Cheery chives and coleslaw

This favourite is often only used as green garnish scattered over potato salad or egg mayonnaise and what a trick is being missed! One of my lockdown pastimes has been revisiting some of my old recipe books and then trying to be creative making meals of out of all the store cupboard oddments.  Some have been a great success –  others have not been quite so popular (beetroot and marigold pilau rice was a low point in some people’s view – I quite liked it).

Chive leaves are usually added at the end of cooking to give a mild onion flavour – over cook and their flavour will disappear.  In French cuisine chives are a consitutent part of fines herbes (finely chopped parsley, chives, tarragon, and chervil) which is used to add a delicate flavour to savory dishes at the end of cooking. Chives can be chopped into soft cheese or sour cream as a dressing.

But in my view one of the best uses of chives is the freshly opened flowers.  Picked before fully open they provide a peppery addition to salads as well as looking stunning against the green of lettuce. 

In my lockdown experimental mode I was making coleslaw and didn’t want to deplete the dwindling onion stocks so wondered how to add some life to a pretty bland cabbage concoction? My cheery chives came to mind –  I picked a barely open flower and removed all the petals from the head and scattered them into the coleslaw.  It gave a wonderful oniony, peppery flavour and I wonder why I never thought about it before and so much quicker than peeling and chopping an onion .

A few random chive facts…

Chives  allium schoenoprasum are unusual in that they grow wild in northern Europe and North America and Australia.  Found throughout Asia it is thought that Marco Polo was responsible for bringing them to Europe where they have been cultivated since the Sixteenth Century.

The clump forming plant will tolerate most conditions and looks attractive when used as an edging plant in the herb or vegetable garden.  Chives are said to repel insects and a wash made from their leaves and water is used to prevent mildew and apple scab. 

Keep removing the flower heads and stems as througout the summer to ensure a continuous supply. Do not eat the flowering stems or flowers that have been open for a day or two as they are tough and unpalatable.

Chive flowers with bees collecting nectar

Chives are often used in companion planting as most insects do not like its smell but its cheery purple flowers are beloved by bees. A recent survey of pollinating plants placed chives among the top 10 nectar producing plants in the UK. 
So even if you don’t care for this herb make sure to grow some in your garden for the bees.

More recipe ideas can be found herehave look and experiment!

The heady scent of elderflower

It’s that time of year when walks in the countryside are filled with the sweet aroma of elderflowers and honeysuckle. Like many others I seem to have a heightened awareness of the natural world this spring – enjoying the countryside and my garden, the birds, bees and butterflies.

I often stop and ponder is it an unusually abundant year or have I just a bit more time to observe and contemplate?

For the first time I have noticed the beautiful common blue damselflies resting like shining jewels on the lacy white elder blooms!

Time to forage, with basket in hand I set off to pick elderflowers to make two of my favourite summer drinks – elderflower cordial and elderflower fizz.

It didn’t take long to gather the 30 large flowerheads needed to make a gallon of elderflower fizz and about 2 pints of elderflower cordial.

Before going indoors I gave every flowerhead a little shake to make sure there were no tiny insects lurking.  The main ingredients for both drinks are the same – elderflowers, water, sugar, and lemons. It is the differing concentrations of sugar and elderflowers that make the difference.

Elderflower cordial is sweet and syrupy when diluted with tap or sparkling water it is a really refreshing drink or is for something special add it to a gin and tonic!
It’s also a useful addition to puddings and one of my favourites is Sophie Grigson’s recipe for lime and elderflower jellies – simple but delicious.  

The Elderflower fizz recipe I use was given to me by my mother-on-law over 30 years ago and she was given it from a lady of over 80 who had been given it by an old lady!! So I am guessing this recipe goes back a long way.  For years I was perplexed by one of the ingredients 6d (old pence) white wine vinegar.  Last year I was really pleased to discover a reference to 1d as a measuremen so I now know that 1d =1 tablespoon!

In these challenging times, being very aware of my limited shopping excursions I had the bright idea of using the strained elderflowers from the cordial and the quarter lemons from the fizz to make an elderflower and lemon drizzle cake.  I simply lined the bottom of the cake tin with the elderflowers before adding the cake mixture.  While it was baking I squeezed the juice from the quartered lemons into some elderflower cordial. Immediately the cake was out of the oven I made little holes over the top of it with a skewer and gently drizzled the lemon and elderflower cordial over the top. Delicious the delicate flavour of the elderflower with the sharp tang of the lemon – will definitely try that one again !!

So here are the recipes – I hope you will enjoy !

Elderflower cordial
Ingredients:
25 large freshly picked elderflower heads (check to make sure no insects are hiding in them!)
4lb (1.8kg) granulated sugar
2 3/4 oz (75g) citric acid (usually found in homebrewing section of shop)
2 lemons ( best to use unwaxed if you can)
2 pt  (0.5 litre) water

Place elderflowers in a large clean bowl add the zest of the lemons and then slice the lemons and add.
Place water and sugar in a pan on the stove and bring to the boil stirring to ensure the sugar dissolves.
Pour the water and sugar over the elderflowers and lemons and add the citric acid.  Cover and leave to stand for 24 hours.
Next day strain through muslin or a jelly bag and bottles.  Make sure that your bottles have been sterilised. 
The cordial will keep for a month or two if stored in a cool dark place however I tend to freeze it in small batches so that we can enjoy it throughout the year.

Elderflower fizz
Ingredients
1 gallon (4.5 litre) of water
2 tablespoons (6d) white wine vinegar
1 1/2lb (680g) sugar
1 lemon (unwaxed) cut into quarters
5 larger elderflower heads

Place all ingredients in a large bowl and stir to dissolve the sugar.
Cover and leave for 24 hours stirring occasionally.
Strain through muslin or a jelly bag.
Bottle in sterilised screw or clip topped bottles.
Stand upright for 2 weeks then lie on their side. 
Take care when opening as it can be quite champagne like!!

You can see more of my favourite recipes here

The perfect pink of nettle cordial

Here’s a post from a few years ago but perhaps you have a bit more time for foraging and trying out new recipes at the minute- enjoy. It is definitely worth the effort!

So about 2 weeks ago I put on my thick gloves and lifted my basket and went nettle picking. My recipe was for 1 litre of nettle cordial but being a cautious soul I halved the quantities just in case I didn’t like it. Out I went to gather the required 100g of nettle tops. I knew it would be a lot more than you would expect (just like spinach) but my first ‘weigh in’ was a measly 75g so back out I went.

I washed and dried the nettles, placed  them in a bowl and added the solution of water, citric acid  and sugar  – it’s quite an unusual smell! After a week it was time to filter and sample the result.

The perfect pink liquid was delicious diluted with sparkling water – a definite success!

I had a bit of fun a few days later when I put the members of a local gardening club to the test  – not one person guessed what it was. Many thought it was gooseberry.

I am so pleased with the result that it will be gloves on for a mass harvest. I plan to make a couple of litres and freeze it in containers  so we can enjoy nettle cordial throughout the summer.

A 2020 update is that I have now discovered that this nettle cordial is a nice addition to gin and tonic!
I researched a number of websites for recipes and you can see the recipe for my version of nettle cordial  here or check out the sites below – there are loads more!
eatweeds.co.uk

Lovely lemon verbena

I have growing lemon verbena for years, have read numerous recipes but never quite got round to using it until by chance I came across Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s recipe for Verbena Lemonade made with crushed leaves of lemon verbena infused in hot water with a couple of tablespoons of sugar. I gave it a go and it has quickly become a favourite – really quick and easy to make and delicious to drink.  Once made it can be stored in the fridge for about a week or you could freeze it to bring a taste of summer to mid winter.

To drink squeeze lemon or lime juice and add to lemon verbena infusion – I find 2 lemons or limes add the right level of zing for a litre. Not being contented with drinking it  I have also used it to make lovely light summery jellies  served with a skim of pouring cream on the top, a few berries on the side and some shortbread. If you are feeling really organised adding  lemon or lime zest to the shortbread complements the jellies.

And the final use of this easy to make drink is to add a dash of gin for a summer evening tipple or for a sparkling version  pour a little lemon verbena infusion (without the lemon or lime juice) into a glass and top up with prosecco – enjoy!

 

 

How many beans make five?

We’ve had some rain and it’s a beautiful evening so I have been outside planting out leeks, kale and sprouts in whatever gaps I can find in the vegetable garden.  On my way back to the house I checked out the polytunnel – tomatoes are doing well , the cucumber glut is progressing with alarming speed and the climbing french beans just needed to be picked.

As I was picking the beans my thoughts turned to Jerry, a dear friend who sadly is no longer with us. He used to amuse the boys when they were little with the question  – ‘how many beans make five?’
The answer which must be said at high speed is
‘two beans, a bean, a bean and a half and half a bean’
after years of repeating it I can say it quickly, without hesitation and without even thinking. How I wish I had asked Jerry the origin of the saying.

So as the french and runner beans in the vegetable garden struggle to get established due to wind, cold weather especially at nights and anything else you can think of to blame-  I am delighted with the results in the tunnel.  I had never tried growing broad beans and climbing french beans in the polytunnel before so I gave it a whirl this year.  We have been eating broad beans for about 6 weeks now and have moved seamlessly from the tunnel to the outdoor crop.  But even better the climbing beans are prolific and tonight’s harvest went straight into the freezer.

As a result of the early bean crop I have been experimenting with some new recipes.  All year I have been enjoying following the months in  Hugh Fearnley-Whiitingstall’s book The River Cottage Year and one of July’s recipes is french beans with tapenade and chicken.  I liked the basic idea of the recipe but not too sure about anchovies and thought what about using a mixture of fresh summer vegetables – french and broad beans and tiny baby courgettes. The experiment worked and served with freshly dug potatoes it is a really tasty meal.

See – summer vegetables with tapenade and chicken recipe

And if anyone knows the answer to the origin of ‘how many beans make five?’ do let me know!