A big piece of root ginger is one of the indispensable flavourings I need to round out the flavour of the fruits and vegetables I grow. Just like lemons, olive oil, butter, garlic and salt, it is something I try never to run out of. I use it sliced into coins and smashed to flavour dhal or peeled, grated and added to fried onion and garlic as a base for curries before adding spices. When grated, it can be pressed through a sieve to make ginger juice, which can be added to cocktails and fruit compotes or to marinade chunks of rhubarb before they go into a tart.

For a home cold remedy, cut ginger into coins and smash, put in a cup and add a tablespoon of honey and the juice of half a fresh lemon and top up with boiling water. When you have grown your own stem ginger, you can bruise it and add it to stocks and soups as you would lemon grass. The leaves can be used layered in a steamer with fish on top and in soups and curries too.

You may be forgiven for thinking that the culinary use of fresh root ginger (Zingiber officinale) is a relatively recent development in the UK, but its introduction dates back to Roman times. For the Romans, ginger was a highly prized import from the east, but it was used mainly medicinally. In India, where it has been used for around 5,000 years, it is still used in Ayurvedic medicine to combat stomach ailments and nausea. By the 15th century English cookery books were awash with ginger in both sweet and savoury recipes, but by the 18th century it was more likely to be found dried and used as a powdered spice in a pudding or a cake.


  • 1 Large thumb fresh root ginger
  • 400g Sugar
  • 250ml Water
  • 2 Lemons


  • STEP 1

    Grate around 2tsp of the fresh root ginger into a bowl and mix with 2tsp of the sugar and all of the water.

  • STEP 2

    Stir well and pour into a large preserving or jam jar.

  • STEP 3

    Cover the top of the jar with cheesecloth or kitchen roll and secure with an elastic band, but don’t seal the jar.

  • STEP 4

    Once the surface looks gassy and bubbly, bring 2 litres of water to the boil and add the rest (2tbsp) of the freshly grated ginger and the rest of the sugar.

  • STEP 5

    Stir until the sugar has dissolved and then allow to cool.

  • STEP 6

    When the sugar water has cooled, strain into another bowl and add the juice of 2 lemons (sieved) and the mixture from the ginger beer ‘bee’ jar (sieved).

  • STEP 7

    Reserve a tablespoon of ‘bee’ mixture for the next batch if you wish to make more.

  • STEP 8

    Place the bottles in a warm place for a couple of days and then in the fridge. Keep checking to make sure not too much gas is collecting in the bottles and let a little out. Use plastic bottles as these will swell and won’t shatter if the gas builds up too much. The ginger beer will be ready in about a week but check after four days.

  • STEP 9

    Fermentation is the way to create life even in the grip of winter’s maw. In Food in England, the food historian Dorothy Hartley describes how as a child she loved to watch the ginger beer ‘bee’ (so called because it makes a faint humming sound) bubble up and down in a jar on the kitchen windowsill. In cold weather fermentation may take several days to a week to occur.