Juniper is a taste of fire and ice. It is also somehow emblematic of scarce sufficiency. Do you associate it most with warm desert scrub or frozen northern mountains? For me it would mostly make me think of biblical lands…there was a story of Elijah going into the wilderness o have a good think and lying down to die under a juniper bush but then (“lo!”) an angel conjures up some cake and water… This was until a recent trip to the Cairngorms in Scotland; this great, volcanic blister, swelling up from (more or less) sea level to heights of 1200 meters, creating one of the most unforgiving natural environments in the British Isles. The plateau is a sparse place where, yes, juniper eeks out an existence and down below, so do people. On the way home, I read Nan Shepherd’s sensuous, poetic reckoning of these mountains – The Living Mountain. Somewhere in this diced-and-sorted stream of consciousness she describes juniper as being “secretive with it’s scent“ and remembers carrying a juniper twig and “breaking it afresh now and then to renew it’s spice“. She goes on:
“In the wettest season, when every fir branch in the woods is sodden, the juniper is crackling dry and burns with a clear heat. There’s nothing better under the girdle when scones are baking – unless perhaps…”
Reading this I imagined that those scones must be scented with the juniper. In a puerile attempt to get a sense of it, I made some sodabread farls on a griddle with some juniper berries thrown on to the pan and used a lid to trap their urgent streaks of incense. All I can say is the farls did have a pleasant, scented taste and the house smelt great. Seriously, throw some juniper berries on a hot pan.
So, ” – unless perhaps…” what?