The wild service tree (sorbus torminalis) also known as the Chequer Tree (the Prime Minister’s official country residence, Chequers, is also named after it).
Before the introduction of hops, the fruit were used to flavour beer, which may be related to the ancient symbol of a pub: a chequer-board. This might also point to why some inns were called Chequers Inn.
The fruits can also be used to give flavour to whisky in the same way that sloe gin is made with sloes.
The tree is very rare to find now but it can still be found in pockets of ancient woodland.
At this time of year bletted (frosted) wild service berries make a sweet, date-like wayside snack. The fruits are edible in late autumn after they have softened by frost. A process called bletting. There are records of them being sold in bunches at markets because they were so sweet that children loved them. People used to pick the fruits and string them together over a hearth so that the heat could ripen them.
They are also good for colic – torminalis – means ‘good for colic’.
The wood has a lovely fine grain and silvery luminescence and has been used for carving.
If you manage to stumble across one of these rare trees and you can get to the fruits before the birds do then harvest some make some unique jam to have with cheese or cold cuts this Christmas. One thing is certain, not many people will be having this as part of a festive feast.