but heather! - How marvellously descriptive! And incomplete!"
wrote the greatest Scottish poet of the Twentieth Century, Hugh
MacDiarmid. Of course there is much more to Scotland than heather but
it is abundant and much associated with Caledonia. Heather is a wide
spread plant, occuring right across northern Europe, but
heather-dominated heaths and bogs are nowhere more abundant than in
the eastern and central Highlands of Scotland. Most of these
heathlands are kept in open condition with young vigorously grown
heather, by regular burning, as young heather shoots are the preferred
food of the red grouse, an important game bird.
Heather flowers are an important source of
nectar for bees and make a delicious honey. Among the various
traditional uses of heather in by-gone days were roofing thatch,
ropes, bedding, brushes, dye and for the flavouring of heather ale.
According to an old Galloway legend the secret of brewing heather ale
was lost centuries ago but this was not the case. Indeed one
commercial brewer, Heather Ale Ltd of Strathven, still brews
heather ale - Fraoch (Gaelic for heather) - and have found a
ready market for their heather based product. This weeks recipe
lets you into the secret of our forebear's brew.
Ingredients; 1 gallon ( 1 kg ) can of
heather tips; 1 lb ( 450 gm ) golden syrup; 2 gallons ( 10 litres )
water; 1 oz ( 25 gm ) ginger; 1/2 oz ( 15 gm ) hops; 1 oz (25 gm )
Gather the heather tips when in full
bloom. Put them into a large pan and cover with the water. Boil for
one hour. Strain into a clean bowl or jar. In one quart of the liquid
boil the hops, golden syrup and ginger for twenty minutes. Strain into
the heather water. Leave until lukewarm and add yeast. Cover with a
coarse cloth and stand for twenty-four hours. Skim the liquid
carefully and pour the clear ale into a tub, leaving the yeasty
sediment at the bottom. Bottle and cork tightly. Leave for two or
three days before drinking.