Sunday, October 20, 2013

Sloe Down

Another Autumnal one, but don't sweat - I'll be back to surfing and sunshine before you know it.  It just struck me that this might be one of the last opportunities to remind those of you based in the UK and above legal drinking age to get out and find some sloes.  
The fruit of the blackthorn tree (although you'll find it in hedgerows as it never really grows over twelve feet tall), sloes look like very small damsons, are inedibly bitter, and are found in British hedgerows throughout the Autumn unless somebody has beaten you to it and picked them all.  If you can pick enough to half-fill a bottle then you've got enough to make some sloe gin which should be ready in time for Christmas.  It's one of those perfect mid-winter hip flask fillers and, like most things, tastes so much better when foraged and home-made rather than bought ready-made from a store.
Harvest time is weather dependant, but you should be able to pick them anytime between September and early November.  Many people will tell you to wait until after the first frost (which they say ripens the fruit and reduces the bitterness), however I'd say to follow logic and pick them when they're ripe (not rock-hard).  If you wait until after the first frost you'll probably find that somebody else has beaten you to it and there are no fruit left on the branches.  

Once you have your sloes don't waste your time pricking each one individually.  If you put them in the freezer overnight then each one will rupture evenly, allowing the flavour to diffuse out whilst they are steeping and saving you precious time.  Next, buy yourself a bottle of good gin.  It'd be a shame to have spent all of that time picking sloes and then produce nasty sloe gin because you've bought nasty gin - sloe's won't magically make cheap gin taste nice, so consider forgoing a take-away coffee that day and spending the extra few coins on your winter warmer.  
Half fill your container (I'd suggest a large kilner-jar) with sloes.  Top up with gin.  Leave in a cupboard and shake every other day for a week.  Then shake the mixture once a week for the next few months, the longer the better really but try to last until at least Christmas.  Once your patience has run out you can strain your sloe gin through muslin into a sterilised bottle.  Then make yourself a sugar syrup by combining equal parts sugar and water in a saucepan over a low heat until it dissolves and allow to cool.  You can then add this to your slow gin to taste, which is far better than adding granulated sugar right at the start and then not having any control over the sweetness.  Pour some of the purple goodness out into a hip flask and put it into your back pocket, then set off in a thick jacket on a wild and wooly winter walk out in the cold, sipping sparingly and sharing and enjoying responsibly. 

Want to see more photos?  I've been digging through my shoebox archiving system and throwing some up on tumblr and instagram recently, click through to check them out and follow if you like them and want to see more.  Thanks!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

"Fall and the Coming of Winter"

"The summers passed with each year.  I don't seem to remember them anymore.
I remember the fall and the coming of winter.
The water got cold.  It was a time of the West swell."

Jack Barlow, Big Wednesday (1978)

I can't believe I've never, in the entire history of An Tor Orth An Mor, levered in a quote from my favourite film.  But now seems like an appropriate opportunity; that time of year is creeping up on us in the Northern Hemisphere and I for one am kind of looking forward to some heavy swells.


Oh, and if you've got a couple of minutes I'd be really made-up if you could head on over to the Talenthouse website and click to give me a vote please.  I've got an image (which can't have been posted or published anywhere before, hence the screengrab) entered in a contest to win a trip photographing "adventure travel" subjects for Nokia and National Geographic in Puerto Rico.  It's judged independently, but votes might help to sway their choices and I'd really appreciate your support to get into the top 50.  Click here to jump to the page.  Ta!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Super Sand

I turned out one of my pockets earlier and dumped half a handful of sand all over the floor.  This isn't an uncommon scenario - not only does sand get in my pockets, but it seems to end up in my wallet, fill my socks (when I wear them), and sometimes rains down from my hair when I shake my head.  Ordinarily it's a massive inconvenience, but today I realised just how good sand is and how important it is to me.  I'd miss it if I didn't spend each summer with my bed full of the stuff.    

Sand is different all over the world, and if you look at a load of it through a microscope each grain varies enormously from the next.  It's just ground up bits of rock and minerals, with the most common constituent in temperate latitudes being silica in the form of quartz crystals (which look incredible through a microscope), whilst in the tropics calcium carbonate from ground up coral reefs and shellfish make the beaches tour-brochure white.  Black sand is normally found on coastlines where there is a lot of volcanic basalt rock.

 Sand moves around a lot, and not just by hitching a ride in my pockets.  In the littoral zone waves push it up the beach and pull it back down, shifting untold amounts of it along shorelines each year.  This movement of sand forms the lumps, bumps, and eventually the sand banks that cause waves to break on the beach, so you can see all of a sudden where my appreciation for the stuff comes from.  There is nothing quite so good as some well organised grains of sand.  Whilst on a University field trip five other students and I had to try to hold a sand trap in a French shorebreak to assist with research into the movement of sediment.  We had to keep repeating the measurements, however, because each successive wave knocked at least four of us off our feet and washed us and all of the apparatus up the beach on our backs.  Sand also carries well on the wind, as can be seen in the Pyrenees where the south facing sides of some of the mountains are tinged yellow with sand that has been blown north from the Sahara, and it's even been said that Saharan sand has, on occasions, fallen from the skies over South America having been carried by the trade winds across the Atlantic.

Sand is pretty special stuff.  We once used it to measure our most precious resource - time.  
It covers massive areas of our planet both above and below the water and has a big role in shaping how we have fun, whether with a bucket and spade building sandcastles on the beach as grommets or by facilitating how the waves that we surf as adults break.  For that, I can deal with having to tidy up the piles of it that fall from my body and clothing at regular intervals.