Monday, December 12, 2016

New Grub Street with Mulled Sloe Gin

I always try and get a weeks holiday as early in January as I can, this is partly because after a retail Christmas I really need the time to recover and calm down, but also because I love the long dark nights and often crappy weather. At least I do if I have somewhere warm and comfortable to be, with a good supply of tea in the day, and something else to consider in the evening. That there will be books goes without saying.

It's become traditional to head to the Scottish Borders for family time at New Year, and another part of that tradition has been to take a hefty Victorian novel with me in the hope I'll find time to read it. Sometimes this works, sometimes not, Trollope's 'The Prime Minister' has made the trip a couple of times but remains stubbornly unread. This year I'm taking 'New Grub Street' for a change. 

It's yet another tradition to stick a couple of suitably chunky Victorian novels on my Christmas wish list (in case it's not been clear from the amount of times I've mentioned Christmas, all the books I've chosen for this series are ones I think would make excellent gifts for like minded readers) and my (lovely) mother has always obliged by choosing one (or two). The pace of lazy winter days is perfect for getting lost in these books.

I've been meaning to make some Mulled sloe gin (in the name of research) for at least the last month in the hope that it would be this years counterpart to last years hot gin, honey, and lemon (an excellent idea on a cold night if you don't have anywhere particular to be). It hasn't disappointed. I've seen a few recipes along the same lines - apple juice, sloe gin, cinnamon sticks, cloves, star anise, all gently warmed together, so that's what I did. The apple juice and sugar already in the gin provide more than enough sweetness so there's no need for more sugar. Unlike Mulled wine it's easy to make by the glass, the ratio of apple juice to gin is best determined by personal preference, but it's entirely feasible to make a barely alcoholic version (in which case a slice of lemon might help balance the sweetness of the apple juice. I see no reason why it wouldn't work with orange or grape juice depending on what's around either. 

Mulled anything feels appropriately Victorian, in this case I think the sweetness of the apple juice might be a comforting balance for Gissing's cynicism as well!


  1. Post Christmas reads?
    How about Jezebel's Daughter by Wilkie Collins which I have just purchased. Set in Germany with a set-piece in Frankfurt's 'Deadhouse'.
    A grim tale to be read alongside PG Wodehouse, I should think.
    Two Christmases ago I purchased Poor Miss Finch by Wilkie Collins.
    The narrative weaves myth and fairy-tale around a portrait of a girl born blind.
    That same Christmas I discovered a short tale by Elizabeth Gaskell, The Poor Clare, published by Melville House, in a durable paperback with foldback covers.
    'There is a great old hall in the north-east of Lancashire, in a part they called the Trough of Bolland, adjoining that other district named Craven.'
    The novella concerns the inhabitants of a baronial house with a massive old keep at its centre that defended itself from the Scottish Border raiders.
    Ruby's Spoon by Anna Lawrence Pietroni is set in the Black Country during the manufacturing age and reeks with atmosphere.
    Sinatra's Century by David Lehman is a collection of 100 short reflections on Old Blue Eyes written by the longtime editor of The Oxford Book of American Poetry.
    City of Lions by Josef Witlin and Philippe Sands has two essays on the little-known Ukraine city of Lviv or Lwow or Lemberg as it is variously known. With evocative black and white photos, this is a beautiful little book published by Pushkin Press.
    Reading must connect with the world in all its anguish.
    I recommend Syrian Dust by Francesco Borri, Seven Stories Press, by a writer who has remained within Aleppo and has spoken to many truly decent and courageous people.
    J Haggerty

  2. I'm a big fan of Wilkie Collins, and read Jezebel's Daughter when Oxford reprinted it recently (was it January?) not his strongest book, but great fun, very gothic, and interesting.

  3. I should have known Wilkie Collins wouldn't get past your radar.
    Here are some works of fiction which I nearly missed but for the god of Chance or Providence.
    The Harlequin (Sandstone Press) by Nina Allan, a short atmospheric story set after the Armistice and haunted by Les Grandes Meaulnes of Alain-Fournier.
    Etta And Otto And Russell And James (Penguin) by Emma Hooper by an endearingly funny young Canadian writer.
    Harris's Requiem (Windmill) by Stanley Middleton, the second novel by the English Chekhov published in 1960 and all about an ambitious composer from Nottinghamshire.
    This Should Be Written in the Present Tense (Vintage) by Helle Helle a Danish novelist whose work has been translated into 13 languages.
    The Detour (Vintage) by Gerbrand Bakker a Netherlands novelist who writes about a Dutch lady who keeps geese in rural Wales.
    F (A Novel) by Daniel Kehlman (Quercus) a German writer who presents with great aplomb a Rubik Cube of a story about a family of tricksters.
    Fallen (Penguin) by Lia Mills set in Dublin's Easter Rising of 1915.
    The Small Mine (Honno Classics) by Menna Gallie first published in 1962, a family tale of miners and their kin who work in the last of the independent collieries of South Wales.
    Wanting (Atlantic Books) by Richard Flanagan the celebrated Australian novelist who takes us back to Tasmania of 1841.
    Neverhome (Vintage) by Laird Hunt which tells of a young woman who transforms herself into a man called Gallant Ash and joins the Confederate Army.
    Reasons She Goes to the Woods (Oneworld) by Deborah Kay Davies a witty, eccentric and experimental writer who has been called the Welsh Angela Carter.
    Hunters in the Snow (Vintage) by Daisy Hildyard which A.N. Wilson called 'a considerable work of literature' and which moves from Edward IV's attempt to regain the throne of England to the drowning of Lord Kitchener.
    Sum - Forty Tales from the Afterlives (Canongate) by David Eagleman a young neuroscientist who doesn't believe in God but misses Him.
    Munich Airport and The Apartment (Penguin) two works of fiction by Greg Baxter, an American who breaks all the rules of storytelling and who is unafraid to tackle the novel of ideas.
    The Storyteller (Verso) short stories by the enigmatic genius Walter Benjamin whose tragic life was novelised by Jay Parini.
    My London sister read new novels by Edna O'Brien and Zadie Smith.
    She said she wasn't sure if she liked them but couldn't stop thinking about them.
    Not bad for a backhanded compliment.
    After fiction how about a refreshment in the company of Patrick Leigh Fermor?
    Drink Time (Bene Factum Publishing) by Dolores Payas is a short account of the legendary traveller, war hero and classical scholar, and the books and wines which made his Greek exile such fun.
    J Haggerty