Elderflower and lemon cordial with a photo bomb by Bernard….

and the assistant helps out

The past week seems to have been a bit of a wash out, so much rain and grey clouds overhead it’s barely felt like Summer at all…..everything in the garden and hedgerows seems a bit behind itself so I’ve only made one batch of cordial so far ….I was hoping the weather would brighten up so I could  head out mid week to gather more elderflower blossoms but everywhere was so wet and boggy underfoot that I ended up nesting on the sofa with a few episodes of All Creatures Great and Small to keep me company while I sat and did some knitting……

I used pretty much the same recipe as last year for the cordial but by adding extra heads to the water and sugar I made a the cordial a bit stronger…I could have added more water but I quite like a stronger flavoured drink.

(This is a picture from last year when Bernard decided he was going to assist me….a cloudy puff of blossoms got scooped up out of the bowl with a fat furry paw before he chased it half way up the garden, scattering tiny flowers like confetti outside a church)….

I tend to pick the blossoms in a “a few from here, a few from there” manner…that way there are still plenty of flowers left to ripen up and become elderberries in the Autumn…if the blossoms are at all caramel coloured or smell a bit sharp, if they make you wrinkle your nose up and remind you of cat wee…don’t pick them…the cordial will come out tasting very unpleasant and will be quite undrinkable….instead leave them be and they’ll reward you with fat clusters of deep purple and black berries and will be waiting for you in September to turn into jellies and syrups.

I try to head out in the morning when I’m gathering the blossoms, generally between 10 and 11, that’s late enough for any dew to have dried off in the morning Sunshine, early enough for the blossoms to still be powdery and sweetly fragrant…….(a hooked walking stick is also handy to take so you can hook and gently lower down those higher branches)

making cordial

I try to cut off as much green stem as possible from the elderflower heads, they don’t add anything to the taste and I prefer the cordial mixture to be as full of polleny blossoms as possible…..in the past I’ve made the cordial with a small handful of fresh lemon verbena leaves added to the elderflowers..they add a soft, sherberty note which is very nice, and I also add them to homemade lemonade for the same reason……

I always strain the mixture at least twice before pouring it into sterilised bottles, generally through some cheesecloth or muslin, but an old, clean pillowcase that’s been soaked in water and well wrung out works just as well, but the cordial will take a bit longer to slowly drip through.  If you squeeze the muslin or pillowcase bag then your coridal will be on the cloudy side, I like to make mine clear so allow it plenty of time to slowly drip through the fabric.  (Cloudy doesn’t make a difference in taste, but I don’t think it looks so pretty).

As well as being delicious to drink with water or soda, the cordial is lovely drizzled over just cooked gooseberries to make into purees/fruit fools or possets (we had a gooseberry/elderflower posset last night for tea which was a perfect pudding for a chilly Summer evening)…..it also freezes well so you could pour it into ice-cube trays if you have plenty of freezer space.

When it’s warm and the evenings are light,  I can drink this til it’s coming out of my ears, however once the weather turns and the nights slowly begin to draw in then my cravings stop…along with asparagus, broad beans and strawberries it’s a real Summer taste and one I don’t find myself wanting until next year again rolls around.

ETA…It’s really important to store the cordial in a cold place as if it gets warm it will ferment, which means that the glass bottles can explode, and you’ll be cleaning up sticky syrup til the cows come home…so if you don’t have room to keep this in the fridge, perhaps pour the cordial into ice cube trays or small plastic bottles and store it in the freezer.

Inspired by Edith Holden

 

When I was growing up we had a lovely book at home called “The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady ” (it was incredibly popular in the seventies and eighties here in the UK, and I don’t think there was a home in the country that didn’t have  a copy)… it was full of beautifully painted nature sketches, notes and observations by Edith Holden.

I recently bought the companion book to “The Country Diary” called  “The Nature Notes of an Edwardian Lady”, and as I was looking through it I became aware of how many of the plants around where I live now are different to where I grew up….I grew up in a village surrounded by common land, covered with Gorse and Broom, and a variety of trees….. there was one river running through the village but it wasn’t in an area where I played, that was on the heathland amongst Heather and Gorse bushes.  Generally it was the same as it had been in my dad’s day, he was born there and grew up there with his brothers, I’ve never thought about this before but I probably made secret dens in the same places him and his friends had done, maybe even climbed some of the same old trees.

Now I live near a small wood which used to be a chalk quarry, and a wide expanse of marshland….so, inspired by Edith Holden, I’m trying to learn the names and be able to identify the different plants and trees growing near my home.

 

book

 

In my bag I now keep this little gem, it’s one of the nicest pocket sized books to take out on a walk.  The illustrations inside are drawn and are a mix of  pen and ink, and watercolour…it’s not perfect but it feels nice and isn’t too overwhelming with a thousand and one different species… it just lists the most common plants..  to the side is a little sprig of blue Tufted Vetch.

I’ve folded a couple of sheets of blotting paper to keep in the back so if I see something I’m not really sure of and there is plenty of it growing I can press it to identify when I get home.

I’ve also got Cassell’s Wild Flowers of Britain and Northern Europe as another reference book, but that’s a weighty old tome and stays at home….

 

wild flowers in jam jar

 

These are my pickings from Monday’s walk….. all of these grow abundantly on the Marshes…

The white tufty plant is Meadowsweet (butterflies love it)….the thistle is Brown Knapweed….the parsley at the front with white blossom is Hedge Parsley…..the short fluffy purple is Water Mint (which apparently is good in cocktails*)….and the taller purple  plant which looks a bit red nettle-esque is Marsh Wound Wart.

 

wild flowers in jar

 

And in the second jam jar we have Purple Loosestrife (the tall purple plant)…..more Water Mint (the short fluffy lilacy plant)…..the medium pinky purple plant is Rosebay Willowherb (the marshes are so full of this…it looks gorgeous)…. and there’s also an Ash leaf and Elder leaf in there as well.

 

* in the Summer our favourite evening beverage is a glass of Orchard Mist….

(we prefer it with strawberries rather than raspberries, and we don’t use apple juice, just the Pomona Cider Brandy and lemonade….. delicious)