The Cottage Smallholder

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Chilli Sherry revisited

A bottle of ouyr homemade chilli sherry

A bottle of ouyr homemade chilli sherry

When I was ten I was given my first glass of sherry. My mother and stepfather threw a drinks party.
“As you are now ten, you can come to the party,” my mother announced with a twinkle. She must have seen my apprehension and added brightly. “You can wear your best dress.”

This dress was dark blue velvet with a lace collar and cuffs. Worn so rarely, it never lost its starchiness.

The run up to the party was intense because my parents had never thrown a drinks party together. They decided to serve the drinks from a small three tiered table that belonged to my mother. A delicate and pretty antique, each inlaid layer a wreath of flowers. The bottles were on the top layer and the glasses on the two layers beneath. A mistake.

I spent ages in my bedroom prinking in front of the long mirror on the wardrobe and finally came slowly down the stairs. The noise from the party was loud. The conversations combined into a melodious roaring. I walked into the room, not knowing what to do. For reassurance I touched the table.

It gave a hefty wobble and seemingly in slow motion crashed to the ground. The silence was sliceable.

As I shot out I heard a chirrup, followed by another and within seconds everyone were happily talking very loudly to each other again. I cringed on the stairs and my mother brought out a small glass of sherry.
“You can’t run away. This is your drink.” She passed me a small glass of sherry. “Take a sip and come back with me now.” I didn’t dare refuse.

I cringed back and spoke to a family friend who seemed really interested in my best subject at school. Despite this kindness I have always loathed drinks parties.

Sherry is a different matter. At my mum’s it’s still the drink of the moment. Always dry and decanted. A great pre lunch toot.

Our chilli sherry is amazing. Years ago a friend encouraged me to make it. A cheap bottle of sherry and 3-4 hot chillies, infused for a month. The problem was I didn’t know what to do with it. My pal had said. “It’s great added to soup on a cold day.” The chilli sherry sat in our mini barn for a year before I dusted it off and put it on the tray beside the cooker. We began to experiment.

This quiet star has often added an edge to my recipes. Great for pepping up sauces (add at the end) and giving that indiscernible depth to a dish (add at the beginning). If you are on a tight budget, a supermarket bottle of dry Montilla infused with hot chillies could be a great addition to your sauce shelf as a little goes a long way. This evening, Danny added a half teaspoonful to the sauce for our sirloin steaks. Superb.

If you have a heavy cold or flu, half a liqueur glass just before you settle down to sleep will give you a clear head for hours.

Sometimes we make small bottles of chilli sherry to give away as Christmas presents. Mark your bottle(s) clearly to avoid surprises.


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  1. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Barbara,

    What a lovely memory.

    I think that the small chillies (birds eye) are the best for chilli sherry.

    Must try the ginger in a cup of tea (and the Bloody Mary). Thanks for the tip!

  2. Barbara Lindsay

    My Granny and also my Mother both made Chilli Sherry, I still have the crystal bottle with the silver cork top in which it was kept! Always kept on the dining room table as it was shaken into soup every day. Small whole chillies which grew in the front of the house in Sri Lanka, were added when my Mother made it! a slice of fresh Ginger in a cup of tea is a great winter warmer. Must try the Bloody Mary….sounds reviving!

  3. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Josean

    Thanks so much for dropping by and leaving this tip.

    I used to drink occasionally at the French House when I worked in Soho, years ago. Never tried their Bloody Marys though.

  4. In the French House pub is Soho, London they add a good glug of chilli sherry to really spice up their killer Bloody Marys.

    They are the best in London thanks to the fiery sweetness of the chilli sherry. …Try it!

  5. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Kate,

    This doesn’t taste like sherry. It is fiery, just half a teaspoon added to a dull sauce can transform it into something interesting with a bit of sparkle!

    We use it a lot at the moment and still have loads left in the bottle. I reckon the sherry element is important. It is a chilli infused liquid rather than pieces of chilli (how ever finely shredded).

    Hi z,

    We often talk about your great blog and the wonderful names that you have for your family! I particularly like The Sage (your husband) and the name of one of your grandchildren, Pugsley. Eldorado (your daughter) is also a name to conjure with!

    Veronica’s ginger sherry is an inspirational idea. We buy a hunk of ginger or a recipe and months later ease the floppy remains out of the fridge. Now we can just peel them when they are fresh and put them in the ginger sherry bottle. Wey Hey.

  6. I’ll certainly try that, and Veronica’s ginger sherry. I rely heavily on both chilli and ginger when a cold starts, and it rarely develops.

  7. You have the coolest ideas … I like this one. I’m not a great fan of sherry, although I do enjoy the odd glass before supper.

  8. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Veronica,

    Chilli sherry is definitely worth making. It’s a good present to give to a foodie too.

    I am going to try your ginger preserved in sherry – what a great idea.

    Amanda at Little Foodies has a good remedy for colds using fresh ginger

    Hi Celia,

    I’ve just looked up the number of alcohol related posts. I am amazed that there are only 31!

    I don’t think that you’d regret making this. We add it half a teaspoonful at a time to control the heat.

    I must look out for Montezuma’s chilli flavoured chocolate. Sounds just the stuff for brightening a dull afternoon at work.

  9. Just how many Cottage Smallholder postings are alcohol related?

    As a novice chilli lover (and still far from confident one) this is tempting to try. On the other hand I’m very partial to a good pale very dry sherry served ice cold and consumed while I stir the gravy and listen to The Archers on Sunday evening – my happy ritual!

    Oh – and I’ve just discovered Montezuma’s Chilli flavoured chocolate – addictive stuff!

  10. Veronica

    That sounds amazing! Especially as I have a cold at the moment 🙁

    I use dry sherry to preserve root ginger — peel, cut into chunks, and submerge in a jar of sherry, then use as fresh. The sherry makes a nice drink too, of course, and I use it to make a yummy ginger sauce for puddings or ice cream.

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