THE BLOG

A Prescription of Campfire Cocktails for Autumn

20/11/2015 17:11 GMT | Updated 20/11/2016 10:12 GMT

Before I hear another person moaning this week about the shorter days and dark commute home, I would like to prescribe them a remedy of campfire cocktails in the city.

I'm very lucky to be able to spend many of my days outside, foraging and gardening, and my nights making cocktails for people to enjoy around a campfire in the heart of London. It was never on the list of career options at school. It kind of accidentally happened after I built a community garden on the roof of a tunnel in Rotherhithe, by the river in south-east London.

Guests who do not know each other sit in a circle around the fire pit and engage for the first time. Sitting on tree stump stools, passing around marshmallow skewers on whittled sticks to toast over the flames, unites these city bods from all walks of life. Stressed out, shy and stylish people gather together in that primitive act of sitting in a circle around a fire - enjoying being in a deeply grounding, simple, childlike state. I observe it multiple times as over 200 people turn up at the Midnight Apothecary every Saturday night to do just that.

Using ingredients grown in the garden or foraged close by means people can literally drink the plants they are sitting amongst. We actively encourage a 'scratch and sniff' policy in the garden to get as close and personal to the ingredients people are drinking.

Of course, it's nothing new to imbibe plants. Apothecaries in the mid sixteenth century were the community pharmacists of their day, renowned for their ability to prescribe restorative and healing remedies to their patients. They understood that high proof alcohol not only extracts the useful volatile essences of the plants, but also opens the blood vessels and stimulates the heart. And if that isn't impressive enough, high-proof alcohol preserves those herbal extracts almost indefinitely.

For centuries, 'wise women' and 'healers' have used a huge variety of herbs for medicinal purposes. And if we go back to the origins of the main spirits we use today, the vast majority owe their beginnings to medicine. From 'voda' translated from both Russian and Polish as water, came vodka, originating in the 14th century as medicine. Whisky also originated as an internal anesthetic and external antibiotic. And, of course, wonderful gin, invented in the 17th century by Dr Slyvius in the Netherlands, came into being as a remedy for kidney and stomach disorders using the oil of juniper in a base grain spirit.

So, during autumn and winter, guests at the Midnight Apothecary sup on rosehips, crab apples, elderberries and cloves which have been used for eons to ward off winter colds and boost immunity. We have rosemary for remembrance, apple mint to calm, tansy to stimulate, roses to sedate, fennel to detox, ginger to revive and lemon thyme to soothe.

Being able to cuddle up, listen to birds, insects and other wildlife as you watch the sun setting over the Thames or the moon rising over the garden, is another part of the remedy.

The woodsy smokiness of the fire inspired me to make a Woodland Martini as a signature cocktail. It's supposed to taste and smell like a walk in the woods. We burn sage over a fire and drop it into a honey syrup which is then shaken with mix vodka and infused with douglas fir. This gives it its beautiful resinous pine and lemon scent. It's topped off with some exquisite vermouth to bring extra herbal and bitter notes to the drink. Smell alone can conjure up strong emotional responses and if something looks and smells right, you can lose yourself in it.

Honestly, it's autumn. It's glorious. Nights are drawing in. Use them to cosy up, get a little muddy, get a little smoke on your jumper. Or just cuddle up with your candle and get a hokey about all the wonderful scents of the season.