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!!
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 year’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.
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 for 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…
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.