Some time ago my uncle bought me a hop vine for my birthday. It arrived through the post in a small wooden box, and in the years since I planted it out it has completely taken over the old rose arbor outside the kitchen window. Every autumn we hack it down to the ground, and every spring it snakes back up more verdant and ferocious than ever, its spiky green tendrils invading the nearby flowerbeds and sweeping backwards off the top of the arch like a wild cockatiel hairdo.
This benign triffid has however found its place in the Braime calendar. For reasons now forgotten, my family’s big night of the year has for well over a decade been Bonfire Night, an occasion on which someone (sometimes me with an accomplice, and sometimes a fearless former chemistry teacher of our acquaintance) lets off a health and safety nightmare of a firework display in our back garden then we all traipse inside for a feast of baked potatoes, hearty winter stews and a whole counter full of puddings. Sometimes the boy across the lane brings a guy and we stuff it in the brazier.
I’ve always made bonfire toffee for the occasion, but it was only a matter of time before the hop vine began to yield sufficient flowers for Christian and me to contemplate producing our own Bonfire Bitter. So a few years ago, with the aid of a recipe from the internet and a little advice from the man behind the counter in the Kirkstall home brewing shop, we set to work on our first batch.
Our annual brew is unlikely to be winning any CAMRA awards just yet, but for a beer boiled up in my mum’s jam cauldron by two brothers with no experience of brewing (beyond those Coopers kits where you just empty a tin of syrup into the right amount of water then add a sachet of yeast), it’s pretty drinkable.
Aside from its proper use in brewing, I read somewhere ages ago (with some scepticism) that the young shoots of a hop vine are quite tasty, so when I was back in Leeds in late May, I ventured out into the garden and sliced off a handful of the tenderest looking ends. Apparently you can eat them raw, but since it was my first experiment I dropped them in boiling water, watched them for about 20 seconds then took them out again. They were delicious, sort of like a slightly milder, more ‘planty’ tasting asparagus.
I’m back home again this weekend, so I might see if there are still shoots tender enough to make into something nice. Do any of my more outdoorsy acquaintances have any good hop recipes?