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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave


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.

 

 

 

 

SaveSave


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.

IMG_0414

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.

IMG_0413

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

****

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. 

IMG_0415

 

 


Wild Garlic, Courgette and Lemon Soup with Poached Egg and Crispy Panko Breadcrumbs

IMG_0381

At this time of year British woodlands are filled with carpets of bluebells and wild garlic. The fragrant smell from the purply-blue tinged bluebells is absolutely heavenly, it genuinely makes me happy to stroll through a wood filled with these gorgeous flowers. In addition there is always a certain excitement when the overwhelmingly pungent smell of  wild garlic hits you. To me it translates as FOOD or rather free food. Foraging for it is pretty easy and like all foraging there is a wonderful sense of achievement in having found something to eat.

The broad elliptical leaves (see bottom photo) are similar to the toxic lily of the valley, however, the smell is so screamingly obvious I think it would be pretty difficult to get it wrong.  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 is from the allium family and is also known as ramps, ramsons, wood garlic, bear’s garlic, devil’s posy, onion flower and stink plant.  It can first be seen in April where there will only be a few white flowers, most will still be in bud form. The white flowers are edible and are a nice adornment on the plate so make sure to pick a few of them as well if you can. By June the harvest will be over, so you still have a few weeks window left to go searching.

IMG_0412

My mother kindly gathered a large bag of wild garlic from the woods – slightly larger than I had anticipated –  so I have enough wild garlic to eat it in all it’s guises for sometime.

For those who have not eaten it before it has a lovely – you guessed it – garlicky taste although less full on surprisingly than regular garlic. There are resemblances of chives and spring onions to the taste, but with a unique quality that is completely it’s own.  It wilts just like spinach when exposed to heat, so a large amount can reduce quite substantially.

I have another wild garlic recipe up my sleeve that I will post next week but in the meantime try making my recipe below, which is a lovely lunchtime treat.

If you are into foraging you might also like to take a look at my post on foraging for cockles and samphire.

Wild Garlic, Courgette and Lemon Soup with Poached Egg and Crispy Panko Breadcrumbs

Serves 4

1 tbsp olive oil

1 small white onion, finely diced

4 courgettes, roughly chopped

1/2 lemon zest and juice

1 large handful of wild garlic, washed thoroughly

1 tsp salt

freshly ground black pepper

3 tbsp panko/sourdough breadcrumbs

1 tsp white wine vinegar

4 eggs

drizzle of lemon olive oil

  1. In a large deep pan heat the olive oil and then add the onion and move around the pan at intervals for  3-4 minutes before adding the courgettes.
  2. Add the lemon zest and juice, salt and pepper and stir into the ingredients and simmer for a couple of minutes, before adding water to cover the vegetables and bring to the boil and then simmer gently for a further 6-8 minutes.
  3. Add the wild garlic, which will wilt, like spinach, immediately.
  4. Blend the ingredients until smooth. Add more water, depending on how thick or watery you like your soups. Leave to one side.
  5. Place the panko/sourdough breadcrumbs in a frying pan and add a dash of olive oil and move around the pan for a couple of minutes to allow the breadcrumbs to bronze slightly. Keep your eyes on them as they will bronze quickly.
  6. In a separate pan bring water to the boil and add one tsp of white wine vinegar. Stir it with a spoon in the centre so that a small whirl pool is created. Drop the egg into the water and allow to simmer gently for 2-3 minutes. If you leave it for over 3 minutes the egg with harden. Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon and place on kitchen roll whilst you prepare the next egg.

To serve, place a ladle or two into a soup bowl and then add the poached egg, a sprinkling of panic breadcrumbs and then drizzle some olive oil or if you have it some lemon infused olive oil. If you have any wild garlic flowers you can place one on top of the soup.

Have a good weekend. It’s going to be a scorcher.

IMG_0410

 

 


Foraging for Cockles on the Welsh Coast

IMG_6931

There is something very rewarding about foraging for your own food, it’s like a treasure hunt for grown ups. I am no expert forager mind you and I would draw the line at foraging for mushrooms. I did a post a few years ago on foraging for samphire which you can read here.

This past week, however, I have been in a corner of Wales that even the locals requested I keep secret for fear that their corner of paradise will be overwhelmed by zealous visitors. The beaches are HUGE – think California expansive – stretching over a couple of miles long. This gives the treasure seeker a wonderful opportunity to forage for tasty goodies.

IMG_6951

We opted for cockles this time, but when I return to Wales I will also try for razor clams as the locals say they are also great to search for when there is a spring tide. Cockles are basically like small clams and you may have had them in southern Spain where they are referred to as ‘coquinas’. They also sell them in seaside towns in Britain, cold in little pots without their shells. That never particularly appealed, but hot with loads of garlic, parsley, lemon juice and zest and spaghetti certainly does.

The day we foraged was a little drizzly (the rest of the week was completely sunny, unlike the rain clouds over London I hear). The tide was a long way out and we searched between the shoreline and the sea. We looked for clues – cockle shells laying scattered on the beach surface and then would dig a hole about 1-2 inches deep and then feel around with our hands. Once you have found a couple you can normally find a whole group of around 10 or so. My daughters and I (Mr B had decided to take himself off for a walk along the 2.5 mile beach instead) lucked out and found over 250 in under an hour and a half. Result.

IMG_6850

We placed them in a pot (bucket is ideal) which we had filled with sea water. Overjoyed with our foraging success we went back to the cottage and let the cockles remain in the sea water overnight to get rid off the grit and sand.

IMG_6882

The following day we then cleaned each cockle and placed them in a bowl of salted water (below). At this point they are still alive and do stretch their limbs beyond the shell from time to time (you can see this happening in fact in the photo above). When you take them out of the water, gently knock the shell and they should close tight shut. If they do not then discard them. We found that there were only 10 or so that were a bit suspect, the remaining 250 were ready for our feast.

IMG_6917

This amount could  easily feed 6 people. We kind of over foraged but seeing as we had cooked them we decided it would be a shame to waste any so ate the lot between the four of us. Piggie I know! Both my daughters (6 and 9) adored them. I am a big believer that if you make a scene about shellfish or any particular kind of food in fact, then your children will too and not want to eat them. If you show them how delicious they are and get stuck in then invariably they will too and not want to be left out.

IMG_6924

We feasted royally and before you ask, we all felt on top form the next day. They are great fun to forage for so have a go when you are next on the British coast.

Cockles with Garlic, Lemon, Parsley and Spaghetti

Serves 4-6 easily

250 cockles (I did not weigh them but guess it is around 1-1.2kg)

1 tbsp butter

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

6 garlic, finely chopped

1 lemon, juice and zest

160ml white wine

2 large handfuls of flat leaf parsley

400g spaghetti

black pepper

  1. Leave the foraged (or not) cockles overnight in salted water – ideally sea water, to allow the sand and grit to be dispelled.
  2. Scrub them clean in the grooves of the shell under running cold water. Make sure they shut firmly. Place in a clean bowl of water with 1 tsp of salt.
  3. Place the spaghetti in a pan of boiling water and simmer for around 10 minutes, then leave in the boiling water until ready to add to the cockle pan (no9)
  4. Heat a large deep pan with the butter and olive oil and when it is hot add the garlic. Keep on a medium low heat.
  5. Once the garlic softens after a couple of minutes, add the lemon zest and stir.
  6. Turn the heat up high and add the cockles. Add the lemon juice, white white and then place the lid on the pan. Shake the pan gently from side to side.
  7. After a minute check to see if some of the shells are opening. Keep the pan moving with the lid on.
  8. After another minute the shells should be open.
  9. Add the spaghetti and the parsley and mix all the ingredients together for 30 seconds before plating up and adding a little black pepper.

Any shells that have not opened then discard – do not try to prize open.


Foraging for Samphire on the British Coast

IMG_6645

June, July and August are the months to forage for marsh samphire, not to be mistaken for rock samphire, which grows on rocks on land and tastes completely different, I am told. Marsh samphire can be found in abundance in salt marshes and tidal mud flats on the British coast. You may have also come across it by one of it’s other names:  glasswort (its name of old alluding to a time when it was used in making glass and soap); sea asparagus; Saint Peter’s herb (the Patron Saint of Fisherman) or it’s rather grand sounding Latin name ‘salicornia europaea’. I particularly like its less well known name of ‘Mermaid’s kiss’.

IMG_0176

A few years back marsh samphire was not so easy to source in the shops, other than the fishmonger who would grace their fish displays with the vegetable from time to time. Recently I have seen it in the larger supermarkets in the UK being sold in packets on their fish counters. It’s relatively expensive for the amount you get, so if you happen to be on the British coast in the summer, it is well worth having a forage for the vegetable.

IMG_0174

I’ve been spending the last week or so on the borders of Suffolk and Essex, which is perfect hunting ground. I initially came across some growing on the mudflats on Mersea Island and immediately gathered a small amount to prepare for when I returned home. The following day we were passing by the picturesque and historical village of Orford in Suffolk – well worth a detour on many levels – Richardson’s smokehouse, the great Pump Street Bakery, some fine pubs, a small castle, a grade I listed church with Norman remains and a sailing club – all civilised places have a sailing club don’t you find? I had read that Orford was the perfect place to forage for marsh samphire, so bucket and scissors in hand Big A, Mr B and I went a foraging.

IMG_0178

It was not long before we spotted the easily identifiable marsh samphire sprouting up through the tidal mudflats. They almost look like miniature cacti, without any spines or sharp bits. When foraging though you need to be very careful not to pull out the whole plant as it will prevent it from growing further. Simply pinch off the top parts or use a pair of scissors, so that the fibrous stems and roots remain intact. You will find that the the samphire needs to be thoroughly washed a couple of times so that the mud, grit and general nasties are disposed of.

IMG_0179

Whilst it can be eaten raw, I like to cook samphire – boil or steam for a couple of minutes, and then eat with a dollop of melting butter and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. Absolutely no salt is needed as they taste of the sea so are more than sufficiently salty. They are rich in Vitamins A, C and D and taste  similar to asparagus, albeit more salty!

IMG_6590

They are also a perfect accompaniment for fresh fish and also lamb, although I rather like the way that this blogger has prepared their samphire – see here – Poached Eggs with Samphire and Honey Harissa. How good does that sound?

Are you able to forage samphire near you? Does it grown in your country? How do you eat it? I would love to know so write a comment below for us all to see.

IMG_0185

Fresh Marsh Samphire with Butter and Lemon

A handful of fresh marsh samphire per person

 knob of butter

lemon wedges

1. Trim and wash the marsh samphire a couple of times so that all the mud, grit and stray seaweed is discarded.

2. Boil a large pan of water and place the samphire directly in the water (if steaming put into the steamer). Boil gently for 3 minutes and drain immediately.

3. Plate up and add a knob of butter to each serving and a lemon wedge on the side. Equally you can pre-melt the butter and pour it over the samphire. Both ways work equally well.

Eat immediately when it is hot and enjoy.

Remember no salt is needed.