• The five best flowers for home grown teas and infusions

    How do you decide on what flowers to grow in the garden? Looks, fragrance, attractiveness to wildlife and minimum effort are all key considerations for us, but recently we’ve been prioritising those plants we can stick in a mug of hot water to make a tasty tea.

    If you fancy a caffeine-free hot drink then these five fab flowers are well worth finding room for…

    Grow your own chamomile

    1 German Chamomile

    Chamomile is one of the better known floral teas around and its daisy-like flowers are easy to grow in borders or pots, giving you the option of making fresh cups of tea that taste even fruitier than when dried. There are two types of chamomile – the low lying Roman Chamomile and the taller German Chamomile – and it’s the latter that you want to seek out. It’s easy to grow from seeds and will give you regular pickings of flowers throughout the summer.

    Grow your own marigold

    2 Pot Marigold

    Add some bright yellow and orange colours to your garden with another easy-to-sow-and-grow flower, Calendula officinalis – commonly known as Pot Marigold (not to be confused with the inedible French or African Marigolds). The petals make a delicious, delicate cup of tea with a slightly sweet, earthy flavour, and they can also add those sunshine colours to your favourite herbal tea blends.

    Grow your own lavender

    3 Lavender

    If you feel instantly calmer whenever you catch the fragrance of lavender, then consider converting those calming properties to a cup of tea or coffee by sticking a couple of flower heads in your next brew. We think that fragrance is well suited to milky drinks such as chais and lattés. For maximum brewing pleasure it’s the English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) you’ll be needing to grow.

    Grow your own yarrow

    4 Yarrow

    Let the wild into your garden by growing some yarrow – its white (and sometimes pink) heads of flowers will be greatly appreciated by insects and you can use the flowers and leaves for a very underrated cuppa. Three to five young leaves or a few teaspoons of flowers are all you’ll need for a mug and you’ll be rewarded with a hot drink that has a tasty green freshness and bitter bite.

    Grow your own roses

    5 Rose

    Look after your roses and you’ll get to enjoy both their flowers and fruits for tea-making purposes. The petals are best for adding their heavenly scent to other teas (try infusing a handful of dried petals into a packet of black tea for a take on China Rose tea) while the rose hips taste so fruity that commercial tea makers use them to increase the flavour of their fruit tea blends. Most fragrant roses are suitable but we like the plump-hipped Dog Rose best.

    Grow your own tea book

    Our latest book, Wild Tea, is packed with even more ingredients you can grow and forage to turn into teas and infusions. Learn how to grow, brew and blend in one handy book. Order now from Amazon.

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  • Rhubarb and vanilla liqueur: our easy recipe

    With Covid-19 forcing people to spend their days at home there has been a sudden surge of interest in gardening. At this time of year there are plenty of tasks to be getting on with, but little in the way of harvests. Unless you have a rhubarb plant.

    This fruity vegetable is one of our saviours, giving us early spring pickings so we can enjoy the taste of our home grown efforts. And if you think its use is just restricted to crumbles, then you’re in for a treat – because it’s one of the best booze-making ingredients we know (along with a few other uses which we run through here).

    To give you something to do when you head back inside from the garden we’ve reproduced our ace rhubarb and vanilla liqueur from our book Brew it Yourself. We’ve also included a PDF from the book for anyone who wants to download it, print it out or share with their friends.

    Enjoy the recipe and, most importantly, stay safe.

    Our easy rhubarb and vanilla liqueur recipe

    Ingredients

    2 good-sized sticks, or 4 small sticks, of rhubarb (roughly 250g/9oz), chopped into small pieces

    220g/7¾oz/1 cup white sugar

    1 vanilla pod, sliced lengthways to expose the seeds

    Zest of ½ an orange

    1 x 70cl bottle of vodka

    Method

    1. Put the chopped rhubarb in a jar with the sugar, and leave for 24 hours.

    2. By now the sugar will have got to work extracting the rhubarb juice, so you can add the rest of the ingredients, including the whole vanilla pod. Cover everything with the vodka.

    3. Shake the jar to help dissolve the sugar, and leave it in a cool place away from direct sunlight. You’ll probably have to give the jar a few more shakes in the first few days to make sure all the sugar has dissolved.

    4. Ideally this mixture needs around 2 months to mature before bottling and the liqueur will continue to mellow and improve with age once in the bottle.

    Serving suggestions

    For the perfect rhubarb and custard liqueur, combine with egg-nog at a ratio of three shots of egg-nog to one shot of rhubarb and vanilla liqueur. Alternatively, splash the liqueur into real custard and pour it over the dessert of your choice.

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    Drag the PDF below onto your desktop or click here to download

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  • An interview with… Kerry Godliman

    Kerry Godliman is one of Britain’s most versatile performers, starring in Bad Move, Derek and After-Life, along with appearances on Live at the Apollo and numerous comedic panel shows including Mock the Week, 8 out of 10 Cats and Taskmaster. You’ll also see her in the brand new, four part-series Adult Material, which will be hitting Channel 4 later this year.

    When she’s not treading the boards, Kerry likes to relax with a spot of aggressive allotmenteering. She kindly takes time out from her busy schedule to tell us all about boshing weeds, prepping for gigs, and the joy of a National Trust cake.

    Unfortunately the ‘Bosh’ tour mentioned below has since been postponed due to COVID-19, so keep checking her website for further details.

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    Is gardening something you were bought up with, or have you grown into it?
    Well I had no interest in it. My mum and dad always did gardening, but I wasn’t that bothered. So yeah, it has come to me at this chapter of life.

    You have an allotment now….
    Yes I have. I share it and I have to be honest with you, my friend Claire does most of it. She’s very passionate about it. She has two in fact and it is much more her thing, but I was the one that got it. I put my name on the list and my name came up and I had a feeling that I wasn’t going to be able to do it on my own so I asked her if she wanted to share it which was a canny move because she’s done most of the heavy lifting really. I had to wait four years, which is pretty average for London.

    Thinking back to the time when you appeared on Taskmaster (the Channel 4 game show fronted by comedic colossus Greg Davies) you had a very much direct, no-nonsense way of tackling the tasks. Is that your approach to gardening too?
    Actually, it is. There’s a bit on Taskmaster which references this*. The way I garden is not very tranquil. I can get quite aggressive with slugs and weeds. I don’t go into a reverie of meditation. I’m quite robust.

    A lot of people use gardens as their restful, therapeutic place….
    I do too. But that’s how I rest.

    Do you find the allotment a good place to work on material?
    You kind of percolate all the time. When I was younger, I felt that you had to sit down and write in the kind of traditional way, but now I tend to percolate quite a lot and tend to get on with other things. So gardening is quite good for that – it’s one of those flow activities where you are half-thinking about what you are doing but half-thinking about other stuff.

    How long did the current tour take to write?
    Well, it’s not really a locked down thing. It’s been evolving, bits and routines have been floating about in pads or in offshoots of other bits. It’s really really hard to define or explain, but it’s been evolving for about two years, like tiny little bits have been bubbling up, and they start to develop a theme. At some point – usually when your agent kicks you up the arse and says “I need a title because I’m booking this in” – you go, right, all these things that have been flying about in my brain for two years now, I need to lock them down and pull them together and do a little bit of homework. You then scribble them down and stick them on post-it notes and then arrange them in a way so there is some form of narrative. I mean, it’s a contrivance because it’s not really a narrative – you are just finding a way to kind of hang the disparate bits together.

    How do you prepare for going on stage?
    I’m a drama school trained actor so I know that the sensible answer is that I should do a vocal warmup and stretch out but I know that comics just don’t do that. And I have occasionally lost my voice on tour. When I’ve spoken to actor friends they go “Why didn’t you warm up?”, because if you were doing a play you would warm up, but stand-ups are just too rock and roll for that and they think it’s really edgy to not bother getting themselves mentally ready. I suppose I just try and have a bit of quiet where I can just map the route of the show over in your head. I also like to reflect on all the people that have come actually, that has become a nice ritual, where you go “wow, I’m just really grateful that all these people came.” And it’s a way of diffusing nerves, because if you get caught up in nerves, it’s a downward spiral, so you have to nip it in the bud.

    Your tour involves lots of dates…
    It’s long but it’s broken up, so I’ve got like a week in London, so that’s one stretch of it, and then I’ve got a week in the Highlands, so I’m going to the Outer Hebrides, so that’s a bit of a random addition. It’ll be amazing, and basically it’s an excuse to go somewhere I would never have otherwise gone. A couple of other people have been there – Alan Carr has done it and Suzi Ruffell has done it. Tom Allen also. I’ve heard so much about it from other people and I’ve gone “I really want to do that”, so it’s kind of like a treat for me really.

    It sounds like your allotment will be a bit of a state by the time you get back.
    Nah, my mate’s all over that. I do love going away, and that isn’t really conducive to being a devoted gardener. My dad’s always saying that to me. “You can’t have long holidays Kerry if you are a true gardener.” But I cheat, I’m a terrible cheat. I get other people to come and do it.

    What kind of things will you be growing this year?
    I’ve already got my seeds in. I think I’m going to grow more flowers this year as opposed to just edibles. I just want to get the colour in the garden – I want to make it as colourful as I can get it. But edibles, I’m just going to do easy things like chard and courgettes and beans. Things that I can just keep eating through the season rather than have just one harvest.

    Is your allotment all neat and regimental?
    No, I really like that kind of Alys Fowler-y permaculture kind of system. Make it all look a bit higgledy piggledy. So growing sweet peas through beans, that kind of thing. I like it when people create sort of lounge sitting areas up there (at the allotment) and in the summer you can have a BBQ up there and all that. That to me is one of the upsides of having it. It’s social and somewhere to go. In London, it’s just so hard to get that sense of country and nature and you really have to find it where you can get it. I’m naturally quite urban, and I think I would go quite bonkers in the countryside, so I found a compromise by having an allotment.

    Is there a good community on your allotment, or are things a bit competitive?
    Claire (the woman who I share it with) says it can get a bit competitive. I just don’t engage with it. I just reserve my competitive nature for my area of work. I can’t be arsed to get competitive about a carrot.

    Listening back to your appearance on the superb ‘Off Menu’ podcast, you mentioned your allotment and the joy you get from visiting the Gardening Museum. Ed (Gamble) and James (Acaster) rudely took the piss out of you for this, didn’t they?
    Yes they did. They are young, silly boys.

    Do you get to visit many gardens?
    Yes I do. I went to Down House the other week. I was planning to go to Charleston next week but worried the weather will rain that off. I go to Kew regularly – my mum’s a member, and it’s great for accessibility there. You can hire a mobile and get around really easily. National Trust ones are always lovely, and are a great way to break up a journey.

    National Trust Gardens have nice tea shops…
    Ooh I do love a National Trust cake. That’s what I mean though… when James and Ed took the piss out of me for going to the Gardening Museum**, they’ve just got no idea what I’m talking about. I think they thought I was just making it up.

    I read on Wikipedia*** that you did a voiceover for a program about saving old pubs. Is this a subject close to your heart?
    Oh yeah, no that was just a voiceover job. I also did something for GCSE Bitesize maths. I don’t even have GCSE maths so there’s an indication just how disconnected you can be from a voiceover job. 

    But you do like pubs though, right?
    You know, I don’t mind them but I have gone off them as I’ve gotten older because I’m not drinking so much any more. We went to a pub in Barnes last Sunday and the rugby was on, I don’t eat meat and it was all roast dinners and I wasn’t drinking. What are these places for if you don’t like meat and you are not drinking and you don’t like rugby? I’m not passionate about pubs any more. I used to be when I was young… I used to live in them. 

    And finally, after a hard day’s graft – allotment or stage, what is your go-to drink?
    I would have either a beer or a red wine. 

    Any particular beer?
    I think I’d quite like a lager actually. Or just an ale. A nice cold drink. There’s something about a beer that makes you feel like you are on holiday. And then red wine is a nice wintery drink to make you feel a bit cosy.

    —————-

    Follow Kerry Godliman on Twitter
    @KerryAGodliman

    For gig info and booking details, visit
    https://kerrygodliman.com/

    —————-

    * Kerry’s blunt, ruthlessly efficient approach on Taskmaster helped coin the name of her current tour. BOSH!

    ** Kerry chose the chocolate pudding from the Garden Museum cafe as her favourite dessert. Unfortunately a quick look on their website reveals that this dessert no longer exists. The Buttermilk panna cotta, poached rhubarb and shortbread sounds nice though.

    *** Only the most thorough pre-interview research for us…

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  • New Booze Round-up #17: Potato spirits, some special beers and a very expensive whisky

    We’ve been sent some special boozes for this round-up, including some Irish drinks which were timed to be enjoyed on St Patrick’s day. Two of these were crafted from the humble spud. We’ve also got some great limited edition beers with unusual brewing ingredients and whiskies from the Glen Scotia distillery – one of which will set you back close to £4,000…

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    Roosters outlaw Project

    Rooster’s Outlaw Project Limited Edition Beers

    Back in the early 1990s Rooster’s was one of the first British breweries to cotton on to the fact that America was doing good things with barley and hops, placing the Yorkshire business at the forefront of the UK craft ale scene with some consistently excellent beers. And the team is still innovating, as evidenced by six new small-batch beers (five of which are available in cans) from its new pilot brewery.

    Badged under the ‘Outlaw Project’ sub-brand the range includes two sessionable ales – Slow & Low, a 3.1% lime and ginger Berliner Weisse and Go Backer, a 3.6% Vermont IPA choc-full of crisp and crunchy citrus peel flavours. Alongside this pair are some heftier brews that creep up in strength to Loud Noises, a 7.8% double IPA. 

    Fans of multiple adjuncts will be delighted with Scoundrel, a 7.4% pastry stout brewed with almonds, glacé cherries, sultanas and other fruits and spices. The big list of ingredients adds some muscularity to the flavour alongside the sweet and creamy toasty toasty malts, making it a silky smooth, rich brew that’s full of character. One 500ml can of that is more than enough for our ever decreasing stamina, but we would be more than happy loading up on the outstanding Vermont IPA for a much longer session…

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    Glen Scotia 45 year old release

    Glen Scotia Single Malt Whiskies

    We recently filed our first pieces of copy for men’s lifestyle magazine Esquire, with Rich running the rule over beer subscription services and Nick producing a comprehensive guide to Scotland’s Single Malt Whisky. As the average Esquire reader carries a fatter wallet than most, we got to try some of the more expensive whiskies currently available, including some from distilleries we had not previously encountered.

    Among these was Cambletown’s Glen Scotia who introduced us to their core whiskies, ranging from 12 to 25 years old, and a small sample of their oldest whisky to date – a luxuriously oily and fruity 45 year old bottling released towards the end of 2019. If you want one of the 100 bottles available then it will set you back the best part of £4,000, but for the Esquire readership we suggested something much cheaper – Victoriana (51.5%), a snip at around the £70 mark. This outstanding bottle of booze is a recreation of a style that would’ve been popular in Victorian times and it’s a meaty mouthful, again with an oily texture and sweet, nutty flavours.

    We didn’t have to pick a ‘best buy’ for our Esquire feature but, if asked, it would’ve been a strong contender, and it’s currently the emptiest bottle of all those we were sent to review – even Nick’s mum syphoned off a hip-flask full for a weekend in Weymouth celebrating her 71st birthday. Hopefully the Esquire readership is equally impressed.

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    Muff Liquor Company Ireland

    The Muff Liquor Company Potato Gin & Vodka (40%)

    Another commission saw us recommending unusual drinks to sup on St Patrick’s Day for the readers of Reader’s Digest to digest. We were hoping that Ireland would throw up something made from the nation’s favourite vegetable – potatoes – and just before deadline we were alerted to the Muff Liquor Company who provided us with a brace of miniature bottles. 

    A six-time distillation of Irish spuds has produced both a vodka and a gin that have a much more sophisticated taste than you might imagine. It’s perhaps inevitable that the vodka is described as ‘earthy’, given that it begins life below ground, but it’s also creamily smooth and possesses a good boozy punch to it. The gin is very much juniper forward, with that punchiness again evident and well suited to the bitter tang of the berries. It’s quite a simple gin, given a touch of freshness with mandarin orange, but the flavours and texture carry through exceptionally well when mixed with tonic.

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    Bottle of Connemara st Patricks day

    Connemara Peated Single Malt Irish Whiskey, 40%

    Technically, this doesn’t meet our ‘new booze’ criteria: it has been around for a while and is a booze we’ve had before. But we were sent a bottle to enjoy on St Patrick’s Day, so that’s exactly what we will do for an evening of self isolation. 

    Connemara has some of the sweet and fresh grassy characteristics that are familiar to many Irish whiskeys, but they come with a hint of peat (it’s Ireland’s only peated single malt), a speck of vanilla and a drier thread of oak. The smokiness is much more subtle than most of Scotland’s famous peaty drams, making it much more approachable for smoke-shy folk. If you’re looking for an Irish whiskey with a difference, or a stepping stone to a more powerfully peated purchase, then Connemara is a great value choice.

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