The perfect pink of nettle cordial

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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!

Yoga by the gooseberry bush

It’s  uncanny that it’s exactly a year and two days since I picked last year’s crop of gooseberries.( In search of Elderflowers.) The glorious sunshine that we had over the weekend has fully ripened the fruit on the first bush.  So tonight was the night to venture into the fruit cage, armed with a trug, wondering what this year’s crop would weigh in at.

My helpful husband pruned the bushes last autumn and the grass is a bit wet after heavy rainfall so I had to bend to pick the fruit and not cheat by kneeling.  After a few minutes I wished I hadn’t eaten before setting forth on my gathering.  Then I suddenly thought of yoga and the squat position malasana or garland pose that we had been practising in last week’s class.  Problem solved  – not quite the perfect yogi’s version as my feet were hip width apart and my hands were busy picking rather than in the prayer position.  But what had seemed like a back breakin, dinner squashing job  turned into a relaxing deep breathing moment of calming yoga and with the added bonus of a full trug of gooseberries.

It is quite a relief that the first bush has only yielded a mere 8lb of gooseberries compared with last yeaGooseberries 2015r’s 11lb but what is even better is that there are none of last year’s gooseberries lurking in the freezer.  So tonight as I sit topping and tailing them, sadly not outside on a glorious sunny evening like last year but inside with a fleece on ,  I will think about what to make.  First off will be my  favourite  gooseberry fool but I wonder what different recipes can I find to try this year?

And of course due to repairs to the fruit cage it is unlikely that the second bush will suffer from the squirrel attack of last year so there will be pounds more of fruit to pick and another yoga moment.

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Is life too short to make marmalade?

Shirley Conran thought life was too short to stuff a mushroom but when the Seville oranges appear in the shops I have a bit of crisis – to buy or not to buy? There is no doubt that making marmalade is a time consuming and messy job and at the time of maximum mess the thought ‘why not buy it? the shops have so much they sell it’ is very much at the front of my mind.

This year, as in most years, I bought even though I knew that life was far too busy to make marmalade in the near future.  But one of the good things about Seville oranges is that they can be frozen until there is sufficient time to make marmalade so in previous years I have popped the whole lot in the freezer for a month or so. I didn’t freeze them this year but put them in our new cold food store and the weather has been so icy recently they probably have been frozen. When I got them out to make the marmalade they seemed  perfect.

Part of the fun of cooking is reading round the subject and I spent some time enjoying a coffee and reading different recipes to decide whether to hand cut all the rind as I did last year or whether to try the liquidiser attachment on my ancient Kenwood chef.  Next decision soak over night and then boil the pulp, rind and water or try the slow cooker.  I decided to live life on the edge and if I was trying a new method of fruit preparation I should try a new method of cooking so Kenwood and slow cooker out and off I set.

20140216_114510Roughly chopping the oranges (once juiced and then pips and pith were removed) and popping it in the Kenwood was easy.  Next I loaded the prepared rind,juice, pips and pith tied up firmly in butter muslin, and water into the slow cooker put it on and went outside to finish cutting the willow.

Four hours later when I came back into the house there was a beautiful, tangy citrus aroma filling the kitchen.  Next the easy bit remove the jelly bag and squeezing out all the lovely pectin laden juice.  Important next step (which I often forget)  is to weigh the empty preserving pan before adding the fruit so when you add the boiled fruit and weigh you can calculate how much sugar is needed.  Rule of thumb is add 1lb of sugar for every 1lb of fruit.

20140217_183239The marmalade has been boiled and bottled in clean warm jars so it’s just a matter of patience waiting for it to cool ready for breakfast tomorrow, Having had a few tastes during the ‘test for setting’ process I know that life is not too short to make marmalade and it is certainly not too short to eat it,