Book Review: A Cast in the Woods by Stephen Sautner

It’s a familiar story: writer buys home in the Catskills for [insert reason] and ends up losing heart, time and, no doubt a smidgeon of sanity to conservation, restoration and protection of these beloved mountains and its river network. For Stephen Sautner, the reason was a familiar one: fly fishing. An avid outdoorsman from boyhood, he decided to buy a fixer-upper cabin on the banks of a tributary and turn it into a “fish camp” for holidays and weekends until retirement. Well, that’s what he thought. Turns out Mother Nature had other plans for him and this portion of the river that ran through his 14-acre property, that he named simply “Six-Foot-Wide Stream”, but it was anything but simple. Several devastating floods, flora and fauna infestations and a scare over fracking gave him an all-consuming education he didn’t anticipate. But he would do it all over again, he says: “come spring, when the warblers have returned, and mayflies are hatching and brook trout are rising to them, and I’m siting on the front porch sipping coffee and watching it all, I believe I wouldn’t have changed a thing”.

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The Mysterious Life of Trees

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In a recent article in Atlantic Monthly Magazine entitled Death Cap Mushrooms Are Spreading Across America, the author details how deadly amanitas are popping up all over cities and being eaten by city people because they are tasty, and I find it highly intriguing, being a former city girl, gone country.

Some naturalists theorize that man was “created” by the natural world, or Mother Nature, as a smarter, better way to spread seeds across the world in order to more successfully propagate forests – a sort of supreme effort by trees at world domination, if you like. If this is so, we turned the tables on this activity a few hundred years ago and in terms of the history of the planet that’s pretty recent.

To risk stating the obvious, we have stopped being useful to the trees. We have been chopping them down at an alarming rate for hundreds of years. A good way to get rid of us as a species, should they have the capacity to decide, would be to grow very tasty, highly poisonous mushrooms in abundance on the ground, ones that don’t affect local animals – only us as a species. Might the trees be trying to kill city dwellers?

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March in the Catskills: Update & Links

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Upstate Dispatch has been pretty quiet so far this month. It’s been like a reference library at HQ as we research future projects. There’s been a lot of reading going on and some fiction-writing.

As another superb ski season comes to a close, fly fishing season will be hard on its heels. April 1st is opening day across the Catskills. Esopus Creel is preparing to open a store next to Woodstock Brewery in Phoenicia. Stephen Sautner has published a new memoir about conservation, fly fishing and life in the Catskills titled A Cast in the Woods. I interviewed Stephen, a lifelong fisherman, for my radio show today, and will be posting a print interview with him online in the next few days. Trout Tales gears up for a couple of months of events, classes, and activities in rivers and streams flowing through these mountains.

While we work on content, specifically podcasts, we offer some interesting links to articles on the arts, food and the outdoors.

Have a great week.

J.N. Urbanski

Human-shaped mushrooms found in the UK, from This Is Insider.

From National Geographic, a man who only eats what he grows and forages.

Are you ready from Spring migration? The National Audubon Society’s birding app.

It would have been Walt Whitman’s 200th birthday this year on May 31st, 2019. John Burroughs Woodchuck Lodge is hosting a celebration that begins at Union Grove Distillery in Arkville on the evening of May 31st, 2019. Check the website for details.

Paper bird sculptures.

The Catskills Outdoor Expo on March 30th, 2019.

And finally, an example of how hoards of people descend on a natural wonder and ruin it, from the LA Times. Please adhere to Leave No Trace guidelines when enjoying nature: take only photographs and leave only footprints.

Bee Update: Our Catskills Bees Survived the Winter

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On March 15th last week, we woke to a bare Catskills landscape like it had thrown off its white quilt in the night and saw a high of 65F that day: such a stark difference from last year on the same day in the same place, where it remained at 37F and covered in snow.

Just before noon last week, we decided to check the last surviving bee hive. To our delight, after five years of trying to keep bees and failing, we discovered that our white hive of bees survived the winter. (The Warre hive into which we had installed a swarm last year did not.)

We re-stocked the surviving bee hive with food patties for the bees, just in case we got another cold snap, and put back the lid. Last year, we built a heavy “roof” for our hive and insulated it with old, woolen sweaters and pillows and this seems to have kept them warm. The hive is thriving.

Catskills Conversations: Dr Joanne Polk, co-founder of Manhattan in the Mountains

A podcast of my interview with Dr Joanne Polk, classical pianist and Grammy award-winner, on WIOX Radio in November of last year. Since graduating from Juilliard, Joanne has spent most of her career and post-graduate studies focusing on female composers like Clara Schumann, Amy Beach, for which she won the Grammy in 2007, Fanny Mendelsohn, Cecile Chaminade and Judith Lang Zaimont.

Joanne is co-founder of Manhattan in the Mountains, a monthly three-week music festival in the Catskills’ Hunter Mountain starting on July 28th, 2019, consisting of master classes and lectures that culminates in a series of concerts open to the public.

Electric Vehicle-Charging Stations in the Catskill Mountains

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Electric vehicle-charging stations are springing up all over the Catskills. Here’s a list within the Catskill Park Boundary and within the NYC watershed starting north at the Schoharie Reservoir on Route 30, and running south though the Catskills down to Roscoe on Route 17. Click on the links to Google Maps. Take a tour through the mountains in your electric vehicle, see the sights and charge up along the way. Also noted: nearby inns or restaurants.  Cell service is intermittent in the Catskills, especially between Andes and Delhi, and between Big Indian and Phoenicia, so physical maps are still essential for this area.

Blenheim-Gilboa Power Project, 397 Power Plant Access Rd, Gilboa, NY 12076. A pretty remote part of the Catskills by the Schoharie Reservoir. Close by: Heather Ridge Farm, Restaurant & Store, open year-round.

Village of Hobart Public Parking, 11 Cornell Ave Hobart NY 13788. Nearby: Bull & Garland (closed until March 2019), The Sheep’s Nest. Hobart “Book Village”: a magical bibliophile’s paradise nestled in one of the most scenic areas of the Catskills. 

Delaware County Electric Co-op, 39 Elm Street, Delhi, NY 13653. Nearby: Brushland Eating House, Catskills Regional Harvest Farm Store, Goldenrod, Tay Tea, Catskills Momo Tibetan Restaurant. Spotty cell service in surrounding areas. Know before you go.

Town of Colchester EV Charging station at the Downsville Diner at 15185 State Highway 30, Downsville, New York 13755.

Winwood Inn, 5220 NY-23, Windham, NY 12496. Nearby ski mountain and Windham Country Store, which does a fantastic Mean Green Burger using jalapeño mayonnaise. 

Windham Mountain, 33 Clarence D Lane Road, Windham, NY, 12496. See above.

Village of Margaretville Public Parking, 48 Walnut Street, Margaretville, NY 12455. Nearby: Picnic, Trattoria Locale, The Cheese Barrel, The Binnekill Tavern, all on Main Street. Cell service here. State Trooper station about a mile west of here on Route 28/30.

Emerson Resort & Spa, 5340 Route 28, Mt Tremper, NY 12457. Nearby: Phoenicia Diner Route 28 (try the everything), Peekamoose on Route 28, The Pines on Route 212. Cell service drops for a while in surrounding areas. Know before you go.

Woodstock Community Center, 56 Rock City Rd, Woodstock, NY 12498. Nearby: Garden Cafe, Upstate Films, The Tea Shop of Woodstock. a good wine store and all the delights of Woodstock further out into the village.

Bread Alone Bakery, 3962 NY-28, Boiceville, NY 12412. Bread Alone does a nice Hudson River Breakfast. Nearby: Boiceville Supermarket, the Goods Luncheonette, try the fish and chips.

Frost Valley YMCA, 2000 Frost Valley Rd Claryville, NY 12725 No cell service in area. Take a map. There’s no eating around here, only hiking.

Roscoe Diner, 1908 Old Rt 17, Roscoe, New York 12776.

Roscoe Brewery, 145 Rockland Road, Roscoe, NY 12776.

Catskills Brewery, 672 Old Rte 17 Livingston Manor, NY 12758

All addresses provided by Plugshare: use the website or download the app to see more details or plan a trip.

Catskills Love & Local Links

It’s been a bit quiet over here on our ridge at Upstate Dispatch, but there’s far from nothing going on.

We’re working on upcoming radio shows on two subjects: shopping locally and tips and regulations for winter hiking, here in the Catskills. These are two very important subjects that get to the heart of two important matters: our slice of natural world, these mountains and our economy.

I’ve been advocating for shopping locally for products and services since I arrived in the States 20 years ago. It just makes so much sense. Now, from the MARK Project we have a PR campaign called Catskills Love. Give our businesses some love here in the Catskills. We live in the so-called “Watershed”, which means we have to keep our water table clean, so industry and agriculture is strictly regulated. We rely mostly on tourism to survive. New Yorkers, come hike, ski and shop with us! We protect your water, you need to have our back. Plus, we have some of the most well-made, beautiful products. Find our fabulous Christmas list here.

On these mountains, winter hiking is dangerous. Trails are covered in ice as thick as ice-skating rinks. During extremely cold temperatures, it’s like hiking up frozen waterfalls at the summits. We’ve seen a spate of rescues recently that proves it’s imperative to be prepared. Much of the Catskills is wilderness. On February 18th, hear from the President of the Catskill 3500 Club on tips, rules and regulations on WIOX Radio.

More links:

Millennials are taking up hunting, from The New York Times.

The Greenhorns have published their new farmer’s almanac.

Carve your own cutting board on March 16th 2019, and African-American Games & Crafts on February 17th, at the Hudson River Maritime Museum in Kingston, New York.

Learn about Golden Eagles in the Catskills in a beautiful setting: the Mountain Top Arboretum in Tannersville on April 20th, 2019.

Women are making their way in the trades from Hudson Valley One.

Daily Catskills: 01/22/19

After almost a week of gloom, the sun appears and lights up the sky to a dazzling, brilliant azure blue, a consolation for the laziest, slow rise in temperature: still a bone-chilling 12F. By afternoon, a haze had crept overhead like tight muslin, dampening the sun to a enigmatic glow. A breathtaking day.

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The Fire Towers: Overlook Mountain

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Overlook Mountain was one of the first hikes written about back in 2015 here on Upstate Dispatch, the second hike taken with Jeff Vincent of Catskill Mountain Wild. It’s a gateway hike for novices and visitors, because it’s relatively short, with extra bonus features, a fire tower, and magnificent panoramic views of the Hudson Valley and Eastern Catskill Mountains, the sort of hike that inspires us all to want to hike more of these mountains.

The Fire Towers, built for early detection of forest fires, are a destination in themselves. The cabs at the top of the fire towers are closed on weekdays and in winter when they’re unmanned, but you can still climb the stairs almost all the way to the top if you’re not worried by the wooden floorboards that creak sharply underfoot in the freezing cold temperatures, or the whistling wind that rattles the metalwork.

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Hiking the Catskills: Belleayre Mountain from Lost Clove Road

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Who doesn’t want to go to Giggle Hollow? This delightful-sounding place can be found between Pine Hill and the south-eastern edge of Belleayre Ski Mountain, in a small web of hiking trails that leads from the top of the ski mountain all the way down to Big Indian wilderness and beyond. In the winter, these Belleayre trails are the perfect destination to snow shoe to these gob-smacking views if you’re with non-skiers or your dog.

If you do take your country dog, he must be harnessed and leashed if he’s likely to become uncontrollably excited by the prospect of skiing and keenly propose the notion of exploring the double black diamonds to a chorus of “Hi, Puppy!” as the skiers glide by. You don’t want your dog flying off down the mountain. While we were admiring the view from the summit, which is the end of the trail, we were approached by a skier from Europe who made me fiercely jealous by telling me that in The Alps skiers take their dogs, who follow them up the mountain on foot underneath the ski lifts. Alpine skiers ski with their dogs. What a life for an outdoor dog. Perhaps we could have Dog Day on Belleayre? Or would that descend into chaos?

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A Post-Hike Beer at Westkill Brewing

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Nestled in the foothills of the Catskills’ Hunter-West Kill Mountain Wilderness, almost at the end of a dead-end road leading to some the region’s most popular trails, is West Kill Brewing, with its small tap room, that’s been open for about a year. The standout beer is the fruitiest IPA for miles around, Moon Farmer IPA, but most of the beers here have some sort of unique berry, fruit, herb, pine or citrus combination in them and some of them are brewed with honey from West Kill Brewing’s hives. There’s even a basil IPA and a Belgian made with spruce tips. The beers here are not your regular run-of-the-mill offerings, they are mindfully made. Much thought has clearly gone into the recipes that incorporate a variety of the local flora. Maybe it was the strenuous hike to Rusk Mountain that influenced my tastebuds, but I was so surprised when I took a first gulp of Moon Farmer that I went straight to the counter to order a four-pack to take out. I don’t even like IPA.

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Daily Catskills: 01/01/19

New year, new view: Buff, naked mountains with the snow washed away by overnight rain and high, gusty winds. Frequent, light sprinkles of sugary snow. Overcast with foggy cloud and a bitter high of 35F. Towering hemlocks provide cover.

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Dead birches provide firewood. Happy New Year!

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Daily Catskills: 12/30/18

A overnight layer of powdery snow, sticking to trees and structures, turns the brown valleys white again and dusts the icy peaks. Streaks of smoky blue cloud ripple through the sky. A high of 32F.

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The Catskill 35: Rusk Mountain

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Yesterday’s attempt to climb Rusk Mountain – our second – was a success, probably because the conditions were ideal. The first few miles of the ascent was a soft, bouncy carpet of fallen leaves, as most of the snow had melted, but we were followed by passing clouds that sprinkled dry, granular snow. As we climbed, we were still able to discern the trail of previous hikers – a dark trail of wet, disturbed leaves that snaked up the mountain. The summit of Rusk is a tangle of aging, gnarled spruces, some darkened by lightning, presiding over its younger generation of fern-like trees. The sign-in canister, painted a vivid, hunting orange, was attached to what looked like a lone cherry tree amidst this mess of pines that looks like a spiky hairdo.

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Rusk is a popular hike because it’s short, but very steep – an elevation gain of 1600 ft – so if you’re fit enough you can be up and down in a few hours, so it’s often hiked with its sister mountains, East Rusk, Hunter and Southwest Hunter. When you get to the summit, it’s possible to see down the equally steep north side of the mountain and Jewett below.

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The Year in Review: Daily Catskills 2018

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Above is the most popular Daily Catskills image of the year, a picture of our Black Lab Alfie, who regularly gets a 60% engagement rate on his own, modest Instagram account. Videos on Instagram of Alfie in his element – snow – regularly get many hundreds of likes on our own social media. We adopted Alfie from the ASPCA in Kingston in 2014 and we began hiking the Catskills 3500 just to wear him out. He’s had his portrait taken by NYC photographer Shannon Greer and we wrote a post here about him that was so popular it was picked up in New York City by Mrs Sizzle. I’ll be writing Part 2 of Alfie’s life in the New Year. He loves snow and swimming regardless of temperature because he has a thick layer of furry Labrador blubber and webbed feet. He loves hiking and turns six years old in April. If I could take him skiing, I would. There’s a chance you will find us snow-shoeing the hiking trail from Giggle Hollow to the top of Belleayre Mountain this winter to catch a glimpse of the skiers flying down Cathedral Run. Alfie appreciates his country life here in the Catskills and is such a good dog, he gets fresh, warm marrow bones straight out of the oven. I sometimes think he’s the only reason that we have readers at all.

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Daily Catskills: 12/27/18

Brilliant sun until early-afternoon and another high of 32F with fresh snowcaps on several peaks. A rare bright day. Busy on Belleayre.

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Daily Catskills: 12/24/18

A calm, white Christmas Eve with an inch or two of morning snow, clearing up late morning for a brief hour of sunshine. Then back into the doldrums with the lightest possible snow fall waning by mid-afternoon. A high of 37F.

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Daily Catskills: 12/23/18

Overcast and frigid. A high of 32F with only the lush, fir-capped peaks harboring pockets of winter wonderland at their summits. Snowmelt rushes through strong, high creeks and rivers.

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Daily Catskills: 12/21/18 Yuletide & The Winter Solstice

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Today, December 21st, is Winter Solstice, officially the first day of winter. The northern hemisphere of the earth is pointed the farthest away from the sun and, tonight begins its slow return towards it until the June Solstice of 2019. The ancient tradition of Yuletide, one of the oldest winter celebrations in Europe began this morning and will end on January 1st, 2019. Yuletide was a fire festival celebrated by the Northern Europeans. Pre-Zoroastrian Persians and ancient Romans, who celebrated something similar before the common era. Diwali is another festival of lights that begins earlier in the year. Basically any community in the dark, forbidding northern hemisphere, on this shortest day of the year, celebrated fire. 

The most enduring British tradition from Yuletide is the Yule Log, a small firestarter from a larger bonfire that was shared with many households by landowners in England. Evergreen trees were fashioned into wreaths and other decorations for the interior of the house for their refreshing smell. The Brits still make cakes fashioned into Yule logs and, of course, we still bring in fir or pine trees, decorate them with lights. Happy Solstice!

Catskills Christmas: Sticky Toffee Pudding with Liza Belle

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The Catskills are home to many great chefs, one of those being Liza Belle, chef at the Blue Deer Center in New Kingston, Upstate New York. A native New Yorker from Long Island, whose mother was an English immigrant, Liza Belle got her start as a short-order cook and found a mentor early on who revolutionized her perspective on food. A prolific baker, especially during this holiday season, Liza shares a Christmas recipe, an English favorite: Sticky Toffee Pudding made with dates and locally-grown wheat that we cooked yesterday. When the cake came out of the oven, it glistened with the sticky dates. The local grain gave it a reddish, grainy finish. Some tips: when you “toast” butter in a milk pan, swirl it around and save the brown, caramelized part that sticks to the pan because it gives the sauce a nutty flavor.

Today is the first day of Yuletide, a 12-day winter fire festival starting today – on the shortest day of the year, December 21st, the winter solstice –  with origins in Northern Europe that pre-date Christianity. (This is where the saying “12 Days of Christmas” originated). Most settlers of the northern hemisphere, a dark place that’s frigid this time of year, have always celebrated fire at the start of the winter season and share food and stories with friends and neighbors. Find The Guardian’s version of the traditional Yule log cake here.

Sticky Toffee Pudding

Cake

1/2 Stick of Butter
1 1/2 Cups of Flour
1 1/2 Cups of Chopped Dates
1 teaspoon Baking Soda
1 Teaspoon of Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon of Sea Salt
1 Cup of Brown Sugar
1 Teaspoon of Vanilla runneth over
2 Eggs

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Daily Catskills: 12/15/18

A warmer 42F at 9am rising to a high of 49F with the habitual pall of thick foggy cloud, through which the sun strains to shine. The fiery ball at the center of our solar system barely registers over the stubbornly, chronically overcast Catskills. Opening Saturday at Bearpen Mountain.

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Holiday Gift Guide: Catskills Stocking Stuffers

Here’s a list of our top ten handiest Catskills small gifts and stocking stuffers suitable for all friends, family and colleagues. Get your friends interested in the outdoors with maps, gift certificates, guides and ski-lift passes. Give the foodies in your life some of our scrumptious locally-made produce. The Catskills is also home to some of the best soap-makers and cosmetic artisans. 

New York New Jersey Trail Conference Maps
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New York New Jersey Trail Maps are an invaluable resource for both novice and experienced hikers of the Catskills. Click here to order the 2018 edition. These maps show hiking trails in detail, local monuments, lean-tos, views and topography – basically everything you need to plan a hike. You can also buy the maps at the Catskills Interpretive Center on Route 28 in Mount Tremper. $16.95 for a full set of Catskills maps.

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Monday’s Radio Show on WIOX: Winter Hiking Tips

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Monday’s guests Heather Rolland of the Catskill 3500 Club and Will Soter of Upstate Adventure Guides will be imparting Catskills winter hiking tips on Monday December 10th on WIOX Roxbury from 9am to 10am). You can listen to WIOX streaming online service here. Will Soter will also be talking about outdoor guiding in the Catskills. Whether you simply want to know more about hiking the Catskills or if you’d like to become a guide, tune in on Monday at 9am.

Catskills Christmas: Robson’s Tree Farm, Bovina Center, NY

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If you’re having a Catskills Christmas this year, there are a few places in the Catskills where you can source a freshly-grown fir for your house and one of those places is family-owned Robson’s Tree Farm in Bovina Center, NY. They maintain a couple of acres of thick, gorgeous trees – that won’t quickly lose their needles – that have been specially grown for Christmas: a sustainable option for the eco-conscious.

Very friendly, helpful and engaging staff give you a saw and send you into lines of trees to pick your own fir in the thick snow. Only pick the trees with the red price tag on. All the other trees without tags have not finished growing. The tree below was $35 but prices range from $25 to $75 for trees of different sizes. Most trees are 6′ to 8′ and are $30 to $55. Freshly-made wreathes were also available for $23. There is a fire to warm you up after you’ve finished sawing and hauling. Continue reading

Catskills Cocktails: Mulled Port

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This is a popular mulled wine recipe for port or sherry lovers that has been featured on this website in previous years. Port and lemon is a common combination. When it’s warm, sweetened with cherry juice and spiced it makes a harsh winter worth enduring. Port has a storied history; a staple in British households over Christmas Eve. Santa always got a glass of sherry with his Christmas pudding. And of course, the obsession with marinated cherries continues.

Mulled Spiced Citrus Port

750ml Tawny Port
100ml cherry juice
1 orange
1 lemon
10 whole cloves
1 teaspoon of nutmeg
2 cinnamon sticks
1 drop of vanilla essence

Slice off the peel (including pith) of both the orange and lemon until you have the raw fruit and about eight slices of fruit peel. Put the peel to one side and muddle the raw orange and lemon fruit together with the port and cherry juice. Add the remaining ingredients, including the fruit peel, into the muddled mixture. Steep the mixture for a few hours. Add a cup of water to dilute to taste. Pour into a saucepan and heat gently until warm. Remove the fruit waste – but not the peel – once the port has warmed sufficiently to serve.

Serves four to eight.