Tag Archives: drinks

Gorse Flower Cordial at Cupid Woods

homemade gorse flower cordial, bottled

Gorse is a thorny evergreen shrub that thrives on Cornwall’s windswept moors, bathing vast stretches of the Cornish landscape in cheery yellow for much of the year. Also known as furze or whin, gorse plays an important role in area eco-systems, providing dense, protective cover for nesting birds. This abundant, resilient plant has been used traditionally for an array of purposes, from livestock fodder to dye-making and besoms, as a pest repellent for crops and even the ultimate clothes line (once latched on to its sharp, strong thorns, fabrics are not easily blown away from gorse!). Long associated with fire, gorse is propagated through burning, and represents as well a significant wildfire risk. Time ago gorse crofts were a vital source of firewood for Cornish peasants, its high flammability rendering it a valuable fuel.

Come the start-of-summer ritual observances around May Day, gorse appears alongside other May flowers in bundles attached to doorposts to ward off evil, thieves, or ill-wishers, and in Cornwall particularly locals who tie a sprig of gorse to their front door might receive treats from friends and neighbors. To some the national flower of Cornwall and for ages linked to Saint Piran, the 6th-century figure popularly recognized as patron saint of Cornwall (and patron of tinners), gorse represents one of those bridges between symbolic and practical I find so fascinating, connecting folkways, cultural identity, and the natural world through its many uses and associations.

With their not-overly-floral composition and rich flavor reminiscent of coconut and vanilla, gorse flowers are used to intriguing effect in perfumes and wines. On my recent return visit to Cornwall, in fact, I had the chance to taste a homemade cordial made from gorse flowers, thanks to the generosity and creativity of a lovely new friend. Jo Cooper is a highly talented cook, possessing aplomb and expertise I’ve never encountered in one self-taught. After a morning spent picking up Newlyn crab, Cornish cheeses and duck eggs, locally grown asparagus and other supplies, she took me to Cupid Woods near Carbis Bay (today known as Cubit Woods), where she oversees a very worth-your-time project called Heart of the Woods. An expert forager as well, Jo guided me on a walk through that sublimely peaceful patch of land to gather garlic flowers, lime tree leaves, navelwort and more, after which we returned to her deftly built pit fire to enjoy a most memorable meal, born of her imagination:

The work Jo currently does at Heart of the Woods includes organizing and leading volunteer-based outdoor group classes and fun activities to educate children on nature and wildlife. She is, in her own words, ‘eager to connect children with nature and foster an enthusiasm for the woodland environment and its future care.’ (This together with her cooking skills qualifies her as a total bad-ass.) It was a brilliant day, filled with things that made me fall in love with Cornwall last year—natural beauty, wonderful food, really cool people.

Gathering gorse flowers can be a dangerous undertaking. Some wear gloves, but as Jo noted before I wandered off to pick a few, the best method is simply to pull the flower buds towards you to avoid being pricked by gorse’s small yet ferocious spines. I fared well enough. No bleeding at least.

Here is Jo’s recipe for gorse flower cordial:


½ liter water
100 grams sugar
2 large handfuls gorse flowers


Place the flowers in a large bowl. Bring the sugar and water to a boil. Remove from heat and pour over the flowers. Let steep 24 hours, then filter and bottle. This version will keep for 3 to 4 months. Increasing the amount of sugar to as much as 300 grams will result in a syrup-like cordial that keeps for a year. The cordial makes a nice cocktail, served on ice with tonic water.

culture bites

Variations of a popular saying in Cornwall and elsewhere in the U.K. reflect the plant’s prolific bloom throughout most of the year: kissing’s out of fashion when the gorse is out of blossom and when the gorse is not in flower, kissing’s out of fashion, among others.  Kiss the year long, in other words

Gorse is commonly called ginestrone in Italian.  According to a Sicilian legend, the noise of a burning gorse bush in the garden of Gethsemane attracted the attention of the Roman soldiers who captured Jesus Christ. Thus the plant was cursed to always crackle and hiss when burnt.  

Cicely Mary Barker’s illustration of gorse

Meet Hugo, The Alpine Spritz

mystery child Hugo the Spritz

mystery child Hugo the Spritz

The ‘Hugo’ (or Ugo, as our h-sound-challenged Italian friends pronounce it), sometimes called Hugo Spritz or Alpine Spritz, originated in the northern Italian region Alto-Adige, an area intimately familiar with herbal use in both culinary and medicinal matters, and one where the elderberry plant thrives in summer. From the genus Sambucus, elderberry is a hardy, fast-growing flowering bush widespread throughout Italy and Europe. Sambucus nigra—European elderberry or simply Sambuco in Italian, among other namesbears edible-once-cooked berries used in making jams and sauces; while from their small white flowers a delicious, delicate cordial is obtained—this syrup being the star ingredient in the Hugo Spritz, which I had the fortune to learn about and taste last night at fabulous Borgo San Lorenzo wine bar and restaurant Passaguai, thanks to the knowledge and generosity of a lovely new acquaintance. As she explained, elderflower cordial is not to be confused with (that bottled nastiness known as) Sambuca, similar only in name to sciroppo di Sambuco. To demonstrate her point, she ordered up a Hugo for us to taste (yay!):


As with so many Italian specialties, a touch of rivalry characterizes Hugo’s birth-story, particularly intriguing given that the two barmen in contention for inventor credit both hail from South Tyrol, and neither seems ready to renounce his claim on Hugo. Was it Roland Gruber who, while working in a wine bar in Naturns near Bolzano created the Hugo some 10 years ago? Very possibly, yet apparently Gruber named the Hugo without any particular reason, a fluky bit of inadvertence I find a little dubious, frankly. There’s also some debate as to whether Gruber originally used elderflower or another type of herb cordial. Could it have been Filippo Debertol of the Val di Fassa area, who has said he started mixing elderflower cordial with wine, seltzer, and mint around the same time? Debertol’s story would seem to hold up better under scrutiny: young Debertol named the drink after an elderly gentleman who would visit the family’s Alpine cabin, always bringing with him a gift of his own homemade elderflower syrup. The old man’s name? Hugo, of course.

(An aside: While researching today, I came across a discussion (in Italian) on Wikipedia from late 2013, in which Debertol’s attempts to modify the Italian entry for Hugo (cocktail) were repeatedly removed, with the explanation ‘your changes reflect something completely different from what the sources indicate, and for this reason I have restored the prior text.’ See below)


Italians love their food (and drink) debates, and this one is not going away any time soon, I imagine. No matter. The important thing is someone invented this delightful concoction, which I highly recommend adding to your summer cocktail repertoire.


Ingredients per drink

6 cl Prosecco
6 cl seltzer
3 cl elderflower cordial
fresh mint leaves


Put ice in the glass. Pour in the Prosecco and cordial, followed by the seltzer. Stir gently. Garnish with fresh mint and a lemon slice (optional).

a bottle of elderflower cordial

a bottle of elderflower cordial

Orange Cream & Prosecco Cocktail

orange cocktail

orange cream heaven


for the cream
250 ml (1 cup) heavy cream
2 Tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
zest of 1 orange

per drink
3 parts Prosecco
2 parts fresh orange juice
1 part Schweppes tonic or similar


Whip the cream with the orange zest, vanilla and sugar until thick and fluffy. You’ll have enough for at least 5-6 drinks. Keep the cream cool while you briskly mix the cold liquid ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Pour into cocktail (or whatever) glasses and spoon in dollops of the orange cream. Garnish with extra orange zest (optional).

The Revival of Magalotti Beer

a tall glass of history

a tall glass of history

Magalotti Brewery was in operation in the Umbrian town of Terni from 1845 to 1936. At the height of its production, it made ice and soft beverages in addition to beer, putting to use the natural spring waters abundant in the area. Magalotti was a thriving business in the old center of Terni, where today the original brewery structure still exists, though damaged and currently unused, on a tiny side street named for this enterprise once so vital to the town, Vico Birreria.

Last month I spent two fast-paced, spirited days in Terni as a guest of Chef Academy Italy, an experience probably best described as enlightening. I learned some valuable tricks and techniques and gained familiarity with a professional kitchen, to be sure, yet what I really took away from those two days was something more substantial, weightier, if you will, than practical skill. As those circa 48 whirlwind hours passed—hours filled with tours, chats, laughter both nervous and hearty, kitchen work, a seemingly endless succession of gorgeous dishes, some 300 plus photos—I felt at times I was undergoing a kind of information and sensory saturation. Nearly every moment brought some new piece of knowledge, fascinating factoid, flavor, or quasi-mini-epiphany, sustaining a state of cerebral overdrive (and aching feet) until the moment I flat-lined on my hotel bed. I learned, saw, and tasted so much that even a month later the many ideas ignited by the experience have not yet died out, but rather have stayed in my memory bank like embers of enduring inspiration. In the midst of this, something even more remarkable was happening—meeting awesome people.

Back to the beer. Andrea Goracci is a professional chef and instructor at the Academy who specializes in, among other things, cooking with beer. In 2000 Andrea, together with two friends, brought Magalotti beer production back to life. Their research led to a rediscovery of the original Magalotti recipe, and through a partnership they arranged with a top quality Austrian beer maker, they reinstated the Magalotti label, once so fundamental to their town. At the Magalotti Restaurant, Andrea and his partners serve traditional Umbrian as well as international cuisine, and, you guessed it, dishes prepared with their beers. These include meatballs with pine nuts and pilsner; ciriole (pasta) in a sauce of guanciale, stout, marjoram and pecorino;  and slow-cooked pork shank braised in stout.

Nothing piques my curiosity like a forgotten food-related custom or tradition, so when our guide pointed out the old brewery during a tour of Terni, I immediately made a mental note to look into it and was thrilled to learn shortly after that one of the chefs we were working with was involved! When it came time to say farewell to our gracious hosts at the Chef Academy Italy, we bloggers were given hefty gift bags filled with all sorts of amazing yummies and local specialties, among them, some samples of this brew with a history, reborn thanks to the efforts of one of the very special chefs I had the fortune to meet last month.


‘Brewery Alley’ in Terni’s old town center

Pecorino: A Rediscovered Wine

Offida Pecorino DOCG

Offida Pecorino DOCG

You probably know Pecorino cheese, but do you know Pecorino wine? This ancient varietal takes its name from a legendary association with the pastoral traditions of the Piceni, the Italic peoples inhabiting the area named Picenum (Piceno) by the Romans, present-day Marche. During transhumance, shepherds observed that the mature grape was particularly appealing to their flocks, thus earning the grape its quaint nickname, Pecorino (pecore = sheep).

Unproductive Pecorino was all but abandoned over the centuries, until in the 1980s it was rediscovered and revived by sommelier Teodoro Bugari and producer Guido Cocci Grifoni. In 2009, Cocci Grifoni and the Polytechnic University of Le Marche and Ancona published a book about the experience, aptly titled La Riscoperta del Pecorino, storia di un vitigno e di un vino (‘The Rediscovery of Pecorino: History of a Varietal and a Wine’).

This early-maturing grape variety needs a coastal climate with some northern exposure. It is produced in the province of Ascoli Piceno, in the hills around Rotella and Offida between the Adriatic sea and Apennine mountains—the hills where two millennia ago it tempted those migrating, peckish pecore. It received DOCG status in 2001.

You can learn a lot from a wine label, right?

Bloody Mary, Bittersweet Style


‘As a matter of fact, I am as good as I look.’

Why mess around with measurements? In a tumbler, mix a smidgen of horseradish, a few dashes of Tabasco, a pinch of pepper, and several squirts of fresh lemon juice. Fill the glass a few fingers high with tomato juice. Now ice. Now vodka. (Do what you will. No one is looking.) Stir well and garnish with something fresh and crunchy. Now put your feet up, take a sip, and say, ‘Aaaaah, now that’s bloody good.’