‘Eau-de-vie – flavoured with myrtle,’ said the old woman. ‘Try it!’ She watched
intently as Ellie raised the glass to her lips. ‘Myrtle from the garden. I steep the
berries with honey in the local firewater, but the secret ingredient is the flower,
added for the final day. Such a pretty white flower it is, drowned in purple for
just one day.’
The liqueur tasted of stewed plums. Not unpleasant but very strong.'
from The Sea Garden
Some very encouraging words from bookseller Nicola Rooney in Ann Arbor, as publication draws closer - thank you, Nicola! - inspired me to investigate more closely the possibilities of myrtle liqueur...
"I am an admirer and handseller of The Lantern and I shall be even more so of The Sea Garden. You may feel almost as though you have sipped a little too much of Madame de Fayols’ homemade myrtle infused liqueur as you read this book. A startling suicide in the opening scene presages further unexplained events to come. Curiously connected, three intriguing narratives are braided into one unforgettable story of love, betrayal, memory and murder. World War II French resistance fighters and their convoluted connections to British Intelligence leave a legacy unknown to Ellie Brooke, a young award winning garden designer. When she is awarded the contract to come and restore a memorial garden on the island of Porquerolles, she has no idea that it is not merely her growing reputation in horticultural circles that has made her the designer of choice. Her unease with the situation is mitigated in part by her connection to the enigmatic man she first saw on the ferry over to the island. A masterfully devised conclusion leaves just enough tantalizing questions to intrigue the reader without being too frustrating!”
– Nicola Rooney, Nicola’s Books, Ann Arbor, MI
Some artistic licence went into the brewing of the myrtle liqueur in the novel, especially the "secret ingredient", but the real deal I found in a village market recently has a rather more extraordinary taste than stewed plums: it's highly floral - rather excessively so. I tried it neat but it was like sipping a medicinal perfume, so I added some sparkling wine. I would say even this myrtle kir royale was an acquired taste, with rather too much scent and eucalyptus bite. Quite fierce in alcohol content, too. Definitely better in the anticipation than the reality! Luckily, Madame de Fayols' recipe in the novel contains honey which makes it "not unpleasant" to drink.
I couldn't swear that the plant I found in the garden for these photos was myrtle, either - if anyone can tell me exactly what it is, I'd love to know. But the white flowers and blue berries make plausible stand-ins. And the purple-tinged red of the concoction in the glass has just the right hint of risk...
“Lawrenson’s settings are spellbinding and all three stories move along at a languid pace, allowing the reader to absorb the sumptuous historic detail.” Publishers Weekly