Culinaria: The juniper berry is not just for gin

The dark aromatic berry goes well with many autumn ingredients

Juniper is a great ingredient to combine with many autumn ingredients such as wild mushrooms, pumpkins, squash and plums.

Juniper is a great ingredient to combine with many autumn ingredients such as wild mushrooms, pumpkins, squash and plums.

 

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Recently, while looking through some old Irish cook books, I came across many recipes for wild game. All of these recipes would have undoubtedly been eaten by the more affluent in society, those with big houses with maids and servants to tend to their every need.

What struck me most however, was that some of the recipes were unusual in the way that the cooks combined local and exotic elements. One particular recipe of interest was a dish of guinea fowl with bananas, almonds, and gin.

Guinea fowl originated in Africa and were introduced into Ireland as food for pets somewhere in the 19th century. They do grow quite large and any recipe that asks for chicken can in truth be replaced with guinea fowl.

What intrigued me about the old recipe I found was the combination of gin with the bird. We have undergone a gin revolution in the last number of years in Ireland.

The principal aromatic ingredient in gin is the juniper berry, which is harvested from the native juniper tree. Though sadly, Juniperus communis is now a rarity in Ireland, it still may be found in the west on heaths, and well-drained rocky cliff tops.

Juniper is a great ingredient to combine with many autumn ingredients such as wild mushrooms, pumpkins, squash and plums. It’s quite intense, so do use it sparingly. A few berries crushed into a stew or jam will release a lot of flavour. The Greeks and Romans used dried juniper berries as a replacement for expensive black pepper. Venison stew is elevated considerably with the addition of juniper.

Anyone interested in preservation knows that it can be used to add flavour to cured salmon. Salt, sugar, juniper and gin is all you need to add produce a lovely cured salmon. I usually do two parts sugar to one part salt. Douse the salmon with a few shots of gin and mix some toasted juniper berries through the salt and sugar. Cover entirely and leave in the fridge for three days. Rinse and dry for another day. Finished.

November is Food Month in The Irish Times. You will find food-related content in all of our sections. We will also have reader events, competitions and lots of exclusive content at irishtimes.com/food

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