Spring has finally started to arrive in Cornwall after a long winter.
The deciduous trees are starting to wake.
Beech, the Queen of the forest (Fagus sylvatica) is the dominant species in my local woodland and will soon fill the canopy.
This marks an important event in the wild booze calendar. Its time to make Beech leaf Noyau.
Beech Noyau is a delicious, sweet woodland liqueur. It's always a winner on my guided wild food walks and is a great way to capture the flavour of the trees. I love making alcoholic infusions, they're such a simple way to capture flavours and preserve them for use throughout the year. Making this one is always special. The season is short so there's no messing about, you have to keep an eye on the trees and catch the leaves within a few weeks of emerging.
When harvesting use common sense and have some respect for the trees. Spread the picking around, a few leaves here and there. Don't pick them all from one branch or tree and avoid any particularly young trees, they need those leaves more then you do. My general rule when foraging is that if I look back I don't want to be able to see anywhere I've noticeably harvested.
Beech are a large tree, up to 40m in height with a dense canopy. The bark is smooth and grey. The buds point away from the stalk, they are reddish brown and torpedo shaped. The young leaves are 4-10cm long, oval with a way edge and pointed at the tip. When they first emerge they are bright green, almost translucent with silky hairs, becoming darker and less hairy as they mature.
Beech leaf Noyau is now quite a classic wild booze recipe in the UK but seems to have been lost in translation along the way. Noyau comes from a French word meaning 'Core' or 'Kernel' and originally refers to an almond flavoured, amaretto style liqueur made by infusing the kernels of stone fruits (Do your research if using stone fruit kernels, they contain cyanide and need to be processed) .
The British version uses the young leaves of the Beech tree. They are edible and quite tasty when they first emerge. You want them bright green and within a few weeks of opening, the flavour is similar to Sorrel or Apple skin, they also make a great salad ingredient.
Early literature on wild foods in the UK is hard to come by, it was very much the realm of country folk and wasn't often recorded. I have read that an earlier recipe used Beech nuts which would make more sense when using the word Noyau. It is a similar style of drink and makes a delicious, golden, sweet, after dinner liqueur.
Beech Noyau Recipe
You will need:
Large sealable jar (1 litre)
750ml bottle of gin (Does'nt have to be fancy, were adding a lot of flavour)
2 x 750ml bottles
1) Loosely fill the jar halfway with young, bright green Beech leaves and cover with the gin. Leave to sit in a cool, dark place for 3 weeks.
2) Gently heat the sugar and water to make a simple syrup. When cooled add to the infused gin.
3) Add the brandy and mix everything together, funnel into bottles. You should have just under two bottles worth. Leave for at least a few weeks before drinking.
Enjoy over ice! If you have the willpower, it improves with age