Now is the woodcock near the gin

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I made some damson gin before Christmas – looking at it in the cupboard I was inspired to go and see what Shakespeare said about spirituous liquor, only to find he doesn’t mention the stuff once.

It’s actually not that surprising when you realise gin hadn’t properly been invented by the time Shakespeare was writing – an early version, jenever, was brewed and pot-distilled in the low countries, and is the source of various old-fashioned nicknames for gin (especially Holland Water and Geneva, as well as possibly Dutch courage), as well as being the root etymology of gin itself. It may well have made its way to England, not least through the soldiers who fought in the Anglo-Spanish War, but it was not commonplace.

Shakespeare does mention gin traps several times – they are apparently a type of spring trap designed to hold, rather than injure, animals. He talks about them mostly in conjunctions with woodcocks, which may be more about that bird’s supposed stupidity than anything to do with the specifics of the trap. Woodcocks are also also notoriously hard to shoot, so I’d probably stick with Scotch Woodcock myself. Maybe without the anchovies…

Damsons are not the only fruit...

Damsons are not the only fruit…

And only one character mentions damsons too –in Henry VI Simpcox (a character faking a miracle) claims he was lamed in falling out of fruit tree “Alas, good master, my wife desir’d some damsons And made me climb, With danger of my life”. Since he is proved to be a liar, it is hardly a whole-hearted recommendation.

Maybe I’ll look at what our Will says about cheese…

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