Was­sail­ing away

Lynda Hal­li­nan beats the win­ter blues with a golden cit­rus har­vest, home­made tip­ples and a spot of tree hug­ging.


“The prom­ise of good times in a glass ap­peals at a pri­mal level.”

Any­one who has ever flown long-haul in econ­omy class, limbs crammed in like an am­a­teur con­tor­tion­ist, knows the sound of sal­va­tion. It’s not the cap­tain speak­ing, nor the in­struc­tion for the crew to please take their seats in prepa­ra­tion for land­ing, but the rat­tle of the ap­proach­ing drinks trol­ley.

I sus­pect the clink­ing of ice cubes on crys­tal – the prom­ise of good times in a glass – ap­peals at a pri­mal level. It’s one of the quintessen­tial sounds of a Kiwi sum­mer bar­be­cue but, come win­ter, I put down my cocktail shaker and wrap my mitts around mugs of mulled wine, made in my slow-cooker with a jar of mar­malade, or a sneaky shot of chilled limon­cello.

What are your win­ter rit­u­als? Do you take to bed in winceyette py­ja­mas or take your pass­port to Fiji? Do you throw snow­balls or sick­ies? Do you linger in bed un­til Jack Frost’s icy grip has thawed, or face each day with op­ti­mism and an ex­tra pair of polypropy­lene long johns?

In win­ter, I am more griz­zly than a po­lar bear. I stay at home and hi­ber­nate. While fash­ion­istas ad­vise the art of lay­er­ing like a Christ­mas tri­fle, I let my sar­to­rial stan­dards slip for the sea­son. I’m of the view, though it’s not one shared by my hus­band, that UGG boots and track­suits are per­fectly ac­cept­able at­tire for the school run, and there’s noth­ing wrong with wear­ing a dress­ing gown when putting the rub­bish out at the end of the drive­way, pro­vided the neigh­bours don’t catch sight of you.

Scarf man­u­fac­tur­ers, merino sheep farm­ers and fire­wood fellers must all smile when the mer­cury dips but, for the rest of us, the win­ter blues come in vary­ing strengths. Some peo­ple get a bit tetchy when cooped up in­doors by bad weather, while others need to seek treat­ment for Sea­sonal Af­fec­tive Dis­or­der (SAD), a de­pres­sive re­sponse to win­ter’s lower light lev­els.

Yet in pa­gan times, late win­ter was a time for py­ro­ma­ni­acs to party. From an­cient Rome to Per­sia and Scan­di­navia, the pass­ing of the short­est day was seen as a vic­tory of light over dark­ness. Hence, the win­ter sol­stice was cel­e­brated with burn­ing bon­fires, sun­wor­ship­ping shenani­gans and plenty of cer­e­mo­nial hooch-fu­elled hoopla.

It’s no co­in­ci­dence that al­co­holic con­coc­tions laid down in late sum­mer, from bar­rels of rough cider to bot­tles of dam­son plums drowned in gin, were brought out in late win­ter to lift the spir­its ahead of the spring was­sail.

Was­sail­ing, which sounds rather painful but is ac­tu­ally jolly good fun, is a mar­vel­lous old English cus­tom in­volv­ing singing, danc­ing and drink­ing in or­chards on frosty evenings. The word was­sail comes from an An­glo-Saxon greet­ing mean­ing “be in good health” and the idea was that by giv­ing your fruit

trees a friendly group hug, you’d be re­warded with an abun­dant har­vest.

I have hun­dreds of fruit trees, which sug­gests that if I dance drunk­enly around them all, this month is go­ing to take its toll on my liver. Sadly, there’s other work to do, too – onion seed to sow, blue­bell woods to weed, bare­root fruit trees to bed in and buck­ets of cit­rus to pick and pre­serve.

As well as mak­ing mar­malade, cle­men­tine cor­dial and grape­fruit curd, I like to bot­tle my own limon­cello. I first tasted this Ital­ian liqueur when my brother-in-law was play­ing pro­fes­sional rugby in Padova in the 1990s. Like all of the flavours I ex­pe­ri­enced for the first time in Italy, from po­lenta fries to fresh buf­falo moz­zarella, ri­cotta can­noli and amaretti ge­lato, my fond mem­o­ries of limon­cello have en­dured. How­ever, I’m less nos­tal­gic for Cy­nar, the bit­ter liqueur with globe ar­ti­chokes on its la­bel. I’ve long har­boured a sus­pi­cion that its se­cret in­gre­di­ent is ac­tu­ally nail pol­ish re­mover.

There’s very lit­tle that can’t be in­fused in booze to make your own liqueurs. This year I’ve been ex­per­i­ment­ing with peach leaves (they lend a sur­pris­ing al­mond flavour to clear spir­its), bay leaves, cherry guavas, wild black­ber­ries, grated quinces and dam­son plums in ev­ery­thing from tequila to rum.

(Speak­ing of which, if you bot­tled your own dam­son gin in Fe­bru­ary, the time has come to strain out the plums and de­cant the liqueur into bot­tles. Save the shriv­elled plums for bak­ing or coat them in melted cho­co­late to make tipsy truf­fles.)

Home-in­fused liqueurs are best kept in a dark cup­board rather than on the top shelf, as fruity colours tend to ox­i­dise and, in­stead of main­tain­ing their de­li­cious shades of plum, honey and rasp­berry, turn a murky brown.

So if life hands you lemons this win­ter, make limon­cello. Or, if life gets its cit­rus crops mixed up and hands you man­darins or grape­fruit in­stead, make man­darinetto or pom­pel­mo­cello us­ing the same tech­nique.

Note: Af­ter peel­ing, squeeze the nude fruit and gen­tly sim­mer the juice in a saucepan on the stove with 1 cup water, 2-3 ta­ble­spoons manuka honey and your favourite warm­ing spices, such as a cin­na­mon stick, a few whole cloves or a car­da­mon pod, to make cockle-warm­ing hot tod­dies (add a nip of whisky) or “not tod­dies”

(for tee­to­tallers).

It’s easy to make your own limon­cello with fresh lemons, good-qual­ity vodka and a sim­ple sugar syrup.

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