Elderflower

How can you ignore the fragrant plate like flowers adoring every hedgerow?  I can’t, for me they simply smell of summer.  Making Elderflower Champagne or Cordial preserves that so that everytime you open a bottle it releases just a little bit of early summer sunshine.

For anyone wanting to know more about elderflower Transition Chesterfield is running ‘The Joy of Elderflower’ as part of their Summer 2010 skill shares go to http://www.transitionchesterfield.org.uk/content/summer-skill-share-workshops , but for now here is how to make a beautiful fruity elderflower cordial.

Take 12 heads of elderflowers, remove the stems and any bugs (but don’t wash), pick them when its sunny for fullest flavour.  Jucie and zest 2 oranges and 1 lemon and combine with 1lb 4oz sugar and 30g citric acid (go to a chemist that either knows you or will believe that you are not about to use it to assist with your heroin habit).  Add to all this just under 2 pints of boiling water and stir until the sugar has dissolved.  Add the flowers and leave overnight.  Poour through a fine sieve or muslin into very clean bottles.  The cordial will keep for a few months, or better still pop it into smaller plastic bottles, leaving expansion room and freeze.

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Watercress

Sunday last week was gorgeous weather and I was lucky enough to be walking in the Peak District.  Cressbrook Dale was one of the highlights of a day full of simple pleasures.  The huge mill buildings now converted into select apartments looks incongros in the deep limestone valley.  Across the road from the mill a narrow rusted wrought iron gate in high wall led to the millpond.  Tucked away I found a delightful spot to stop for lunch.  Along the edge of the pond were yellow flag iris, marsh marigolds and watermint and abundance of watercress.

Picking watercress in the wild always runs the risk of liver fluke, unless it is clear that the water (up stream) is clear from grazing animals (cattle and in particular sheep).  Cooking watercress, as in soup, kills everything –  making it safe but picking from livestock fields is not recommended.

Assuming that you have found a safe source, pick the tops of the shoots, careful not to pull it up by the roots.  Wild watercress is so much tastier than shop bought.  If you do get a piece with a root, you can grow it at home in water that you change every so often.

Ash Keys

I had a text from my mate Ian the other day to say that the had just closed the lid on his jar of Pickled Ash Keys.

I’d heard about them, but never seen keys that looked particularly luchious, but then I saw some on Friday evening hanging in great buches like grapes, so it must be a good year for them.

Ian swears by the very good, but under-publicised ‘Country Harvest’ book (the only issue I have with it, is that instead of presenting plants in order of seasons or anything else easy they are in alphabetic order by Latin name, so every single time you want to find anything it has to be via the index – just slightly annoying!) So, anyway, this will have been the recipe Ian used –

Pick the immature ash keys when they are hanging in little green bunches and if you bite one raw they are crisp and not stringy.  Clean the keys of their stalks and put them in a pan covered with cold water, bring to the boil and simmer for 5 mins.  Drain and repeat.  Drain thoroughly and pack into warm jars to within 1″ of top.  For each 1pt of cleaned ash keys mix together 1 tsp ground cloves, 1 tsp cinnamon, 1 tsp allspice, ½ tsp ginger, 3 blades mace, 2 bay leaves, 6 peppercorns, 1 tsp salt,  ¾ pt cider vinegar and 3tblsp brown sugar.  Place this mixture in a bowl, cover with a plate and put the bowl into a saucepan of water.  Bring the water in the pan to the boil for 5 mins.  Remove the bowl and allow to stand for 2-3 hrs until quite cold.  Strain and pour over the ash keys until the jars are completely filled.  Cover with ‘vinegar proof’ lids and store for 3-4 months.

Ian reckons he will bring his pickle along to Green Drinks in September and poke fun at anyone who won’t try them!!

(Oh, and watch out if you try this, as the process of picking the stalks off the ash keys will turn your fingers black like soot, I suggested to Ian that this maybe  why they are called ‘ash’ trees, but he wasn’t having any of it!)