Tuesday, December 11, 2018

The Journal of Sir Walter Scott with Ginger Wine

I love the idea of collected volumes of letters and journals in theory, but in practice rarely read them. At one time I had a good yard of Mitford letters but eventually sent them to a charity shop, that might partly be because the older I get the less patience I have for Mitford affectations, but definitely had a lot to do with feeling uncomfortably voyeristic reading them. And so it's been for various other collections of correspondence.

Journals are a bit different, especially ones written with an eye to future publication, but by their nature they tend to be doorstop books soagain they sit reproachfully unread on my shelves. Sir Walter Scott's journal is the exception that proves my rule - I've been regularly dipping into this one since I bought it in the summer.

I have a soft spot for Scott, who seems to have been a decent man by any standard you can apply, and was also a tremendous innovator. His books are sadly unfashionable now which is a shame because the best of them are more than worth the slight effort it takes to adjust to the pace that Scott imposes on his readers (which is after all part of his charm). The worst of them are pot boilers written after the collapse of his publisher left him with serious liabilities which he determined to write his way out of  (he could have walked away, but chose not too), but they're not generally in print now so are easily avoided.

His journal covers the last 6 years of his life, and is fascinating. There's such a lot in here about the man and his world, all in bite size chunks so if your interest is Scott, or the early 19th century, it's an absolute goldmine. This sat hopefully on my wish list for a couple of years before I found a bargain copy on holiday - I would have been delighted if someone had given it to me (being interested in both the man and his times) it would certainly have kept me quiet and happy until 12th night and beyond.

Scott would be an excellent opportunity to discuss Claret (which is another subject dear to my heart, and was plan A) but then toffee apple asked about ginger wine.

Like Scott, ginger wine is considered somewhat old fashioned, unlike Scott people still buy it in impressive quantities (I've currently run out of both Stone's and Crabbies at work, more had better turn up soon or there'll be trouble), but I hadn't realised how far back it goes. It seems quite likely that Scott would have encountered it in some form be it home made or a proprietary brand,

Stone's has been around since the 1740's, Crabbies sine 1801 (these are the brands to go for, neither are expensive, aficionados have a strong preference for one or the other, experiment to see which works best for you). It's a fortified brew of fermented ginger, raisins, and other things (citrus, spice, and secrets), and once open best drunk within 3 weeks (otherwise the flavour will fade). It's a handy ingredient to have around, especially in winter if you want to give anything a bit of ginger kick.

To drink it's good over ice, or straight out the bottle, but maybe best known for its role in a whisky mac, I've always been given this half and half, but again experiment to see if this is the right proportion for you (a blend, no need to break out the single malt for this). It's also a popular addition to Mulled wine (instead of port or brandy) and makes an excellent toddy along with honey and lemon. The Stone's website particularly has a decent list of recipes if you're after further inspiration.


  1. Thank you! I have a bottle of Crabbies, bought at the local Lidl for £4.99. The ABV at 13.5% surprised me no end, I had expected it to be around 10% so I shall have to use it judiciously. I am thinking of getting or making some Amaretti and using the wine to create a sauce. I shall cogitate further before making the final decision.

    1. It's something I take for granted on the shelf, reading up on it has made me look at it altogether differently - which is what I love most about the wine trade - there are always new things to learn.

  2. I do like to learn new things, even (or, perhaps, especially) at my age.

  3. So do I. It's the best reason to get out of bed!