In Search of Elderflowers

Setting off in shorts and flip-flops to pick elderflowers seemed like a good idea until I realised that  the recent hot weather had taken its toll on the elderflowers and the few remaining flowers were in the shadiest, nettliest places so it was with stung legs that I returned home with the requisite number of flower heads.

No not elderflower cordial or champagne ( I knew I was too late to make either of these) but elderflower and gooseberry jam. The main task of the day was to pick this year’s gooseberries, but I knew in my heart of hearts that there was a big bag of last year’s crop lurking in the freezer which just hadn’t made the preserving pan.

So I set to and weighed the frozen gooseberries (just over 3lb) popped them in the preserving pan with just enough water to cover them and put the elderflowers in a jelly bag (much simpler than cutting squares of muslin and the jelly bag can be washed and reused over and over again). I suspended the jelly bag from the handle of preserving pan so that the flowers were in the water and set the pan over a gentle heat on the stove.  My wonderful Mary Ford Jams, Chutneys and Pickles book gives a detailed description involving pieces of wood and hacksaws to mark the starting level of your jam and therefore work out what level the contents should be when it is reduced by a third.  Always looking Wooden spoon measurefor an easy solution my top tip is to take a wooden spoon and put it handle first into the preserving pan, note the level of the contents and mark with a pencil – you can then use a ruler and pencil to mark it into thirds  and you have an instant measure which can be washed off when finished ready for another day!

So with the gooseberries, elderflower and water very gently simmering out I went into the beautiful sunshine to pick the crop from one of our two gooseberry bushes.  The poor wee bush its branches were touching the ground with the weight of the fruit so when I had finished it looked quite happy and upright again. But what a crop…IMG_8415

I sat in the sun ‘topping and tailing’ as last year’s fruit cooked. When it had reduced by a third I added the sugar (just over 3lb) and stirred until the sugar had dissolved and Left it to boil. I returned to my topping and tailing!  After a lot more topping and tailing I thought it was time to look for recipes that did not involved topping and tailing and was pleased to find a recipe for gooseberry sauce which sounds rather tasty so 2lb of the smaller untopped and tailed gooseberries were washed, bagged and popped in the freezer ready for making into sauce some time in the future.

By this stage the jam had reached setting point and was ready for potting up. Seven jars  are standing proudly on the kitchen bench. The scrapings from the preserving pan were served on a scone for our afternoon tea and the verdict was ‘very good’!  It has the lovely tang of gooseberries with just a hint of the heady flavour of the elderflower.

And this year’s crop?  The final weigh in from the first gooseberry bush is 11lb! Next job is to make a gooseberry cake to take round to a friend’s house this evening and to stew some ready for a gooseberry fool tomorrow. The rest have gone into the freezer BUT will be used before July net year.

 

 

 

Strawberries at last!

How many gardeners spend their time waging war on ‘pests’ ?- slugs, snails, birds, mice, squirrels, grazing children…

We have tried growing strawberries with little success for a number of years no matter what we do someone gets to the strawberries just as they ripen, We’ve tried nets  to protect the fruit from birds and squirrels only to feed our numerous shrew and mouse population.  We’ve tied them up to make it harder for the mice to climb up for a feast. Last year I tried hanging strawberry bags and got the watering wrong – failure.

This spring all the strawberry plants which had overwintered in a corner of the vegetable garden were dug up.  about half were put in large black plastic pots in a lovely rich leaf mould compost.  The other half were planted in the a new bed in the ‘big polytunnel’. Needless to say there is a bit of a his and hers competition in the strawberry department.  His were looking very healthy in the polytunnel obviously growing in a large bed.  but I persevered watering, feeding and generally loving ‘my’ strawberries in the glorious greenhouse.

Almost too good to eat!

Almost too good to eat!

 

So imagine my delight to be able to serve up ‘my’ mouse free ripe strawberries as part of his special birthday pudding this week.  His strawberries are ripening and feeding the lovely little shrew that seems to have set up residence in the tunnel!

And the verdict  – sweet, juicy and just delicious!