Make mine a Woodland Martini

Infusing the pine flavour of Douglas Fir and the smokiness of charred sage, this cocktail recipe by Lottie Muir will transport you to the heart of an alpine forest

Photo: Kim Lightbody

Photo: Kim Lightbody

The idea of this cocktail is for it to taste and smell like a walk in the woods. The clean, lemony pine scent and flavour of the Douglas Fir Vodka shines through, accompanied by just a hint of smoky sweetness from the Charred Sage Syrup. The vermouth and lemon juice balance out all the flavours to leave the cocktail on the dry side.

Woodland Martini

2oz (60ml) Douglas Fir Vodka (see below)
½ oz (15ml) Charred Sage Syrup (see below)
½ oz (15ml) Wild Vermouth
2 tsp (10ml) freshly squeezed lemon juice

Tools: Cocktail shaker with strainer
Glass: Martini
Ice: Cubes
Garnish: Young Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) tip

Serves 1

Pour all the ingredients into the cocktail shaker and fill it two-thirds of the way up with ice. Cover and shake hard for 20 seconds. Strain the contents of the shaker into the glass. Garnish with a young Douglas Fir tip.

Douglas Fir Vodka

3 handfuls of young Douglas fir needles
2 x 2-in (5-cm) lengths of very thin, woody Douglas fir stems
700 or 750ml bottle of vodka, 80 proof/40% ABV
1-litre wide-mouthed, sealable jar, sterilised
Sealable presentation bottle(s), sterilised

Makes approximately 1½ pints (750ml)

Place the Douglas fir needles and woody stems in a blender, adding enough vodka to cover, and blend for at least 30 seconds on a high speed.

Pour the bright green mix into the jar and add the remaining vodka. Seal, upend gently a couple of times, and store in a cool, dark place. Upend daily and start tasting after the second day. This infusion should take no longer than four days to work its magic — you want the lemon and pine notes of woodland, not a bathroom cleaner. Strain the infusion into a wide-mouthed pitcher when you think you’re there, then funnel into the sterilised presentation bottle(s) and seal. Store in a cool, dark place and consume within six months.

Charred Sage Syrup

1 cup (340g) dark wildflower honey
1 cup (250ml) water
10 large sage leaves on a stem
Sealable presentation bottle, sterilised

Makes approximately ½ pint (250ml)

Combine the honey and water in a nonreactive pan over a medium heat and stir to help the honey dissolve into the sugar. Meanwhile, hold the sage leaves by the end of their stalks and singe their tips with a long lighter until you see red cinders, the odd flame, and charred leaves.

Snip off the bitter stalks of the sage and drop the charred leaves into the pan with the honey syrup. Bring the syrup to a boil, then simmer for about 8 minutes. Turn off the heat and let cool.

Pour the liquid through a strainer lined with layers of cheesecloth or muslin into a wide-mouthed pitcher, then funnel into the sterilised presentation bottle and seal. Store in the refrigerator and consume within three months.

This is an extract from Lottie Muir's new book Wild Cocktails from the Midnight Apothecary, published by CICO Books (£16.99). Call 01256 302699 quoting 'CQ1' to purchase a copy at the special price of £11.99, including free P&P.

You can sample Lottie's unique cocktails at the Midnight Apothecary in Brunel Museum's rooftop garden in Rotherhithe, London. Open Saturdays 5.30pm-10.30pm.

Hunter & the Giant

In London, 1783, there occurred a battle of wills between the personal surgeon of King George III and the city’s most popular circus attraction, as Mark Blackmore relates

Design: Tina Smith

Design: Tina Smith

This is the story of two men: Scotsman John Hunter, surgeon to the king, and Irishman Charles Byrne, circus attraction. Two men from very different worlds whose paths crossed in London, 1783. Byrne, who spent his last years in terror of his body falling into the hands of anatomists, and Hunter, who was determined to be the man to dissect the Irish giant.

In 1761 Charles Byrne was born, near Lough Neagh in Ireland, to parents of average height and modest means. Here he grew up, and up and up, until he had reached a height that marked him as a giant and a ‘freak’. Over eight feet tall, according to contemporary accounts; modern science, ever the party pooper, says it was closer to 7’7”.

At the age of 19, Charles Byrne left home and began a journey that would see him become famous enough to be mentioned by Charles Dickens in David Copperfield and later used as a character in Hilary Mantel’s 1998 novel The Giant, O’Brien.

He started by touring Scotland and the north of England, promoting himself as an attraction, charging the curious 2s 6d (about 12.5p) to stand and gawp at him. By the time he reached London in 1782 his fame had spread, and he became, sadly quite literally, a short-lived phenomenon.

Byrne’s base of operations in London was Cox’s Museum in Charing Cross, an establishment set up to display unusual exhibits – Oliver Cromwell’s head was another popular attraction. Byrne lived in an apartment next door, furnished with cane furniture specially made for his gargantuan dimensions.

Byrne, however, was not coping well with the pressures of fame. It’s hard to imagine what his day-to-day existence must have been like. A person of his size, a man who could light his pipe from the gas lamps that lined the streets, could never be offstage, never blend into the crowd or cease to be the object of startled attention. On top of this, he woke from one particular night of drunken revelry to find that his life savings had been stolen from his pocket. The Irish giant, already suffering from tuberculosis and alcoholism, went into a steep decline.

He had one overriding fear. Anatomists circled Byrne like sharks smelling blood. It wasn’t until 1832 that prohibitions concerning the use of cadavers in medical research would be eased. These strict laws had caused such a demand for black-market corpses that murder was on occasion committed simply because of the victim’s resale value. In this climate, where corpses of an average size were keenly sought, Byrne’s body would be highly valued. It wasn’t that he feared being killed for his body, at least according to newspaper reports of the time. It was a morbid terror of post-mortem dissection. Byrne was the research opportunity of a lifetime, and he knew it.

The giant’s final wish

Byrne made special arrangements in the event of his death. He was to be buried at sea, so that no scientist with a shovel, a winch and a surfeit of enthusiasm could dig him up. And his coffin was to be lead-lined, just to make sure it was a tough nut to crack. He paid friends and some fishermen to ensure his wishes were respected, reiterated his burial conditions in the strongest possible terms on his deathbed, and died in June 1783 at the age of 22.

This is the point at which John Hunter enters our story. Hunter was a distinguished and accomplished fellow indeed. A Scottish surgeon and early proponent of the scientific method, he can justifiably claim credit for improving our understanding of inflammation, gunshot wounds, venereal diseases – he once infected himself with gonorrhoea and syphilis for his research – child development and most pertinently, bone growth.

Having started out assisting with dissections for his elder brother William and his brother’s former tutor, the fabulously named William Smellie, Hunter had risen to stratospheric heights in the medical profession. He became a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1767, surgeon to St George’s Hospital in 1768, and personal surgeon to King George III in 1776. In short, this was a man whose wishes were to be respected. Even if those wishes involved dissecting the corpse of a recently deceased Irish giant who had made meticulous provisions to avoid that eventuality.

Robbed at sea

Reports on how much Hunter paid to have Byrne’s body removed from its coffin range from £130 to £500, which would be around £35,000 today. Whatever the amount, the bribe was accepted, Byrne’s coffin went to the bottom of the sea filled with rocks, and John Hunter spirited the giant’s remains away. He chopped the body into pieces, boiled away the flesh and kept very quiet about the huge skeleton in the back room. In fact it was four years before Hunter conceded that he was in possession of Charles Byrne’s bones.

Was the subterfuge justified? In 1909 an examination of the skeleton revealed that Byrne had a pituitary tumour, and in 2011 researchers discovered that Byrne had a rare gene mutation involved in such tumours. The skeleton has also proved vital in helping to link acromegaly, the overproduction of growth hormone, to the pituitary gland.

John Hunter was a difficult, brilliant man, described by a contemporary as “warm and impatient, readily provoked, and when irritated, not easily soothed”. The Hunterian Society of London was later named in his honour, and the Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons houses his collection of anatomical specimens, including the skeleton of Charles Byrne. 

This is where it will stay, for now. Dr Sam Alberti, current director of the Hunterian Museum, says: “The Royal College of Surgeons believes that the value of Charles Byrne’s remains, to living and future communities, currently outweighs the benefits of carrying out Byrne’s apparent request to dispose of his remains at sea.”

Mark Blackmore has written for many diverse publications including Men’s HealthBBC HistoryCountryfileFocus,The World of Cross Stitching and Sabotage Times. He recently published The Wager, a novel about a bet between God and Lucifer.

Timeless classic: the crisp white shirt

From its humble origins as medieval underwear to its renaissance in the office block, Ernest delves into why the white shirt has proven everlasting as the classic clothing staple

“A garment for the upper part of the body, made of linen, calico, flannel, silk, or other washable material. Originally always worn next to the skin; now sometimes an undershirt or ‘vest’ is worn beneath it. Formerly a garment common to both sexes, but now an article of male attire with long sleeves (often terminating in wristbands or cuffs).” Oxford English Dictionary

The crisp white shirt has ridden the tumultuous tide of social and sartorial changes since its origins in the Middle Ages and holds fast as a timeless icon of British men’s formal (and often informal) attire. It has long dominated the menswear landscape but never more so than now, with its prevalence in hugely influential American series like Mad Men and Suits, setting off the cut of a 1960s tailored suit or the boldness of a tie to striking effect.

The oldest known example of the “highly sophisticated” shirt as we know it was discovered by archaeologist Flinders Petrie in an Egyptian tomb, dating back to c.3000 BC. Over the centuries, the collar widened to epic proportions with frills and ruffles in the 16th century and shrunk back to modest and respectable sizes in the 19th century, while in the 18th century, shirt tails were considered to be a sufficient substitute for underpants. In 1930s America and 1970s Britain, the colour of your shirt connoted your social status, hence the term ‘white collar workers’ for middle-upper class office types and ‘blue collar workers’ for lower class industrial workers.

These days, just about anyone can wear a crisp white shirt without declaring a social or political stance and can sport it open-collared with a battered pair of cords as well as shipshape with a sharp suit and shades. That is why we love it so.


Ever wondered why Elizabeth Bennet in the BBC adaptation of Pride & Prejudice blushes so deeply at Colin Firth’s Mr Darcy striding out of the lake in his wet white shirt? Aside from the fact you can see his nip nips, up until the late 19th century, a visible, uncovered shirt was considered improper, as it was really worn as underwear. In medieval artworks, the only people depicted wearing uncovered shirts were humble characters, such as shepherds and prisoners. Put your nip nips away, Colin, you ruffian.

Collars, cuffs and yokes

“Would you like a two epic split-back yoke on your shirt, sir?” No, the tailor isn’t asking if you’d like him to crack a pairof giant eggs on your finery; the yoke is the fabric fitted across the top shoulder area, which enhances the fit of the shirt. Collars come in various shapes; there’s the windsor collar to accommodate the windsor knot tie, the button-down collar so you can fasten the tips down to the shirt and the wing-collar; perfect for the bow tie. Cuff-wise, you can choose single (barrel) cuffs for a more informal style or double (French) cuffs, which are twice as long as normal cuffs and worn folded back on themselves and secured with a cufflink; the done thing at black tie events.

The weave

Cotton is the daddy when it comes to classic white shirt material, for obvious reasons, such as its breathability and durability, but there are a choice of weaves you can go for, depending on the occasion and what you’re wearing it with. Oxford weave has a grainy, basket-weave appearance, making it the go-to for a casual look, while poplin is smooth and glassy for a more formal sheen. There’s lots of other natural fibres besides cotton revolutionising shirting as we know it: there’s wool; ramie (a kind of nettle); silk; heck, even bamboo and soya.

Word of the week: rictus



noun: 1. the gape of a bird's mouth 2a. the mouth orifice *b. a gaping grin or grimace

*"Alex's face twisted with a rictus of pain as he tried to put weight on his sprained ankle."

Did you know..?

When 'rictus' was first used in English in the early 19th century, it referred to the hole formed by the mouth of a bird. Later it was applied to the mouths of other animals, including humans. In Latin, rictus means 'an open mouth'; it comes from the verb ringi, which means 'to open the mouth'. 

In English, 'rictus' eventually acquired a sense referring to the expression of someone grinning widely, as in Lawrence Durrell's 1957 novel Justine: "This ghastly rictus gouged out in his taut cheeks."

Although 'rictus' might be used to describe the mouth of a laughing or smiling person, it is not related to 'risible', a word associated with laughter. Rather, 'risible' descends from Latin ridēre, which means 'to laugh'. 

This is taken from 365 New Words-A-Year 2015 Page-A-Day Calendar 

Review: Smith The Roll Pack

Ernest editor Jo tests out the first in Millican's new Mavericks range: Smith the Roll Pack is a simple, functional bag made with lightweight weatherproof canvas. Neat enough for the city, tough enough for the great outdoors, he's a worthy companion for those who like to mix work and adventure

Ernest editor Jo testing Smith on the Isles of Scilly. Photo: Oliver Berry

Ernest editor Jo testing Smith on the Isles of Scilly. Photo: Oliver Berry

I’ve been a fan of Millican bags ever since they launched back in 2009. Trusty Dave the Rucksack has accompanied me on wintery trips to Iceland and Norway, as well as wild swimming rambles in Montenegro and many a muddy festival. Along the way I’ve overstuffed him, sat on him and quite possibly used him as a pillow. I'm proud to say he's taking it all in his stride and there’s barely a scratch on him.

So having followed Millican for the past six years, I was intrigued when they previewed their new Mavericks collection in our second print edition (p106-107). Smith the Roll Pack is the first in the Mavericks line and it looks like he’s taken the makers in a new direction.

Before I introduce Smith, here's a quick introduction: Lake District based Millican use sustainable materials to make functional bags for travel and outdoor living. Their thoughtfully designed bags are made with specialist canvas fabrics, minimum plastic and recycled materials and are intended for lifelong use. They named their company after local Lake District legend Millican Dalton, who left a conventional life in the 1900s to live in a cave in Borrowdale, finding all he needed (apart from decent coffee) in nature. Oh and they name their bags after their Lakeland heroes. Dave is a local farmer and (Andy) Smith is a mountain biking creative fellow who's just taken over an abandoned carpet factory and turned it into a community space for local artists and craftspeople. A hero indeed. 

Millican has pared down their design for Smith. The bag is constructed simply, using just a few panels of lightweight and weatherproof Bionic® Canvas (57% recycled and 30% stronger than regular canvas). This modest design aims to reduce production waste, with minimal seams for maximum strength and durability. The canvas is impregnated rather than coated with weatherproof wax, to keep the weight down and the rain out, and to retain that tactile canvas feel. He also has everything else you’d expect: padded ergonomic shoulder straps, removable waist straps for cycling and a breathable back panel – as well as nice aluminum buckles. Plus, I hate to say this sort of thing, but he’s also got a rather pleasing retro feel. So, moving on…

Smith strikes a good balance between city bag and adventure pack. He’s neat enough for meetings, but tough enough for exploring. Over the past two months, I’ve taken Smith on all of my research trips for our upcoming third issue: hare spotting in the Kent Marshes, meeting makers in Margate and exploring deserted islands in Scilly. I've also used him to cart books, notes and magazines to various cafes around Bristol when I got too restless to work at my desk.

Smith's versatile design makes him ideal for this sort of trip. There’s a concealed 15” padded laptop pocket on one side and a notebook-sized pocket on the other, with space for your phone and pens. The main belly of the bag has more pockets (for magazines, iPad and other important things), but mainly a large expandable space, which was really handy when I needed to stuff in another layer, or chuck in a station-bought supper on the last train home. However, my favourite thing about Smith is the grab handle on top of the bag, which is reinforced with leather and handy for picking the bag up like a pannier when hopping on and off trains. All in all, this is a cracking bag and well recommend for those of you who like to mix work and adventure. 

Millican's Smith The Roll Pack comes as a 18 litre pack for £95 and 25 litre for £110. We tested 18 litre in Rust. For more information, visit the Millican website.