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Backwords: Jungle Juice

Mike Shaw tells of his home-made “jungle juice’’ – the drink that kept him going (in more ways then one) when he was a boy.

My favourite boyhood tipple was home made and drunk straight from a medicine bottle.

The rest of the family dubbed it “jungle juice” but I called it my elixir of life.

It was, in fact, liquorice juice made from the simple ingredients of a few chunks of the black, rock-like substance shaken up with good old-fashioned spring water.

The liquorice had to be broken up into smallish pieces to get them inside the narrow neck of a disused medicine bottle, which was then filled up from the tap and tightly corked.

Periodic shakes of the bottle eventually turned the contents into a dark, frothy drink that used to go down a treat.

For years I was the subject of a practical joke, shared by the rest of the family, after I was told that it helped the liquorice juice to brew if it was kept in a dark place.

My mother helpfully suggested that I put the medicine bottle in a black-as-night little cupboard that housed our gas meter.

So the cupboard became my own tiny drinks store and it was a long, long time before I realised that the water turned black just as quickly in the daylight as it did in the dark.

The novelty of making my own brew certainly proved a big attraction for a lad of my tender years. And I suppose my parents encouraged me because not only was it cheaper than buying pop but it also helped to keep me “regular.”

Another elixir that I used to enjoy was Dr Dan’s so-called health drink sold from a stall in the old Huddersfield Market Hall.

If I remember rightly the ingredients of this dark brown nectar that was supposed to prolong active life were a carefully guarded secret.

I do recall pestering my parents to take me for a drop of Dr Dan’s dynamic drink every time we had a shopping expedition in town.

And my memories are of the stall usually doing a lively trade, with people choosing from a range of drinks whose prices ranged from one penny upwards.

Back home again, we used to buy herbal drinks in big stone bottles from a man who came round from door to door.

I have been told since that the sarsparilla, dandelion and burdock and the rest were brewed by a firm at Slaithwaite which went through hard times after a lot of canny Colne Valley folk discovered another use for their empty stone bottles.

It was, of course, long before the days of electric blankets, and people found they had a ready-made hot water bottle in their hands once they had drunk the refreshing brew.

I have a vague recollection at some stage in my boyhood years of making lemonade from tiny crystals.

And there was always the cheap and nasty kali powder which, I believe, could also be used for making a fizzy drink although in my case I used to suck it from a paper bag or cardboard carton through a liquorice tube.

When we’d finished the kali, of course, there was the extra bonus of the liquorice to finish off.

With all that liquorice around, it was hardly surprising that I developed a taste not only for it and my “jungle juice” but that as a grown-up my favourite drink was not altogether dissimilar.

I refer, of course, to the thick black stuff with a nice creamy collar. The drink they used to say was good for you. Nowadays I’m told it’s regarded as being the product of pure genius.


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