Gorgeous Elderflower Fizz

Every year in late May and early June, the hedgerows on the farm are littered with large saucer shaped elder flowers with their distinctive heady scent. Last year I nearly missed the flowers as the hot weather turned them brown very quickly, so this year I’ve been out picking as soon as the tight buds burst into cream coloured flowers.

I used to make several bottles of elderflower cordial and elderflower fizz each summer, which were always drunk fairly quickly (apart from the odd bottle that got forgotten until it blew the lid off in the middle of the night showering everywhere with stickiness). But nowadays we rarely drink sweet cordials, which called for a rethink. The answer is to make infused water (continued throughout the summer using flowers, fruit and herbs) and a batch of elderflower fizz for special summer days.

Elderflowers are abundant across the UK in field hedges, roadside hedges, the fringes of woodland and wasteground. Pick your elderflowers on a sunny morning before they’ve endured the heat of the day and while they’re still heavy with pollen. Pick only the creamy coloured flowers and leave the flower heads that are turning brown to develop into elderberries. Shake out any insects that are lurking but don’t wash them.

Infused water is ridiculously easy to make and the Rose and Elderflower version looks pretty and tastes good. There’s no sugar, so it’s not sweet and cloying like some elderflower cordials and the taste is floral, but subtle. Sometimes the rose dominates, sometimes elderflower.

Strip the elder flowers from the main stem of three large heads – I don’t bother to remove the flowers completely, but you may wish to – and snip seven or eight large, petals from a scented, unsprayed rose into strips. Put the flowers into a jug, or a jar if that’s your thing, top up with 750ml water, cover and stand in the fridge. After a couple of hours, you’ll have delicately flavoured water. Use more flowers if you favour a stronger infusion or wait a bit longer until you start to drink it. I keep the flowers in the water for no more than a day, so if I haven’t finished the jugful, I strain out the flowers and keep the flavoured water in the jug.

Making infused water means foraging each day for your elderflowers, which can be a bit of a pain. Making a batch of Elderflower Fizz gets your foraging done in one day and then you have a few weeks to enjoy the fruits of your labour.


 

elderflowers


There are numerous commercial versions of Elderflower Presse or Sparkling Elderflower available but elderflowers are so widespread and this recipe is so easy, that it seems a shame not to make your own. Making your own also gives you the chance to vary the flavour a little; try adding some scented rose petals or lemon balm leaves. It’s a particularly English summer drink: floral, delicate and immensely quaffable.

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Elderflower Fizz

Floral, delicate and immensely quaffable drink for summer

Ingredients

  • 20 creamy elderflower heads
  • 700g granulated sugar
  • 2 tbsp white wine or cider vinegar
  • 2 lemons

Directions

  • Put the peel (use a potato peeler) and juice from the lemons in a large bowl with the sugar and vinegar.
  • Strip the elderflowers from the main stems. Discard the stems and add the flowers to the bowl.
  • Add 1 gallon of cold water and stir to dissolve the sugar. Cover the bowl with a tea towel or mesh cover (not cling film as it needs to breathe) and stand for 48 hours in a cool place.
  • Strain into bottles. Use either flip top bottles that can withstand the pressure of a fizzy drink or reuse plastic fizzy drink ones.
  • Keep for a week or two as it builds up some fizz. If too much pressure builds, untwist the lid a little to release the pressure and reseal.
Best drunk within 3 months

If you’ve picked your elderflowers, made your Elderflower Fizz and Infused Water and still have some left over, you might be interested in:

Rose & Elderflower Cordial

Elderflower Syrup & Cordial

Elderflower Creams

Rose & Elderflower Marshmallows

Jelly Printing with elderflowers


Spring Enthusiasm

Before the April showers begin (as they surely will), I’ve been making the most of the sunny spring weather with long walks and gardening. I’ve also been enthused by the E-Book “How to Find Creative Inspiration” and the project #Make30photos to spend time idling about outside in the spring sunshine. The E-book has lots of ideas for getting out into the real world to find ideas and inspiration (instead of scrolling through Instagram and Pinterest) while the themes listed in Make 30 Photos encourage us to “Make your photos, don’t just take them”.

As ever, I’ve muddled the two together in my latest enthusiasm to  build a creative habit. Obviously, I may have a completely different enthusiasm next month, but for now I hope that the discipline of doing something creative for thirty days (not necessarily in a row) will form a lasting habit.

Photographing a clump of stinging nettles for Fill the Frame with Colour led to a little creative baking of  …

Nettle, cheese and chive scones

… a batch of Stinging Nettle & Cheese scones. Delicious cut in half and buttered while warm. Pretty tasty cold too. Especially with a slice of ham.

 

The advice to “Let your mind wander”in the E-Book section Take Time and Make Time  has been rather too easy while “… mindfully notice things” coupled with photographing “A Snail’s Eye View” led to a pleasant time crawling around with my camera in the grass paddock, hoping that I couldn’t be seen from the Yoga Studio.

It wasn’t until I looked at the photo on my computer screen that I noticed the ladybird under the deadnettle leaf, so I need to open my eyes and look a little more closely in future.

Even I couldn’t fail to see this chap lurking in the field as I nearly trod on him. Possibly not the ideal view for a snail lest it gets gobbled up.

It’s fun working these two little projects in tandem and I’d recommend them both to anyone with the tiniest creative urge.

 

 

* Read this article to find out the best time to make stinging nettle scones. Hint: Now


Spring Rituals

Spring has arrived. If you need dates to fix the seasons, then spring either started on Wednesday (the spring equinox) or on 1st March if you use the meteorological definition. Looking around here, it feels as though spring is slowly rolling in. It’s been slightly warmer and a lot less windy than earlier in the month. The days are getting longer and brighter and the birds sing and chatter loudly. The blackthorn hedges are veiled in white blossom that blows in the wind and falls to the ground like confetti amongst the new, bright green new growth of cow parsley, grass and cleavers.


Hidden in amongst the greenery, violets of every hue from white to deep violet (surprise, surprise) flower in shady places. To me, the appearance  of primroses and violets marks the true start of spring. One of the best places to find violets on the farm is just on the edge of the yard, in the shade of the tree where the dog cocks his leg every day as we set off on our walk. Hmm. Maybe those ones are just best left untouched for everyone to admire.

As ever, there are certain spring rituals that I’m drawn to each year.


A posy of violets picked for the bedside table. Every now and then, I catch their scent as it drifts across the room. My favourite flower fragrance: fleeting, floral and nostalgic. My perfume of choice.

 

 

Some years I make Violet Syrup or Violet Jam but this year my fad is for Violet Tisane (well, this week at least). A couple of tablespoons of violet flower heads steeped in near boiling water for a few minutes produce a vibrant deep turquoise drink. It’s worth drinking for the colour alone, but it also tastes deliciously of violets, without the normal  sweetness of jams and syrup.

 


I take no interest in the garden during the winter but in spring I have a sudden burst of enthusiasm. A few seed packets have been gathered ready for spring sowing, but first there’s the small matter of constructing the raised beds. We moved house last spring and have had no vegetable garden of our own since then but very slowly, the garden is beginning to take shape and the first of the beds are almost ready for sowing with carrots and beetroot.

 


The banks of the ditches that form the field boundaries are slowly filling with pale yellow primroses, which has me reaching for the Jelly Plate. The jelly plates have been badly treated, stacked away under printing stuff since the autumn, but have emerged relatively unscathed. It’s good to print with small spring leaves and flowers on a small jelly plate and get back into the swing. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, you might want to read this beginner’s guide to jelly printing.


The tracks around the fields have been a bit wet and claggy after the glorious walking further afield in Tasmania and it’s been a bit gloomy tramping around in the mud. With luck, now spring is here, the sun will shine and there’ll be plenty of walking.

 

Do you have spring rituals? Or maybe you’re slipping into autumn. Do tell.


Essex Huffer Bread Rolls

baking huffers

The Essex huffer is a triangular shaped bread roll peculiar to Essex (some might say, not the only pecularity of Essex). Huffers are substantial and won’t fall apart, making them perfect for food on the move; tractor drivers can eat them one-handed during long harvest hours and huffers emerge relatively unscathed from the depths of a well filled walker’s rucksack. Eat them warm, filled with bacon and mushrooms or eat them cold filled with cheese and sweet tomato chutney.

Twenty or so years ago, when I decided to bake my own huffers, I couldn’t find a recipe anywhere and the huffers on sale in various Essex pubs and bakeries varied quite a bit. Some were dry and boring wedges of bread while others were light and fluffy. Some were baked as individual rolls, others batch baked and broken apart. The only constant was their triangular shape.

I delved a little deeper. The claim that the word huffer originates from a corruption of ‘half a loaf’ seems plausible (especially in an Essex country accent) as does the story of huffers being made originally for workers labouring all day in the fields.

If this is how huffers originated, it’s important to know a little history of Essex farming. In the late nineteenth century Essex was badly affected by the agricultural depression, which led to a great influx of farmers from other parts of England and most notably, Scotland. It seems logical that these migrant farmers and their families brought not only their different farming skills to Essex but also their food heritage with barm cakes and morning rolls, Devon splits and cobs. Maybe huffers are a variation on a traditional bread from another part of the country. Maybe somebody decided it was a lot quicker to make a large round of bread and cut it into sections instead of fiddling around making individual rolls. Or maybe it was the invention of an enterprising baker with a good eye for marketing. Who knows?

Whatever their origins, Essex huffers are delicious and my version is below. I make no claim for authenticity, other than my cultural heritage though for truly Essex huffers, you should use Marriage’s flour made with wheat from Essex farmers and Maldon sea salt.

Bread dough rolled out and cut into quarters for Essex huffers

The dough is enriched a little with milk and butter, similar to Scottish morning rolls. After proving, the huffers are shaped by rolling out the dough and cutting it into quarters.

Essex Huffer dough ready to go into oven

The huffers can then be fitted together on a baking tray or baked in the round using two round baking tins.

When baked and cooled, cut your huffer in half horizontally and fill. My favourite huffer filling is streaky bacon. Sometimes with lettuce and tomato. A fried egg makes a delicious, if rather messy, filling.

BAKING ESSEX HUFFERS


Essex Huffer Bread Rolls

Large, triangular bread rolls from Essex

Ingredients


280 ml just boiled water
60 g butter cubed
1 ½ teasp salt
200 ml milk
750 g strong white flour
1 ½ teasp fast action dried yeast

Directions

  1. Stir the butter and salt in the just boiled water until the butter has melted and the salt dissolved. Add the milk and set aside.
  2. Put the strong flour and yeast into a large bowl.
  3. Check that the liquid has cooled to hand temperature, pour it into the flour and mix together until all the liquid is incorporated.
  4. Leave to stand for ten minutes (it will make kneading easier) and then knead until you have a smooth, stretchy dough.
  5. Put the dough back into the bowl, cover and leave to rise for an hour or two.
  6. When the dough has doubled in size, tip it onto a lightly floured work surface, fold it a few times and then divide in half and form two tight balls.
  7. Leave the dough to relax for a few minutes and then use a rolling pin to roll into two rounds, each about 23 centimetres in diameter.
  8. Cut the rounds into quarters (or more if you prefer smaller huffers) and put them in the round into two greased, round 24cm baking tins or separate them and fit them onto a greased baking tray (30 x 38cm or larger), leaving a small gap between each. Cover and leave to rise for about 45 minutes.
  9. Bake for about 20 minutes at 230C or 25-30 minutes at 210C for a more chewy crust.

Once cooled, break the huffers apart and split each one horizontally to fill.


Raspberry Vinegar | Sore Throat Soother

Last week, NICE (National Institute for Health and Care) and EPH (Excellence and Public Health England) advised us to use honey to reduce the symptoms of a cough instead of rushing to the doctor to ask for antibiotics. How gratifying to discover that some old wives tales are true and that we really have been doing ourselves good when we drank a mug of hot water into which we’d stirred a spoonful of honey and a good squeeze of lemon juice.

Here’s another piece of SOWTAT (Some Old Wives Tales Are True) advice: Raspberry Vinegar eases a sore throat. Just add a dash of hot water to a spoonful or two of Raspberry Vinegar and sip it slowly. There may be some scientific evidence to support this or it may be that the pain of your throat is less rasping than the the eye watering sensation of drinking almost neat vinegar. Whichever, it works for me and plenty of others.

Beth has picked all the raspberries she needs for her raspberry gin, so there’s a bit of a family free-for-all to pick the remaining fruit, which is so abundant that the canes growing outside the constraining wires are gracefully swooping and bowing to the ground under the burden of their fruit. Thankfully, most of the canes have grown or been gently coaxed into the correct growing space and picking is very easy, so long as we avoid the wasps and the patch where a large stinging nettle has sprung up.  As it can only be a matter of time before  SOWTAT advice regarding Raspberry Vinegar is issued by the powers that be, I’m getting ready for winter coughs and colds by making a bottle or two.

Should you wish to prepare yourself for the winter months, here’s the recipe to make your own Raspberry Vinegar.

Don’t confine your vinegar to medicating a sore throat. Use it in salad dressings and marinades; deglaze a roasting pan with a spoonful of vinegar or add it to stews that need a bit of bite. Some people drizzle it over ice cream or Yorkshire pudding. I also read on a label that it can be diluted with sparkling water to make a “deliciously refreshing” drink.

If you have raspberries to spare, make this Raspberry Loaf Cake. You could it eat it as an accompaniment to a glass of diluted Raspberry Vinegar.

make your own Raspberry vinegar