Busy, busy as usual but last Sunday I spent the day with the lovely Marina making just whatever took our fancy. We started off, as usual, with coffee and biscuits and a 'chat' - well - I talked mostly and poor Marina had to listen!
We started off by prepping the ingredients for Courgette & Mint Relish which had to be left in salt to draw out the water. Then we cooked up some blackcurrants and left them to drip through a jelly bag ready for some cordial after lunch and the-e-e-n boom, boom BOOM - we made some lovely Raspberry Jam. More to go through the principles of jam making than anything else.
By then it was one o'clock and very much time for a welcome lunch break, we tried some Lime Cordial and some Limoncello to fortify us for the afternoon session!
I devised this recipe when Trev and I were married, six years ago. We were having a lamb roast and my WI were providing salads and new potatoes - so the classic mint sauce wouldn't really have been suitable. This was a variation to that and proved so popular it is still one of my best sellers today. It is a great answer to the perennial problem of what to do with all of the courgettes - along with Ratatouille Chutney it is a very tasty preserve to make and keep for some of those Christmas buffet parties, and to be reminded of Summer.
I was out sat in The Chix' run yesterday watching them as they went about their chickenny business - I had opened the gate to the promised land and they were in their own particular heaven. I decided to open up the compost heap and dig it out for their enjoyment but actually I didn't do anything - they were doing the digging. It's actually not much of a compost heap as every time I add something they eat it!
So, while I was sat on my straw bale watching them I noticed that the first of the elderflowers had broken out in the lovely hot sunshine. I looked at this with a mixture of hope and dread. I do love this mark in time of more good things to come, but also it is a bit of 'stop whatever you are doing and make cordial' situation. It is definitely a race against the clock to get the flowers processed while in good condition. Always pick the flowers on a dry day and preferably in the morning. Try to pick away from the roadside to avoid dust and dirt from passing traffic. Try and use them as soon after picking as possible. By the way, you only need to pick the flower heads - on a small length of stem - no need to pick the individual tiny flowers. Give them a good shake to get rid of any passengers and gather into a basket or flat tray so that the blooms don't get crushed. Please pause for a second to take a very close look at one of the flower heads - the arrangement of the flower petals, and the dusting of pollen and natural yeasts is really beautiful.
We . . . dig,dig,dig,dig,dig,dig,dig,dig the whole day long
I find it exciting - and I know I am strange - to find that the flowers and fruits of the Elder were the first herbs to be cultivated by Man over 4000 years ago. The plant has very powerful properties with Vit A, B1, B2, B3 and C, plus all sorts of chemicals making it anti-inflammatory , anti-viral and anti-cancer. It is also a diuretic, laxative and insect repellant! All from such tiny, delicate, lacy flowers. I won't go on and on here but you can read up for yourself on the internet.
Take care not to include too much of the green stems and stalks as they contain a toxic chemical similar to cyanide!
Strip the flowers -gently - and berries using a table fork
Dry the flowers for use in teas by turning the flowerheads upside down on a kitchen paper lined tray and dry overnight. Next day the florets can be gently shaken from the stems and stored for future use.
To make a deliciously refreshing tea put a couple of tablespoons of the flowers in a jug and pour over boiling water. Leave to steep for 10 mins and then strain into your favourite mug. Add some honey if liked. Only have one of these teas a day because of it's diuretic properties.
Right, what to make? Well, cordial, obviously. If you look back at my blog on making Lemon Cordial, it is basically the same method for Elderflower Cordial. Just follow my recipe, and then sterilise the cordial in the bottles to lengthen the shelf life. The citric acid helps with the preservation and reducing the possibility for bugs to grow. However, elderflowers have so much natural yeast and mould it is sometimes difficult to stabilise. I have had the situation where I made a large batch of cordial, sterilised it in a waterbath, and some of the batch grew moulds and some didn't - from the same batch!
The positives far outweigh the negatives though, and I still make plenty every year. It is great if you are having a party or a wedding - a really delicious but cost effective way of providing soft drinks and it can also be mixed with something fizzy like Prosecco to give it a kick. Bottle it in something pretty like the Lucca bottle, and you also have ready-made gifts to hand.The cordial can be used neat over ice-cream, diluted to make ice-lollies for a summer fete or added to icing sugar to make a delicious icing for a summer sponge.
I make Lemon Marmalade with Elderflowers, replacing some of the sugar with cordial. I strip a few of the tiny flowers from the flower head and add to each jar - they look really pretty, like confetti. A really girly preserve!
If you want to make Elderflower Fizz then there are a few ground rules to understand. When you make this fascinating brew at home you have no way of knowing the extreme pressure that will build up from the fermentation. I have already mentioned the huge amounts of natural yeasts and they create a very lively fermentation. So, do yourself a favour and do not bottle into glass bottles. The bottles will most likely shatter under the strain and then you will have a sticky, shark-infested sea to clear up. Even with the PET plastic bottles I have opened a 3 year old brew outside and have the plume of 'champagne' arc across a field about 30 feet!
When you have made your fizz, store in a cool place, away from children, pets, valuable antiques and windows. A cool garage ( as long as the family car isn't nearby ) would be fine, or even somewhere cool outside. If you are transporting to a picnic then pack into the boot and make sure the bottle can't roll around. Don't do as one of our customers did - left it on the back parcel shelf, in the sun, rolling around - it took out the front windscreen and she narrowly escaped serious injury. Really, if you are eating al fresco take the more stable cordial and some sparkling mineral water.
Just a few more flowery thoughts for you. Elderflower Vinegar. Easy. Elderflower Sugar - put a couple of heads into a large jar and cover with caster sugar. Leave for a couple of weeks, remove flowers and then store to use in or on sponge cakes, sorbets etc.
I am going to try Elderflower Butter this year - beat 4 tablespoons butter with 110g/4oz sifted icing sugar until soft, stir in 2-3 tablespoons of the flower petals and use to sandwich a summer sponge cake, top with glace icing made with cordial and scatter with a few more petals.
And finally but no means least, Elderflower Liqueur. Pick around 10-15 flower heads and snip off the florets into a large jar. Pour over 1 x 70cl bottle of vodka - nothing expensive - seal the jar and shake. Make sure that all the flowers are under the liquid, store somewhere dark and shake occasionally. Leave for at least two weeks, strain through muslin and then taste. If you would like it sweeter then add some sugar, to taste, and stir to dissolve. Bottle into pretty bottles, like the Arenzo - how sweet will it taste in the winter reminding you of last summer and anticipating the next?
STOP PRESS! Since my post we have received our new gift boxes for carrying eggs to friends. Check out 'Cluckingham Palace' on lovejars.co.uk
Another Bank Holiday looms and by all accounts the weather in the UK is set fair for a few days. So, it will be out with the barbie, off to the beach or forest for a picnic, or maybe a staycation in the back garden (saves all the traffic hoo-ha). Whatever you are doing you are going to need refreshment and what better than a nice home made cordial.
I can't be fussed with all that I hear you cry. Well, listen up. Grate the zest from seven lemons, or two large oranges, or seven limes, or two grapefruit - or some of each - squeeze the juice, add to a pan with 1 litre of cold water, and 1.5kgs white sugar. Leave over-night, strain and bottle. If you are making for a party, or just to use over the weekend you don't even need to bottle it - just keep covered in the fridge in a jug. The taste is incomparable to even the top of the range cordials, it's fresh, with a huge citrus burst. You can use it, obviously, just diluted, you can make ice-lollies, pour neat over ice-cream or make grown-up 'lemonade' by diluting with Prosecco or some other fizz of choice. Try it - you won't be disappointed. To extend the shelf life to one year follow the method for processing in a water bath or use a purpose built canner. For Lemon Cordial here's the detail
A delicious, easy drink for all the family. I bottled mine in 250ml milk style bottles, Bevanto, from www.lovejars.co.uk
If I don't get this blog underway it will be a WHOLE MONTH without - where does the time go? To be fair we have had other things on our mind this month - we now have The New Chix on the Block - six rescue hens who have taken a fair bit of attention - rightly so. They were terrified when they arrived - of us, the outside, grass, wind - every eventuality resulted in a lot of agitated clucking but they soon settled down. It is so lovely to see them scratting about and sunbathing now - their natural instincts soon came into play. We had to put them to bed for the first few days as they didn't know what to do or when to do it, but they troop off at dusk now - there is always one who goes early so she can get the best place! They all huddle up together in a big heap with a lot of pushing and shoving until they are settled. I have put up a pic here which is about day 2 - they have a lot more feathers now and their combs are redder instead of pure white when they arrived. We got them from British Hens Rescue Trust - an excellent organisation, very helpful, so if you are thinking of keeping hens please do give them a thought.
Anyway, despite all of that I have been busy with the soft fruit as you can imagine - strawberries, raspberries, gooseberries - I made Gooseberry & Elderflower jam this year which I haven't made for a while. I also mixed equal raspberries and rhubarb for jam and it absolutely delicious. I shall be making some Smooth Gooseberry Chutney tomorrow, also for the first time - if it turns out great I'll be putting the recipe up on my mobile site - don't forget this site is unique. You can scale the recipes by entering the quantity of your main ingredient - clever Trevor!
Don't forget to make a few batches of cordials from the lovely soft fruit - my favourite is blackcurrant - but they aren't ripe yet here in the heart of the country. You can make any mixed berry flavour though, or single variety, and then follow on with the autumn fruits - plum and cinnamon, apple and blackberry - whatever takes your fancy. Recipes on the mobile site as before. Put a few bottles of flavoured vinegars on your To Do List as well . . . . so useful.
Had a lovely day yesterday with Katie and her friends making her wedding favours. It was a bit of a squash in The Old Smithy but they all knew each other and took time out to sit out on the grass and catch up with news and plans for the wedding. We took it in turns to make the jam and also ate quite a bit as they had champagne and pastries with fruit kebabs on arrival, a lovely local lunch of smoked salmon, cheeses, my hot new potato salad with my Lemon, Mustard & Butter Dressing, tomato salad with my home-made pesto, and a green salad. Meringues with strawberries, raspberries glazed with my Raspberry & Mint Jelly, and clotted cream finished off the day for tea. I enjoyed it anyway!
To make the Raspberry & Mint Jelly use equal weight of cooking apples, roughly chopped skins and all, and raspberries, plus a handful of mint sprigs. Place in pan with a small amount of water to prevent sticking, cook down until tender then drip overnight through a jelly bag. Next day measure quantity of juice, add equal sugar and cook to a set as for other jellies. It makes the most pretty pink jelly with a hint of mint. Superb as a glaze on fruit tarts or layer with ice-cream and fruit in sundae glasses. Just so summery.
Have had a meeting with my MP RT Hon Alan Duncan about the new Jam Regulations, and he has promised to do what he can. He said it was now up to Parliament to decide but as it is a European Directive there probably isn't much to be done other than accept it. Anyway, I gave him plenty of real jam to take home which he wrote say he has been enjoying - and why wouldn't he? There will be more news on the jam front soon which I will bring to you as soon as possible.
Have fun in the holidays - get those little ones out fruit picking in the time honoured tradition!