Homemade Elderflower Cordial and a Walk on the North Downs

Elderflower is having its moment right now both in the real world and on instagram, where everyone seems to be making elderflower cordial. From the end of May until mid-July you can find it all over the place, both in the city and in the countryside, although you want to gather it away from roads and above hip height for obvious reasons.

It’s very easy to identify and the scent is heavenly – the only thing that you could mistake it for is cow parsley, but once you know the difference its easy to tell the two apart. Each elderflower head is called an “umbel” – such a cool little word don’t you think? The weather was so beautiful last weekend we thought we would head out of town for the day, which also gave me the opportunity to gather some.

Just beyond Croydon – literally 5 miles south – you suddenly hit countryside and rolling hills and wheat fields. Off the main roads, you wind down narrow lanes where passing traffic gradually changes from cars to horses. We headed to the “White Bear” at Fickleshole – even the name of the place sounds enchanting – where we left our car in the car park. On the Inn’s website there are a few recommended walks so we opted for route twoa circular walk over the North Downs. ‘Downs’ is from the old English word ‘dun’, which means hills. I grew up near the South Downs, which pretty much runs parallel to the North Downs, but with a good 31 miles (50km) between them. I don’t know the latter at all, so felt it was a good opportunity to stretch the legs and explore the beautiful countryside.

I had printed off the instructions and we headed off on what was to be a beautiful 8 mile walk down ancient pathways, rolling fields, Saltbox Hill nature reserve and Biggin Hill airstrip. There were a couple of brief times when we had to walk down a lane/road, one time was a little scary as there was no pathway so it was a case of running at breakneck speed about 100m to get to the pathway, which was on a severe bend. Nothing like a little bit of adrenaline to get the heart racing.

We almost missed this sign, so thought I would take a photo of it if you plan on doing the walk yourselves. It’s on Downe Road as you head towards Holwood Farm Shop. You cross the road and then walk down a little pathway that comes out into a large field with crops growing and a clear pathway leading through them and a couple of unsightly large pylons in the field (just ignore that bit).

I adore circular walks that I have not been on before as there is so much so see and take in. At one stage we walked alongside Biggin Hill airstrip, which has private planes landing and taking off at intervals and we even managed to see an old spitfire fly above us. We passed a church on our travels, which had a baptism going on when we poked our heads round the door.

The North Downs, like it’s sister counterpart, are made up of chalk and flint. The latter you can see being used as part of the facade on the local houses – rather pretty I thought!

We seem to come across a lot of horses on the footpaths (in fields). This beauty below was rather special. Just shortly after walking along the top edge of the field we came to ‘Saltbox Hill Nature Reserve’ a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest. Each Sunday, during the summer months, there are guided nature walks through the reserve.

The walk was not particularly demanding, although there were some inclines from time to time and we did keep a close eye on the instructions so as not to get lost.

Back at the White Bear we drank some ginger beer before ordering lunch. In hindsight a picnic on the walk itself may have been more preferable as the walk took a little longer than expected.

The pub is very atmospheric, with cosy corners, black and white photos of owners long gone and a ghost or two apparently. It’s a great place for a drink, although the menu let it down – far too long and the quality of the food was not memorable for us, which was a shame.  It did provide, however, the perfect place to set off on our adventure.

With a bag full of elderflower umbels I left them to rest back at home for a while so that any creepy crawlies could escape. Do not wash them as this can spoil the flavour.

One very important ingredient you need for elderflower cordial, if you want it to last for a long period, is citric acid, which you can easily pick up from your local pharmacy.

Other than that it is very straightforward. You do add 1 kg of granulated sugar – this sounds a huge amount, but you need to remember that the cordial is concentrated so will be used sparingly and added to sparkling water or perhaps a gin cocktail or with some prosecco. The amount I made will easily last for quite a number of months.

The reason I have not been precise on the number of umbel heads required is because the size of the umbel differs from umbel to umbel so it really isn’t an exact science hence I have not given a specific amount.

 

Elderflower Cordial

makes around 2 litres of cordial

1 kg granulated sugar

2 litres of boiling water

4 unwaxed lemons, grated and sliced

50g citric acid (can be found at your pharmacy)

20-30 elderflower umbels (heads)

4 x 500ml glass bottle – sterilised

 

  1. Place the sugar in a large bowl or pan and cover with boiling water. Stir gently to help the sugar dissolve.
  2. Add the citric acid and stir into the water.
  3. Add the grated and sliced lemon.
  4. When the water has cooled add the umbels and submerge them as much as possible.
  5. Cover with a tea towel and leave in a cool place for 24 hours, stirring occasionally.
  6. Sterilise your glass bottles by throughly washing them and then placing them in an oven (on the lowest temperature) for 10 minutes and then remove them from the oven to cool completely.
  7. Use a muslin/clean tea towel over a large bowl/jug and pour the contents of your original bowl into the muslin. Gently squeeze so that all the juice comes through.
  8. Seal and use as and when you want a refreshing summer drink or cocktail. Keep in a cool place and once opened store in the fridge.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Sea Beet and Potato Curry

Recently I went on a lovely coastal walk on Mersea Island, which is off the Essex coast (it’s reached by a tidal causeway). I hadn’t planned to go foraging but when I came across sea beet growing in large clusters, it made sense to gather up two large handfuls to take home and cook into something interesting.

I do love to forage from time to time – not mushrooms mind you as they can be tricky to identify unless you are with an expert. Somethings are easier to recognise and sea beet is one of those. Disclaimer: If you are going to try to find some yourself please consult the internet for other sources to check on identification. John Wright’s book ‘Edible Seashore’ may also be a good book to take on your walks to help identify. It’s best to check with a few sources to be sure.

I thought the sea beet would lend itself well to a ‘sag aloo’ type dish (spinach and potato curry). It’s more robust than spinach and has a lovely earthy taste to it. It is in fact the wild ancestor to the beetroot, sugar beet and swiss chard and is called a host of names including sea beet, sea spinach, wild beet and wild spinach. In ancient times, the leaves and root of the sea beet were used to treat several diseases, particularly tumours. The juice is even good for treating ulcers apparently!

When you forage you need to wash and clean your ‘treasure’ properly in cold water. I rinsed the leaves three times to be on the safe side. I then roughly chopped the leaves and prepared the potatoes. This curry is a lovely way to include sea beet into your diet, but if you are not going near any coastal areas you can always use spinach instead.

I would love to hear from any of you who may have used this ingredient before? How did you cook it? Leave a comment in the comment box below.

Sea Beet and Potato Curry

1 tbsp oil

2 dried red chilli

1 tsp cumin seeds

1/2 tsp turmeric powder

pinch of asafoetida/hing (optional)

2 medium potatoes, peeled and cut roughly into 2 inch cubes

1 tsp salt to taste

2 large handfuls of foraged sea beet or around 260g of fresh spinach

2 tbsp water

  1. Heat the oil and then add the dried red chillies. Move around the pan for 10 seconds before adding the cumin seeds. Let the seeds begin to fizzle and then add the turmeric powder and asafoetida (if using).
  2. Add the potatoes and cover them in seeds and spices and cook gently on a medium to low heat, stirring every now and then. Add the salt.
  3. After about 8-10 minutes, add the washed sea beet and fold in gently to the potatoes.
  4. Add 1 tbsp of water and allow the sea beet to wilt and the potato to soften completely. To check the potato has soften stick a sharp knife into it, if it goes in easily then they are ready. You may need to place a lid on the pan to help steam it, if the potato needs more time to soften,  which will speed up the softening. Add the remaining water if need.

Serve immediately with a dollop of yogurt and a wedge of lemon on the side. It also works really well if you cook my chana dal to eat along side it.

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Wild Garlic Pesto

I love this time of year, when the rain stops, the sun comes out and if you head into the woods you are likely to be rewarded by a bountiful supply of wild garlic. When I was down at my parents recently I went to my usual secluded wood to gather up some bags  of the stuff. The photo below is of my father looking rather fetching in his country garb standing amongst the wild garlic.

I’m not going to reinvent the wheel here as I did a couple of blog posts a a few years ago about how to actually make wild garlic pesto – you can read the post here. It is SO good to freeze that I make enough to carry us through the whole year. I only finished last year’s batch about a month ago.  My family are all slightly addicted by it and one of my daughters even pops it on her toast.

 

If you want an alternative to pesto and wild garlic linguine with sausage crumb then I have a rather delicious soup – wild garlic, courgette and lemon soup with poached egg with crispy panko breadcrumbs which you can see here.

I still have two whole bags to use up so may make some more pesto today and then maybe some wild garlic scones – as they’ll be good to freeze too. Check out instastories to see what I get up to.

 

Have you been gathering wild garlic yet this year? What are you going to do it. Would love to hear so leave a comment below.

 

 

 

 

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Wild Garlic Pesto Linguine with Sausage Crumb

IMG_0392Continuing with the same theme as last week’s post I decided to use up the remaining fresh wild garlic that my mother had given me by whizzing it up to create a pesto. It stores so easily in the fridge, for at least a week, and the whole family love it so its a win win.  Making pesto in general is easy and versatile. You can alternate the nuts from pine to walnut to pistachio and add a host of herbs and vegetables: basil, coriander spinach, wild garlic, tomatoes, peppers. I love the look of these varieties that Saveur has come up with.

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I thought the addition of a sausage crumb scattering would be a nice touch and balance well with the wild garlic. I used one sausage per person and then made a little incision into each sausage so that the outer ‘skin’ could be taken off. With the sausage meat I then broke it down and gently fried it, so that it crisped up.

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It took far less time than cooking a sausage normally would so again this whole meal was created in a very short space of time. I found I had lots of pesto leftover so popped it in the fridge in a sealed jar to use over the coming days.

If you are unsure about foraging wild garlic you might like to check out the Royal Horticultural Society guide on how to recognise it – see here.

Wild Garlic Pesto Linguine with Sausage Crumb

Pesto

200g wild garlic leaves washed and roughly chopped, flowers removed

100g parmesan cheese, finely grated

100g pine nuts

150ml olive oil

squeeze of lemon juice

salt

pepper

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1 tsp ground nut oil

sausages (1 per person)

linguine

  1. First you need to wash the wild garlic leaves thoroughly and remove the flowers (these are edible but best put on as a garnish re my last blog post).
  2. Roughly chop the leaves and then place them into a food processor and blitz so that they are broken down.
  3. Next add the parmesan cheese and blitz again before adding the pine nuts.
  4. Gradually add the olive oil so that a paste forms. Add more or less olive oil depending on the thickness you require for your pesto.
  5. Season to taste and add a dash of lemon juice.
  6. Boil a pan of water and add the linguine and cook according to packet instructions – just under 10 minutes should be perfect.
  7. To make the sausage crumb all you need to do is remove the outer covering of the sausage and discard. With the sausage meat, break it down using your hands.
  8. Heat a frying pan and add the ground nut oil. Add the sausage meat and move around the pan until it browns and begins to crisp. This should be done within about 5 minutes.
  9. Strain the pasta and place back in the pan. Add a generous amount of pesto and stir into the pasta.
  10. Serve into bowls and scatter with sausage crumb.

You can store the remaining pesto in the fridge in a sealed jar for over a week. 

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