Common name: Oak
Scientific name: Quercus Robur
UK provenance: Native
Interesting fact: Acorns are not produced until the tree is at least 40 years old. Peak acorn fecundity usually occurs around 80 - 120 years.
The ruling majesty of the woods, the wise old English oak holds a special place in our culture, history, and hearts. It supports more life than any other native tree species in the UK; even its fallen leaves support biodiversity. A large, deciduous tree growing up to 20–40m tall. As common oaks mature they form a broad and spreading crown with sturdy branches beneath. Oaks even shorten with age in order to extend their lifespan. There are approximately 600 extant species of oaks. The Minchenden (or Chandos) Oak, in Southgate, London, is said to be the largest oak tree in England (already 27 feet or 8.2 meters in girth in the nineteenth century), and is perhaps 800 years old. The oak processionary moth (Thaumetopoea processionea) has become a serious threat in the UK since 2006. The caterpillars of this species defoliate the trees, and are hazardous to human health; their bodies are covered with poisonous hairs which can cause rashes and respiratory problems. The leaves and acorns of the oak tree are poisonous in large amounts to livestock including cattle, horses, sheep, and goats due to the toxin tannic acid, causing kidney damage and gastroenteritis. There has even been a study that shows that oaks are more likely to be struck by lightning than any other tree of the same height.
Oak planking was common on high status Viking longships in the 9th and 10th centuries. The wood was hewn from green logs, by axe and wedge, to produce radial planks, similar to quarter-sawn timber. Wide, quarter-sawn boards of oak have been prized since the Middle Ages for use in interior panelling of prestigious buildings such as the debating chamber of the House of Commons in London and in the construction of fine furniture. Oak wood, from Quercus robur and Quercus petraea, was used in Europe for the construction of ships, especially naval men of war until the 19th century, and was the principal timber used in the construction of European timber-framed buildings. Today oak wood is still commonly used for furniture making and flooring, timber frame buildings, and veneer production. Barrels for aging wines, sherry, and spirits such as brandy, Irish whiskey, Scotch whisky and Bourbon whiskey, are made from European and American oak, with single barrel whiskey fetching a premium. The use of oak in wine can add gustatory dimensions depending on the type of oak. Oak barrels, which may be charred before use, contribute to the colour, taste, and aroma of their potable contents, imparting a desirable oaky vanillin flavour. Oak wood chips are also used for smoking fish, meat, cheeses, and other foods. Oak galls were used for centuries as a main ingredient in iron gall ink for manuscripts, harvested at a specific time of year.
OAK LEAF WINE
10 x pint glasses of new oak leaves or a supermarket Bag for life full of old leaves
4 lb. granulated sugar
2 oranges, juiced
1 lemon, juiced
1 gallon water
wine yeast and nutrient
Wash the leaves in clean cold water and place in a crock or bucket. Bring 6 pints water to boil and pour over the leaves. Cover and allow to seep for 24 hours, then strain the liquid into a pot large enough to take it and the sugar with a little room to spare. Add the sugar, the juice of the oranges and lemon, and their grated peel. Stir well to dissolve sugar, bring to a boil, then simmer for 20 minutes. Allow to cool to 70 degrees F., strain through nylon sieve, and add remaining ingredients. Transfer to secondary fermentation vessel and fit fermentation trap. Do not top up with water, as the initial four or five days should produce a vigorous fermentation foam. When this has subsided, top up with water and continue fermentation until wine clears (2-3 months). Rack, then rack again after two months and bottle. Allow six months to one year. [Adapted from C.J.J. Berry's 130 New Winemaking Recipes]