Last year was such a wash out I didn’t even try to pick any elderflowers for cordial or champagne — there was no point, the flowers were always wet and the sun was rarely out. But this year the crop has been fantastic despite the odd shower.
I followed the recipe in Diana Henry’s Salt Sugar Smoke, which produced enough cordial to fill three small-ish bottles and several ice-cube trays for the freezer. The frozen cubes will be used as floral ‘stock cubes’ to add to cooked fruit such as gooseberries and apples.
Ingredients: 25 heads of very fresh elderflowers;1.5kg granulated sugar; 3 large unwaxed lemons; 75g citric acid; 1.5 litres of water.
Method: Put sugar and water into a large pan and bring to the boil, stirring all the time to ensure that the sugar dissolves. Meanwhile peel off the zest of the lemon in broad strips (I used a potato peeler), and put into a large bowl with the elderflower heads. Next slice the lemons into thin discs and add them to the bowl. By now the sugar syrup should have come to the boil — pour it over the lemons, flowers and zest and then stir in the citric acid. Cover with a cloth or cling film and leave the mixture in a cool dark place for 24 hours. (Some recipes suggest 48 hours, which is what I did).
Once the 24 or 48 hours are up, test the cordial — you may want to add a little more lemon. Next, strain the liquid through a muslin-lined sieve into a wide-necked jug. And finally pour the cordial into clean, sterilised bottles. According to Diana Henry, the cordial lasts up to five weeks in the fridge
In the past I’ve bought my citric acid from Brewer’s Droop, the home brew shop on the Gloucester Rd, this year I tried the chemist at the bottom of the road where I was interrogated for a good five minutes or so about how I intended to use the citric acid. Satisfied that I would be using it to make cordial and not cutting it with cocaine, he still refused to sell me more than a tiny 50g box. I explained that I needed 75g, and in the end, after much pleading, he agreed I could have a second packet in a separate transaction.
One morning last week, as the end of term chaos reached its peak, I tilted my head back all the better to yell something along the lines of “please do hurry up my darlings, we are really rather late”, and my neck went ping!
And that was that.
I’ve been in bed or at the osteopath ever since.
But this morning, all the pulling, pushing, twisting and prodding, not to mention pill-popping, of the past five days has finally worked, and I woke feeling bruised and stiff, but able, at last, to move my head without pain.
Hurrah! The girls and I celebrated with homemade lemonade*.
Interestingly, although I was completely incapacitated, the world continued to turn, and the house appeared to run itself rather efficiently without me. Not sure how I feel about that.
*Home made lemonade – recipes for this abound. We took the peel from four lemons and steeped it in around 1ltr of boiling water along with 100g of caster sugar, for three hours. I then squeezed the juice of the lemons into the pan before straining it all into a jug. The colour you see is entirely natural, the flavour is delicious: not too sweet or sour, but properly lemony. The recipe comes from the River Cottage Family Cook Book.
I love all the little rituals that combine to make Christmas what it is. We are not a religious family, so I think the rituals are particularly important as they give the celebration a meaning and a focus beyond frenzied present buying. For me, as for most people, the 25th is about spending time with my family, and showing them how much I love them – which is a good thing, as I have to admit that it’s not always evident.
Without the ritual of the cake, the tree, the decorations, the cards and the carols, a secular Christmas could be a little dull really. That’s not to say that the presents aren’t pretty key to the whole shebang. They certainly are – I love present-buying, and I know the parcels above will be gleefully received. But it’s more that the ritual helps to balance things. And just in case that all sounds far too measured and calm and reasonable, I also find that Christmas is the single most unbloodybelievably stressful time of the year too: there is a clock ticking, there is an immovable deadline, and there are high expectations (oh, and a very naughty puppy). But nothing that a ridiculous drink, such Warnick’s Advocaat (alcoholic custard in a bottle!?) – something that I simply wouldn’t contemplate drinking at any other time of year, won’t fix.
For more Christmas love check out Tara’s gallery, where this week’s theme, the last of the year, was LOVE in all its forms. I’m a day late, so you may have to scroll down to find the links to everyone else.
Last week we began drinking the elderflower champagne. It tastes delicious, very fizzy and slightly herbal – more beer than champagne, but very refreshing and possibly quite alcoholic. I wasn’t very scientific when it came to the amount of yeast I added to the brew three days after starting it – about a teaspoon I’d guess. The recipe is from the Channel 4 website and is Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s. It’s not too sweet which is part of its appeal. A word of warning about bottles – although these brown beer bottles hide the pretty, lemon barley water colour of the brew, they are stronger than the normal clear glass lemonade bottles. I was warned about the dangers of exploding bottles and I can confirm that the risks are real: a friend has had three or four blow up on her!