Elderflower Cordial

One of my absolute favourite things to make from the garden is elderflower cordial.

It’s so easy to make, and though you need to leave it to steep overnight, it’s actually incredibly quick in terms of weeks. You don’t technically need anything other than store cupboard ingredients – sugar and water, and the zest of some lemons. It does benefit from some citric acid, though.

Firstly, collect a bowl of flower sprays. Pack the bowl quite tightly and let it stand for a few hours – this gives any bugs time to escape.

Once you’ve done that, break the larger stalks off and decant the flower heads into a large pan. Add the peel of some lemons – I used 4 this time, ‘zested’ using a vegetable peeler.

I tried to add the zest of some limes in too, but they were a bit old and gnarly so there’s just that solitary green scrap there…

I covered all of the ingredients in my pot with boiling water, put the lid on, and let it steep for 24 hours – a bit like a giant pot of fresh elderflower tea.

Coming back to it the next day, I put a fine metal sieve – lined with a clean cotton tea towel – over a bowl and strained yesterday’s concoction.

I was just going to pour the whole lot over, but in the end, I decided to use a slotted spoon to remove the larger sprays of elderflower.

After that, I strained what was left. This made it much easier to clean the tea-towel afterwards.

Now for the important part of the instructions – measure the volume of fluid you have left. You need to add grams of sugar equivalent to the number of mililiters in order to make the cordial. So, for example – I measured 1.6l fluid, and added 1.6kg of sugar.

I really like to use Silver Spoon sugar – we used to live near the factory in Suffolk – because it’s grown in the UK so has fewer food miles than alternatives, but as ever, that’s a personal preference.

If you’re adding citric acid to the mix – and I added around a tbsp for this quantity – then stir it through the sugar here.

Once you’ve worked out how much sugar you’ll need, add both sugar and fluid to a large pan, then heat until the sugar dissolves. Meanwhile, sterilise your bottles.*

All that’s left to do at this point is to decant the finished cordial into the bottles.

Whilst – in theory – this should last well at room temperature, I like to store it in the fridge. With most things – to my shame – I’ll just skim any mould off the top, but that isn’t possible in  a bottle like this so I tend to err on the side of caution.

Dilute to taste – I like a roughly 1:5 ratio with tap water, but you can add sparkling water instead for a bit of fizz.

Have you tried making your own cordials? I’d love to hear what kinds you’ve made! Tell me about it here, or on Twitter.

__
* There are all sorts of ways to do this. Some people like to use boiling water, others use the oven and microwave, but personally I like to use Milton cold-water steriliser or the non-branded equivalent. If I’ve got the oven on anyway, or if I’d planned on boiling the kettle, then I’m happy to do these things but you need such a small amount of the liquid steriliser and you’re not burning through power to heat things by using it, so it’s my favourite method. As with the sugar, though – it’s all just personal preference.

Nettle Soup

Nettle soup is one of those ‘literary’ dishes. It sounds like something lifted straight from Beatrix Potter, or something that Merry Men would ‘sustain’ themselves on whilst hiding out in the forest. I think that’s why I loved it, to begin with – because I could pretend to be romantic and windswept and Tess-of-the-D’Urbervilles-y frugal.

Except that now, it’s just a thing that I eat, because we have nettles and I’m too lazy to go shopping.

To make a hearty bowl of nettle soup you need: 
– some nettles (obviously). I find around two big, fat handfuls works. Try to take the leafs from the top of the plant. You want the small tender ones.
– some kind of oniony taste (slightly-sprouting back-of-the-cupboard onions are fine, as are spring onions, leeks, garlic, and chives)
– some stock (I use a chicken OXO cube or some veg stock I made)
– possibly some diary – I like stinky cheese rinds, but these aren’t essential

I fry off the oniony-component in a little oil. As I’m doing that, I put a seive over a bowl, pop the nettles in the seive, and then pour boiling water over them to rid them of all stingy parts and any muck from outside. Once that’s done, I add the nettles to the onions. (I let the water in the bowl cool – it’s going on my house plants.) To the soup-pan, I add my stock and enough water to cover the nettles. When these have cooked through and gone tender, I blend them and add any dairy leftovers – a teaspoon of soured cream, some creme fraiche about to turn, some grated stilton rinds…

If I want something thicker, I like to add potato to the mix. Leftover mash is ideal, but tiny cubes cook quickly and really help to thicken things.

The taste is earthy – a bit like spinach – and wholesome. And if you grow your own chives and otherwise use up your leftovers as you make it, nettle soup can be one of those oh-so-rare free meals.

If you try it, I’d love to hear what you think. As ever, you can get in touch here or on Twitter.

Foraged food – the Giant Puffball

My absolute favourite way of getting zero-waste food is foraging. I mean, for a start it’s free, but more than that, there’s a thrill to it – seeing the golden, shining cap of a chanterelle mushroom is so like finding treasure.

Aside from the usual berries and leafy weeds, Husband is a great mushroom hunter. It’s important to add here that this is absolutely not a tutorial for how to find or identify fungi. If this is something that you want to get into, you need to seek out expert guidance. In our case, though, Husband grew up with a father whose granddad was an actual Snow-White style German woodsman. I’m not even kidding. So when my father-in-law was little, he used to walk in the woods with his granddad and search for mushrooms.

Despite his life-long skill, my father-in-law still carried an identification book at all times and never ate anything he was in the slightest doubt over. Contrary to popular belief, there are few ways to go wrong with wild mushrooms, but when one does make a mistake, it’s deadly.

It just isn’t worth the risk.

Just to stress again – this isn’t a tutorial. It’s just what we do. 

All that aside, as the season for mushrooming gets ever closer, I find myself getting increasingly excited and I thought I’d share one of my favourite recipes from last year, in case you’re lucky enough to find someone who knows what they’re doing.

We made what are essentially vegetarian schnitzel from the flesh of a giant puffball mushroom. I started by removing the outer layer, leaving the nice, clean centre.

Then, I sliced it into 4 rounds.

I smashed some stale bread into crumbs…

… mixed said crumbs with salt and paprika…

… then turned the ‘steaks’ in a whisked egg and the crumbs. I then fried this off as I would a chicken burger – until the outside was golden-brown and crunchy.

We ate these as burger substitutes and the mushroom flesh was delicious – aromatic and light, silky but firm. It was almost like tofu, but less chewy and more flavoursome.

As the breadcrumbs are leftovers from loaves gone by, the only real cost in all of this is the egg and the spices – a definite improvement on a pack of four vegeburgers/meaty burgers.

I’ve been told that it’s getting increasingly easy to source oyster mushrooms in the supermarket, and that being the case, I can imagine that this is a great way to serve larger examples. If you can, I would defintely urge you to try it with a fungi you know is safe (though not with a Portobello mushroom – I find tey go slimey).

Do you forage? What are your favourite things to find? I’d love to try out some of your recipes. As ever, contact me here or on Twitter.