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Hackney Wild Hops

3 Dec

Brewing beer with foraged hops!

My mate Graham happens to be the Cellarman at one of London’s beeriest beer bars: The Euston Tap. Last week he went up to Norwich to brew a beer with Northcote brewery. Why is this a Hungry Hackney ting? Simples; Graham lives in Stoke Newington and he harvested some of the hops used in the beer from his back garden where they were growing wild.¬†Foraged hops being used for brewing actual beer! I wanted to know more.

“I used to be a self-employed Gardener” explained Graham “so I knew that these vigorous twining plants growing like the clappers in my garden and next door were Humulus lupulus” which is the Gardener’s way of saying hops. “So I let them grow, hoping that they would flower.”

And flower they did. It’s the flowers, or cones, of the hop plant that are used in brewing. They give beer it’s bitterness, herbal aromas and balance out the sweet flavour of the other main ingredient; malted barley.

Harvested hop cones
Harvested hop cones

“By the end of Summer the hop plants were covered in bright green flowers. The best time to harvest them is just as the cones are starting to turn brown at the edges. Then you know they’re ripe” Graham continued “so at the end of September I started my harvest. I got my daughter to help me and we collected loads.”

After collecting the cones Graham laid them out in his greenhouse on shelving to dry out any excess moisture. This took a couple of days. Then he put them into freezer bags, squeezed out all the air and tied them, before putting them into the freezer to store until brew day. Keeping them in the freezer is also a good way of killing off any nasties, bacteria or insects, that might be lurking in the cones.

For the brew day Graham took the hops to the Northcote Brewery in Norwich. Run by husband and wife team Adam and Jenni Nicholls the microbrewery has been producing hand crafted ales for only just over a year. The plan was to create a highly hopped pale ale with as many hop additions as they could. As well as the Hackney Wild Hops they added copious amounts of Citra, Summit and Pacific Jade at every stage of the brewing process. The beer is going to be called ‘One For The Road’ and will be on sale only at The Euston Tap, probably around Christmas and into the new year. There will be about 16 casks of it produced, but because it uses unique wild hops, once it’s gone, it’s gone. There won’t be a chance to recreate it until the wild hop harvest next year.


Hops on the Copper

It’s The Nuts; Ginko Nuts

14 Nov

Foetid forage is more appealing than it smells.

It’s mid-November and the Ginko nuts are in season. You might be familiar with the Ginko (or Maidenhair) tree because of the smell. It stinks. At this time of the year, the yellow mess of dropped fruit and soggy leaves under the tree stinks like vomit, dog-pooh and cheese (nice). A stinky tree doesn’t sound like a very promising first blog post, but I think it is. I’m excited by the dropped fruit and in some ways it sums up what inspires me about food in Hackney.

If you have a little bit of knowledge and an open mind this tree yields an amazing, foraged, local, seasonal, FREE treat and, to misquote Sir Michael Caine, not a lot of people know that. There are some people who do know though, and they seem to be mainly Chinese. I spoke to one woman this morning who was collecting a big bag-full of the smelly windfall on Lordship Road (N16). She was Chinese and was surprised that I knew about Ginko nuts. She told me that they’re very hard to buy in this country so she collects them. I guess she would do even if they were easy to buy, cos the street version is free (right kids?).

She was going to use them for puddings, but warned me not to eat too many because they contain “a little bit of poison”. Wow. This nut is not only smelly but dangerous! It’s got to be good because she was collecting a big old bag-full to take home. She did say she’d freeze some of them.

I love it! It’s going on right under our noses (literally) but its a secret. This is what I like about food in Hackney. There are special, exciting, seemingly secret things going on and I want to get to the bottom of them, and share them with you. If you’ve read this far then you’re probably interested in Hackney food too. So lets see what’s out there and share it.


Tommy x

Ginko nuts and leaves on the ground

Ginko fruit on the ground