respect your elders


When an elder bush sprang up in the corner of the garden, I kept very quiet about it so that Bill didn’t wrench it from the ground as he thinks elder is a weed, even though I’ve told him it only thrives near a happy home (according to folklore). The bush isn’t very big yet and if I’m to make Elderflower Fizz, cordial, vinegar and syrup then I need to go further afield, so for the last week, when walking Morris the fox terrier each morning, I’ve stopped in the gateway of Gardners Field to scan the hedges for elder flowers. Even from the far side of the field, the large saucer shaped flowers show up against the green hedge and this morning they warranted a closer inspection. These flowers need picking when they’re still creamy as once they whiten and then turn brown their heady, flowery scent turns rather nasty. This morning the first of the flowers were perfect for picking, with more to flower in the coming days. Maybe one of the benefits of our cold spring will be a plentiful supply of elder flowers.

elderflower picking

Beth had also decided that the first elder flowers were ready so, instead of going out to pick for myself, I helped her pick for the first batch of 2013 Slamseys Elderflower Gin. It was such a beautiful day that it was no penance to be Deputy Picker (unlike some of the bitterly cold days when we’ve been sloe picking), except when I reached across for an elusive flower and was stung by stinging nettles.

Once picking was done, Beth busied herself with calculations, measuring and weighing while I sneaked away with a bowlful of flowers that I hoped she wouldn’t miss and escaped to the kitchen to make Elderflower Syrup.

To make elderflower syrup:

Take about 30+ large flower heads, snipped away from the stems and put them into a large bowl. These flowers need to be used as quickly as possible, certainly within a couple of hours, as they go brown very quickly.

Into a large saucepan pour 1 litre of water and 1 kg of sugar with the peel of two small lemons and bring it slowly to the boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. When it boils, pour the syrup over the elder flowers, give it a good stir to submerge the flowers, cover and leave overnight in a cool place. Next day, add the juice of the lemons and strain into bottles.

If you’re going to use it fairly quickly, it will keep in the fridge or you can heat treat the bottles to keep longer. I put mine in the freezer in different sized containers.

Elderflower syrup can be drizzled over strawberries or raspberries instead of cream, added to fruit salad or mixed 3 parts elderflower syrup to 1 part lemon juice and diluted with water or soda water to make a refreshing long drink. This year I’m going to use the syrup in an elderflower syllabub and I thought I might try elderflower sorbet.  I also like to make jelly.


patchwork birthday cake


As a child I always knew my age down to the month. Birthdays were a longed for day, even if we didn’t have big celebrations, because there was often something we could do when we reached the magic age. I was told I could grow my hair long when I reached ten (though of course I’d gone off the idea by then) and for some reason I imagined that when I reached seventeen I’d suddenly turn into a glamorous person frequenting sophisticated parties (which didn’t happen). But after the milestones of being old enough to drive, to vote and drink, followed by a birthday bash for reaching 21, the significance of birthdays seemed to fade. For ten years, I thought I was still 22 so it was always a bit of a shock when I worked out my real age. I still have to work it out now, though if I reach 100 I’m sure I’ll be only too happy to tell everyone what a great age I am.


rhubarb jelly
rhubarb jelly

The result of this lack of enthusiasm means that nowadays we don’t celebrate birthdays in our house beyond having birthday cake and jelly, unless of course it’s an important 0 birthday. The cake is always home-made and each of us has our favourite; I’ve made coca cola cake, a multitude of chocolate cakes, cakes decorated with sweets, a cake in the shape of a pig’s head and my favourite coffee cake.


rhubarb jelly typed

It was Bill’s birthday this week so we celebrated with Rhubarb Crumble Cake and Rhubarb Jelly (we know how to live!), which was a good combination because the rhubarb was used for the cake and the juice for the jelly. Luckily Bill likes rhubarb.

violet syrup

violets sugar

We’ve had a long wait for spring this year and now as the sun shines, the desire for rich warming casseroles and hearty pies diminishes and we lighten the food a little. The stinging nettles have provided us with a nettle pesto to stir into pasta made with duck eggs, a few Jack by the Hedge leaves are mixed into salads to eat with a spoonful of unctuous mayonnaise made with the freshest eggs with their bright yellow yolks (yeah, yeah  I know about raw eggs but we’re not very old or very young so we’ll take the risk).

violet syrup
And we have violets. I adore the flowers and all things related like parma violet sweets or violet scented perfume; give me a box of violet and rose cream chocolates and I’ll keep creeping back to the box, lifting the lid when nobody’s looking to sneak another and another.

Last year I made Violet Liqueur, which was delicious in a cocktail but this year I decided to make Violet Syrup, which looks like meths but smells much better.  Every year I try to bottle all the delicate scents and flavours of spring, so that I can eat or drink them through the winter, but that’s not actually what I want in the winter when instead, I crave spices like cinnamon and cloves on cold, dark days. Consequently,

I’ve vowed only to make small quantities that I can use within a few weeks

and have already finished the first batch of violet syrup.

Some of the Violet Syrup has been mixed with soda water and a squirt of lemon juice to make a cordial to drink outside while the sun’s shining (think parma violets mixed with sherbet and water).

violet jelly

A little violet syrup was also used to make these beautiful Violet Jellies. You can find instructions for the jelly [HERE] and for the Violet Syllabub [HERE].

When Bill’s family have their big get together on Boxing Day, it’s always been the tradition that the “girls” take along a pudding. As the years have gone by, everyone else has developed a speciality, so that we knew there’d be a fruit salad, apple pie, sticky toffee pudding, pavlova and something random from me because I didn’t have a speciality. As I quite often make a jelly (because they’re easy to make and quite frankly you can make a jelly of pretty much any flavour) I announced to my family that I was going to be the One Who Makes Jelly for family gatherings. Oh, how they laughed. They instantly dubbed me Mrs Wibbly Wobbly, the Jelly Maker and their father Mr William Wibbly Wobbly, the Jelly Maker’s Husband. Well, so be it. Already this spring I’ve made my Spring Jelly using elderflower cordial with primroses and violets layered through it and at the weekend, we had Violet Jelly with syllabub atop. Long live Mrs Wibbly Wobbly.



20g violet flowers (no stems)
150g sugar
75 ml water
squeeze of lemon juice

Put the flowers and sugar into a bowl and using a wooden spoon or pestle, mix them well, bruising the petals. Leave this for a couple of hours so the sugar starts to turn a violet colour.
Pour over 75 ml of boiling water, stir well to dissolve the sugar and leave to stand overnight.

You’ll now have a bowl of not very pretty dark violet with a hint of green liquid. Squirt in some lemon juice and it will magically turn a brilliant violet colour.





petals in ice

Years ago, I saw a picture in a magazine of a beautiful bowl made from flowers and leaves encased in ice. But beautiful as it was, it seemed fairly unusable. Surely it would melt too quickly leaving a soggy mess. Then I found pictures of ethereal ice glasses with delicate flowers suspended in a ghostly sheath, but I thought if the ice was too thin they’d leak and supposing they were so cold that your lips stuck to the ice. Ouch. Instead, I made ice cubes with flowers in them and with raspberries or thin strips of lemon peel but still the idea of ice bowls and glasses hovered.


Of course in the end, as spring flowers start to appear along with thoughts of languorous summer days ahead, I had to try making ice glasses. I put a little water into the bottom of a glass and froze it, to make the base. Then I put a slightly smaller glass inside, poked flowers down the sides, filled the gap with water and froze again before releasing the glasses with hot water to leave an ice shaped glass. But they’re very slippery and very cold and hopelessly impractical.

iced plastic cups

Using plastic glasses might work for a small party if the outer plastic glass was left in place to make it more comfortable to hold. They could be made well in advance, would look pretty and drinks would be ready iced.

ice blocks

Far more practical though is a decorated ice block. To quote Dorcas Lane, my one weakness is … a gin and tonic before Sunday dinner. I’m fussy though.  I have preferences for certain gins and don’t like flat or diet tonic water. Most importantly, a good gin and tonic needs plenty of ice. My father in law didn’t add ice because he thought it diluted the drink and when I once asked my mother in law if she had some ice, she thought someone had sprained something and I was looking for an ice pack. But use plenty of ice and drink fast enough and dilution isn’t a problem.  A silicone fairy cake mould is ideal for making a good sized ice block (or hot chocolate block) and a much better use for these wretched things than baking when they twist and bulge and produce odd shaped cakes. A flower or slice of lemon dropped into the water makes them look decorative and as they’re large, the blocks take ages to melt. Altogether more practical than an ice glass, though not quite so beautiful or fragile looking.



We’ve just had two whole days of sunshine. Has spring arrived? The daffodils are blooming, the first of the primroses alongside the bridleway are flowering and I found violets nestled in the undergrowth. Maybe, just maybe, it’s spring time.

rolling Gt Forest

Over the weekend, Bill was busy on the tractor (rolling the wheat, spraying and fertiliser spreading) and everyone else was away so yesterday I had the day to myself. A little sunshine is wonderfully galvanising.

The dogs were walked though it’s not very relaxing as I’ve been dog sitting so have three extra dogs to stay; two of them run off into the distance, one keeps reasonably close and the other, Maud  a short and stout Jack Russell looking rather like Queen Victoria, walks at a snail’s pace. Then a quick clean of the chicken shed, though a contretemps with a broom handle and the nesting box as I climbed over a small partition resulted in my feet staying firmly on the ground one side of the partition while my top half carried forward. As I pivoted on my shins and headed face down to the floor, the thought that flashed through my mind was that at least I’d just cleaned that side. Brushed down, with one slightly twisted knee and thankful that nobody was looking, I decided to retreat inside for more ladylike pastimes and with no-one to roll their eyes or mutter under their breath “too much time on your hands”, I baked and played about with flowers and leaves.

spring cake

Above, a spring lemon cake with white leaves. Alas my domestic goddess frivolities were broken when Bill returned. We have problems with pigeons eating the oilseed rape and added to that, now have people driving across the fields to steal the gas cylinders from the scarers. Sometimes it all gets a little depressing and when Bill challenged me to guess what he’d found in the field, I was a little wary.  Well, he could have given me a hundred guesses and I still wouldn’t have got it right, because there was a rhea in the field! Yes, a rhea, wandering around the fields of Essex. I wonder if they eat pigeons.