SOMETIMES EVEN I am surprised how stupid I can be. I was out collecting nettles for beer (post coming up) and keeping an eye out for a likely looking beech tree. I fancied making noyau, that liqueur made from its leaves.
Of course, I didn’t find one and only later did I realise there was one less than 20 feet from my kitchen door – my neighbour’s but one which I had paid expensively some years ago to lower and give me a little more afternoon sun.
That realisation stung more than the nettles.
I am posting shortly after picking the leaves and before the noyau is ready to be drunk but if I leave it until then your chance of following suit will be over until next year.
There is only a short ‘window’ when the leaves are fresh, green, tender (and edible) and delicate enough to make this drink. That is now. So I will update this post as the drink develops.
In a nutshell (pun!) the idea is to macerate big handfuls of beech leaves in gin (or vodka) for five to six weeks, strain, add sugar syrup, fortify with brandy, mix, leave for a bit longer and drink.
They say you can eat the young leaves in salads or sandwiches as they have a citrus taste. I chewed through five or six and only got the merest hint of lemon although that could have been auto-suggestion.
Now technically a noyau is made from nuts and this uses leaves. They say it was devised by foresters in the 18TH century who used beech to make furniture.
First find your tree. Then stuff as many leaves as you can into a carrier or paper bags, avoiding as much as possible any detritus such as the flowery bits which would eventually become nuts.
It’s a faff picking the leaves but as the tree badly needed a prune I broke off twigs and branches and sat down to strip the leaves. I quite like tedious routines but prefer to do it seated.
They need washing. Put them in a bowl and hopefully some of the detritus will float off. Wash them again and then drain, each time picking off bits of flowers or brown bracts.
I finished them off in the salad spinner. If you have any detritus left at least it will be clean.
Every recipe I have seen uses the phrase ‘pack loosely’ when putting them in your sterilised jar. I have only heard one dissenting voice. As I had a two litre Kilner jar my 80g of leaves was never going to fill it.
I poured in a 70cl bottle of cheap gin (you can also use vodka) and kept the leaves submerged with an old yoghurt pot lid before sealing the jar.
It is now in the cellar with a note to go on to stage two in a month’s time: I have yet to decide how sweet I want it and how much brandy to add.
So if you’re up for it, go out and find those beech leaves. I’ve read you can also make a liqueur from the nuts so I may give that a go later in the year.
Either way, I hope to be raising a glass of noyau to the tree at the bottom of the garden come summer.
I’ll keep you posted.