccoli was just-cooked perfection, while the slices of curled raw courgette added a satisfying crunch to the soft, sticky and crumbly pieces of cheese. These items were assembled on a bed of pea puree, with the salty cheese exaggerating the vegetable’s natural sweetness while toasted pine nuts gave the whole meal some nutty depth. My wife’s dish of plaice, potato terrine and cabbage (£18) was served with a wonderful rich and oozy crab sauce and was equally elegant and satisfying. As for the kids, they sensibly kept things simple: pasta and tomato sauce. No frills, no off-putting bits of green, no strange flavours – exactly as our toddler likes it.***
My wife also loved her dessert – a raspberry tart, meringue and sorbet (£7) that she launched into before I could get a photo and finished before I could try a spoonful. I fully trust her enthusiastic thumbs up verdict. I followed my cheese main course with… more cheese. I find it hard to resist a good cheese board and this was exceptional (£12), featuring four local cheeses including Oxford Blue and a soft, buttery Rollright Cheese that were served with celery salt crackers, an Eccles cake and mustard fruits.
A fantastic meal was made all the more enjoyable by the relaxed and welcoming atmosphere which was created not just by the architecture and ambience but also by the exceptional courtesy and friendliness shown by the staff. Eating out with a toddler isn’t always easy, but they managed to tread the fine line between making it child friendly and not allowing it to become a child-focussed environment that would be off-putting for grown up diners. And when you have such relaxing accommodation to return to, any slight stresses quickly melt away.
Dining out is for us as much about finding inspiration for what to do with our home grown veg as relaxing and enjoying a meal. Here are two tips we’ll put into practice back home…
More ways with courgettes We’re in the midst of a courgette glut, perhaps the biggest we’ve ever known, and are serving it with most meals. So far we’ve cooked them in every way possible and chopped them into salads, but as a result of this meal we’re also finely slicing them and slipping them onto our plates raw.
Cheesy peas When gobbling peas whole with a plate of fish and chips you don’t really notice just how incredibly sweet they are (and not always being fresh doesn’t help). Feldon Valley’s pea puree tasted incredibly sweet when paired with cheese, so we’ll be trying this combination of veg and dairy more often.
A note on the golf
I like golf. I enjoy watching the big tournaments on TV and occasionally thrash my way around municipal courses. But there’s also a lot I dislike about the sport. There are times when it becomes elitist and can attract the kind of characters I’m less comfortable around. So I had some reservations about staying and dining somewhere that was built around a golf course in a somewhat posh part of the Cotswolds.**** But while the course was obviously integrated into the accommodation and restaurant’s setting, it never felt as if the sport was intruding on our stay, with the fairways merely acting as another layer of green across the landscape. And everyone we met – with and without golf clubs – was perfectly friendly.
*Or the rather loud rendition of ‘Wheels on the Bus’
**Rich doubts this claim, dismissing it as ‘probably a rabbit’. And while I’ll admit my eyesight isn’t great at dusk after drinking beer I am convinced it was a hare.
***The following evening we ate at a restaurant where he had chicken and rice, which he was enjoying until biting down on two whole cardamom pods.
****I grew up in a less well heeled corner of the Cotswolds and would occasionally cycle with three second hand wooden clubs taped to my bike frame to a golf course that shared its fairways with cows.
For this round up we’ve been kindly sent two Antipodean liqueurs, a pair of British beers and a sparkling mixer. Five very different, but very delicious, drinks…
Quick Brown Fox Coffee Liqueur, 20%
This coffee liqueur travelled half way round the world, starting its journey in Dunedin, New Zealand, before being delivered to our tasting desk in a small sample bottle with a hand-written label pasted on the front. And what a treat it turned out to be.
It’s a thick liqueur, oozing with creamy goodness, full fresh coffee flavours and some dark chocolate and vanilla sweetness. Liqueurs can often be sickly if taken neat, but not this one. The sweetness was spot on with the blend of flavours providing a taste as smooth as the texture. We tried half of it in a creamy White Russian-ish cocktail. It tasted great, but it was even better sipped neat. A superb liqueur seemingly unaffected by its long distance journey.
Another liqueur, another long journey. Brookie’s Gin is a product of the Cape Byron Distillery in Australia and this ‘slow’ edition has been flavoured with the Davidson Plum, a native of the local rainforest. It’s an obvious take on a sloe gin, with the rare plummy rainforest fruit being steeped in the distillery’s gin and tamed to a sensible 26% ABV with spring water.
It’s tart (like our sloe gins) but has a slight floral quality that reminds us of Turkish Delights and a dry, juniper rich finish that gently tugs at your cheeks. For sloe gin fans it’s definitely worth checking out as an unusual variant, and we also suggest gin lovers seek out a bottle of Brookie’s Byron Dry Gin, a full flavoured spirit with plenty of juniper and citrus to enjoy.
Ginking is a blend of white wine and gin botanicals, stuffed with bubbles and packed at a party friendly ABV of 8.5%. We don’t usually go for pre-made mixes and cocktails but there was something about this special Italian inspired edition that looked appealing, so we replied ‘yes please’ to the offer of a sample and stuck the bottle straight in the fridge.
It didn’t last long. The easy going fizz has crisp white wine at its core and a guzzleable bitterness from the botanicals, but with much more complexity than most flavoured fizzes and a sensibly lower-than-average sweetness. The Italian influence is apparent by the use of ingredients that feature in vermouth and it certainly made a fine summery aperitif that we drained with glee.
We drink (and write about) Cornish beer quite regularly. This is because (a) we live in the South West so it often features at local pubs and beer festivals; (b) we spend most of our holiday time in Cornwall* and; (c) Cornwall has lots of breweries we like. The kind of breweries that are rooted in English real ale traditions but are capable of doffing their caps to modern craft ways without being engulfed by craft craziness.
One such brewery is Skinner’s who have just added a lager to their core range. The instant thing we like is that it tastes like a Skinner’s beer. We think having a ‘house style’ is a good thing – these days it’s not that hard to find a decent lager, so rather than recreating another identikit lager product it makes a refreshing change when breweries turn out their own version of a style. Skinner’s lager has summery light malts and peppery Saaz hops, but it has been given a modern edge with Chinook and Rakau hops which, along with the yeasty flavours, give it plenty of character. The kind of thing that would well suit ale drinkers who don’t normally go in for lager.
This new release immediately caught our eyes. It’s the first in a series of one-off beers brewed using Marston’s famous Burton Union system and was made along similar lines to the old Burton IPAs that were exported to India from the early 19th century. The process involves a two-day fermentation in rectangular ‘squares’ before being transferred to oak barrels – 24 of them, interlinked – where fermentation continues for another five days.
It’s another beer that tastes uniquely of its brewery, with Marston’s yeast adding to the flavours from the pale malt and four hops – Goldings, Sovereign, Ernest and Cascade. It’s a smooth boozy brew with a delicious rich honeyed toffee flavour to it, some subtle tropical fruits mixing with the typically English hoppy notes, and a dry oaky finish. You can pick up a bottle from Waitrose, while stocks last, for what we think is a very reasonable £4 and reckon it’s one worth storing in the cellar for a few years. Hopefully, while you wait, there will be plenty more of these Marston’s limited edition beers to enjoy.