Sunday, 22 June 2014

June in a bottle

One day my daughter will look back on weekends like this with nostalgia. Not a ghastly "geez, I can't believe we did that rubbish," type nostalgia that hits me when I remember watching the Donnie and Marie show. No, proper, Proustian nostalgia when she smells the blossom in her adulthood.
Or at least I hope so.

It was warmer than predicted, the rain showers threatened didn't materialise and the sun beat down as the afternoon progressed. Her eldest brother was dossing in bed after a week of exams, her middle brother was still at a friend's house following a sleepover so Mark and I took her out on her own to the place of her choosing - in this instance, Meanwood Valley Urban Farm. We bought her a sausage roll and crisps; she had a milkshake; she fed donkeys and goats, watched damselflies and ran through the woods to a den. All in all it was a lovely time with the fabulous Miss B.

I noticed the elderflowers all over a massive hedge near the farm's playground. Hurray! We had a lovely time, B and I, picking elderberries in September. Now she could take part in my first foraged harvest of the year, the delicate froth of elderflowers.

We drove out to the lane we'd visited in early autumn. It's easier to pick the flower heads than the berries so we didn't need scissors this time. Mark stayed in the car with the radio while Miss B and I browsed the hedgerows for the cream-coloured, open clusters. We avoided any with a hint of faded blooms as past it, and those with many tight buds as not yet ready.

Partly to let the flowers fulfil their botanic purpose and partly because I love watching the PUFF of tiny pollen specks, we batted each flowerhead before picking it.  Thank heavens neither of us have hay fever.

As we picked and chatted, we were overtaken by a group of walkers.  Clearly not gardeners, they asked us if we were picking blackberries. "No, it's too soon," Miss B confidently told them. "It's elderflowers now." They asked what we'd do with them and how to choose them. Very charmingly, they asked Miss B to help them choose some good flower heads to contribute.  She was delighted to advise.
A fair few flowers ended up in Miss B's hair

In the face of such enthusiasm, we ended up with far more flower heads that I had anticipated. Ah well, I guess we'd better make a LOT of cordial...

Elderflower Cordial

25-30 elderflower heads
1-2 lemons
1/2 to 1 lime
1.5 litres boiling water
900g sugar

Pick over the flower heads to remove any creepy-crawlies. Ideally do this by hand, not washing the flowers before use. However, we'd got 90-odd flower heads so I just filled the sink with cold water and gently swished the flowers about in that, removing any bugs I noticed.
Put the flowers is a large stock pot of maslin pan. Add the zest of the citrus fruit and keep the fruit on one side for juicing tomorrow.  Add 1.5l of boiling water and cover. Leave to infuse overnight.

A whole heap of elderflowers, zest and water
Strain the liquid through a scalded (i.e. covered in boiling water before use to sterilise it) jelly bag or piece of muslin. Add the sugar and the lemon and lime juices. Bring to the boil. Simmer for 5-10 minutes and pour into sterilised bottles.

NB - I was doing a triple batch and lacked sufficient sterilised bottles. I washed some tonic water bottles out in very hot water and filled them with cordial, leaving a 5 inch gap at the top for expansion. When they cooled I popped them in the freezer. They'll keep there until I need them.

Elderflower cordial with soda water and ice is a lovely soft drink. However, it also makes exceedingly lovely cocktails:

Elderflower Martini

1 measure gin
1/2 measure vermouth
1 measure elderflower cordial
Juice of 1/2 a lime

Pour everything into a cocktail shaker with plenty of ice. Shake until frosty and serve.
Chi chin!

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