Thursday, June 16, 2011

Taste of Summer

Few things signal the beginning of the summer than the short-lived but much-loved elderflower season. Over the course of just a few weeks, the elder tree bursts into blossom with huge frothy heads of creamy white blossoms. That’s why every single opportunity over the last few weeks (amidst the hell of revision), I’ve been scampering off into the neighbouring fields and plucking a head here, a head there and turning it into some rather delicious things.

Of course, now the exams are over the weather is being rather temperamental, so what better thing to do than hole up with some choice ingredients and make some jars/ bottles of good stuff? Well, apart from indulge my newly found love of Mad Men (why did no one tell me how utterly brilliant this programme is, I’ve devoted the whole day to its enjoyment and I don’t feel it’s a day much wasted).

The first – a classic but a winner. The deceptively simple and eminently quaffable elderflower champagne. I love a bit of booze, especially when you can make it for almost free. Seasoned foodies will almost definitely have had a shot at making their own – those that haven’t will probably have to wait until next year now (although there was some excellent elderflowers lingering on in Scotland last weekend) but I thought I’d include the recipe anyway....

The golden caster sugar gives the final product a beautiful amber colour and I love the muskier taste it infuses the liquid with but normal sugar will do just fine and dandy.

The second was my favourite, elderflower and gooseberry jam, bringing together the magical pairing of flavours in one delicious conserve. The elderflower heads are torn into smaller pieces and then left in the jam for a beautiful effect once it’s set.

Unfortunately in my excitement I didn’t get to take pictures of the finished product but considering it’s got a thumbs up from Jon who rather detests gooseberries, I don’t think it’s half bad. The pungent taste of the elderflower is offset by the slight tartness of the gooseberry and the tonne of sugar you put in. Now all I need is to bake a load of bread to enjoy it with.

And tonight? We’ll be trying our hands at John Wright’s Elderflower and Gooseberry Wine – today’s part sounds interesting. Mashing the gooseberries with a rolling pin and trying to stop them from ending up on the kitchen ceiling... I’ll let you know how that one goes.

Elderflower champagne
10 large heads of elder flowers - make sure that they are fully open, preferably facing the Sun
1kg of golden caster sugar
4 tablespoons of wine vinegar
2 lemons
10 litres of cold water

Wash the lemons and use the potato-peeler to peel the lemon rind off as thinly as possible. Remove any insects, leaves or other unwanted objects from the elder flowers.
Squeeze the lemons and put the juice into the ten-litre vessel along with the lemon rind and flowers.
Add the sugar and the vinegar. Be careful not to crush the flower heads too much with the sugar.
Pour on the water. Put a lid or cover over the top of the vessel and leave to stand for 24 hours. Stir gently every six hours.
Sterilise the bottles either using sterilising chemical tablets or boiling water. If you use chemical tablets, rinse the bottles afterwards so that the chemicals don't kill the yeast in the champagne mixture.
Take the lid off the vessel and remove any large flower heads or bits of rind.
Use the small jug to bail some of the mixture through the sieve and into the large jug. When the large jug becomes full, place the funnel in the top of a bottle. Pour the mixture through the strainer into the funnel.
Once all the bottles are full, put the caps (or corks) on firmly and place somewhere not too warm or too cold. A garage shelf is ideal
Leave the bottles for at least two weeks... after that, it’s a game of whether you can keep your grubby mitts of the bottles or not...

Gooseberry and elderflower jam (from Joanna Farrow’s Seasonal Preserves)
1kg gooseberries topped and tailed
Finely grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
900g preserving / granulated sugar
6-8 elderflower heads chopped into smallish pieces
Tip the gooseberries into a preserving pan with lemon zest and juice plus 150ml water. Cook gently for about 15 minutes until the gooseberries are tender and pulpy.
Stir in the sugar and stir gently until the sugar dissolves
Stir in the elderflower heads and bring to the boil – boil for about 10 minutes until setting point is reached. Ladle into sterilized jars and cover.


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