The elderflowers are here and it is the best time of year. If I was more of a poet I’d have come up with a second line to go with that. I’ve been shoving elderflowers into various different things for years: cordial, gin, crumble and sugar to name a few. I wanted to try something a little different, and a bit less time consuming this time round, to get that wonderful elderflower fragrance down my neck as soon as I could. A celebration of late spring flavours my Elderflower, Cucumber and Mint Fizz is just the ticket for a sunny afternoon.
I live in a village and on first appearances it has all the qualities of somewhere straight out of Call The Midwife. Actually living there is quite different; people don’t know each others names, good luck trying to get them to take your bins in for you and there’s so much material competition it’s like a car forecourt out there. Of course there are exceptions; one of which is the white house on the corner. They have a Bramley apple tree and although (this year especially) they don’t get many apples from it they always put a box of windfalls outside their gate for people to take. I helped myself to one of their apples and set about making some Bramley apple and nut flapjacks.
I thought I knew my local area pretty well, thought I’d trodden all its paths and roads and could take you to all the best places. Turns out I was wrong as a spontaneous left turn took me to all sorts of corners of Hampshire that I didn’t even know were there. We were planning on doing a bit of local exploring but hadn’t set our expectations too high as we were so convinced we’d already seen it all; we were amazed at all the new places we went and what we saw. I thoroughly advise you should all undertake an adventure right on your doorstep.
I have just come back from a week in Wales. We went to a place where there is no phone signal and not even a hope of connecting to the internet so you have no choice but to properly relax and get away. Holidaying with the family is always good fun; lots of meals in, walks and catching up on silly things. This is what I got up to over the week and, if you’re heading off to mighty Wales, I hope it gives you some ideas for what to do.
We started up in Snowdonia National Park staying in possibly the strangest hotel I’ve ever been to. It was one of those hotels that time forgot; apparently the cleaner forgot some of it too but when has dust ever hurt anyone? The room was nice but it was like a gadget bomb had exploded in there and each individual piece of technology had adhered itself to a socket or wall. No idea what any of it was for. The shower deserves a special mention for being (literally) out of this world weird. There were lights on the outside, inside and all over the place; nozzles, knobs and buttons everywhere and doors that wouldn’t have looked out of place on a spaceship air locker. On the plus there was a radio in there but it would only tune to white noise. Never mind. Despite its many, many options for water temperature, angle and point of exit it was a surprising disappointment; not much more aggressive than a thick fog.
When I heard about Brew It Yourself I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy. I have made a few infusions in my time, almost always involving gin, so I was looking forward to seeing what Richard Hood and Nick Moyle (aka Two Thirsty Gardeners) had put in their book. It’s been a while since I’ve opened a book up and not known which bit to look at or which recipe to try first but everything in Brew It Yourself sounds so tempting and completely achievable.
It’s a good sized book, which may sound a little odd, by which I mean it’s not too bulky but includes plenty of information and recipes. It’s divided into the following sections:
I love this time of year in Britain; when the weather is getting warmer and warmer but it hasn’t quite got to the muggy stage and it’s still nice and cool at night. There are flowers in the hedges and the fruit has started growing on the trees; most of my time is spent outside and as far as I’m concerned, shoes are optional. I have done plenty of cooking with elderflower in the past and it seemed an ideal time to try out something slightly different and obscenely summery: Elderflower, Cucumber and Mint Gin.
If you fancy going out and trying your hand at foraging there isn’t much of a better time to start than now. Wild garlic is one of the best things to look for as it’s so distinctive; you smell it before you see it, the leaf is fairly specific and if you’re still not sure you can tear the leaves and do an additional sniff test before you start taking it home. I fancied my hand at baking some Wild Garlic Bread, sort of tear and share style, so off I sauntered to my favourite wild garlic spot to get picking.
The recipe we used was written down in Gert’s secret black book but it was very similar to this one on the BBC Good Food site. Apart from the added ingredients below.
You will need (for around 1.5 litres of finished cordial):
- 20 elderflower heads
- Sugar – all the recipes I’ve seen vary so much in sugar quantity so it’s how sweet you like it
- 1.5 litres boiling water
- 2 lemons, zest and juice
- 50g citric acid
- 1 stalk lemongrass
Tap the elderflower heads on the side of a bowl to get rid of any insects then put them into a bowl with the sugar, lemon zest and juice and citric acid.
Pour over the boiling water and whisk everything together well.
Add everything to a sterilised jar, whack the lemongrass with a knife and add this to the jar too.
You will need (for two):
- 300g waxy potatoes
- Small handful (roughly 20-30 leaves) wild garlic, blended or very finely chopped
- 100g plain flour
- Salt and pepper
- 25g Parmesan, grated
- 125g mozzarella
- 2-3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
If you’re not sure where to find some take a look at this to find places where wild garlic grows near you.
Peel and dice the potatoes to roughly the same size then boil them in salted water until tender.
Drain the potatoes then leave them to cool (take the lid off the pan to allow steam to escape).
Mash the potatoes well then add the flour, most of the wild garlic, plenty of salt and pepper and the Parmesan. Mix together until you have a dough.
Knead the dough lightly then roll into sausage shapes and cut into roughly inch sized pieces. I pressed the top of each gnocchi with a fork, for looks more than anything.
You will need:
- 180g digestive biscuits
- 75g butter
- 600g cream cheese
- 220g caster sugar
- 150g sour cream
- 3 eggs
- 3 tbsp. plain flour
- Large handful blackberries
Line the base of a 20cm spring form cake tin. Spring form is your friend for this.
Preheat an oven to 130C.
Crush the digestive biscuits in a bowl; I like to use the end of my rolling pin as it’s immensely satisfying. Melt the butter and mix this into the biscuits.
When the biscuits and butter are well combined press the mixture into the bottom of the cake tin and then chill in the fridge.
Whisk together the cream cheese and sugar then mix in the sour cream.
Add the eggs one at a time then add the flour.