Monday, March 26, 2012

Dandelion Marmalade, Fizz and Wine

Haven't we been so spoilt with the glorious weather this week? Ambling through meadows in pursuit of dandelions with the sun on my back and birdsong in my ears has been an absolute joy. No other flower, except perhaps for coltsfoot, resembles a child's crayoned sun in quite the same way as the dandelion. Its spiky rays of bright yellow have been mirroring the one shining down on them from the big blue sky this week. A happy, happy sight. They look more like mini suns to me than the lion's teeth that they were named after in Old French, dent de lion, maybe it's a lion's mane thing, or the pointed leaves...anyway, given the sun's presence this week, dandelions were undeniably the perfect flowers to gather.

I'm writing this not long after loading my bucket with flower heads and preparing my various concoctions. Watching my fingers hit the keyboard anybody would be forgiven for thinking I've got a 40-a-day Gauloise habit, they look a distinctly nicotine stained shade of yellow. Hmm. At least they're not as black as they were when I initially returned from the dandelion field.

I know what to blame at least. Have you ever noticed the milky sap that oozes from the cut or broken stem of a dandelion? This is the cleverest of defence systems employed to protect the damaged plant from fungal and bacterial infections. Whatever it does to protect the plant, it leaves its mark on a forager's fingers too and anything that touches them thereafter sticks to them including pollen - nicotine fingers! I read in Miles Irving's The Forager Handbook that this sap is a white latex and has been harvested commercially for the production of rubber - explains a lot!

I suppose dandelions really don't need much in the way of an introduction, yellow spiked flowers on long hollow stems emerging from a basal rosette of jagged leaves. If you have a close look at the leaves you'll notice grooves, the purpose of which are to channel rainwater directly to the root as the basal rosette prevents rainwater soaking through the ground and reaching the root that way. When you take the time to get up close and personal with dandelions you'll notice that they don't all look the same. There are so many different micro species all looking similar that it's easy to get confused. If I see a field with lots of yellow suns that look like dandelions, regardless of species, I know them to be edible and I harvest away. After visiting only a few flowers, it doesn't take long to realise that the forager isn't the only thing attracted to the dandelion. This early in the year, when the newly emerged bees and butterflies need an energy hit, I always ensure that I don't denude an area and that I leave a dandelion feast for them too, it seems only fair. As more plants offer themselves during the coming weeks, I'm less fussy about this.

The bees want the pollen and nectar, but what could I want them for? They were a plant avoided by my father and his boyhood friends because they reputedly made you "wet the bed," although that wasn't quite the phrase he or they used! There is a basis in fact here as dandelions do indeed flush the kidneys and act as a mild diuretic and laxative. Not sure about making you lose control in the middle of the night but anyway. The young leaves make a good  if bitter addition to salad or can be wilted as a side dish. The roots can be boiled, stir fried or made into coffee but I'm not interested too much in these uses, I'm interested in the flowers. The petals for adding to omelettes, salads etc. the flower heads for lightly coating in batter and deep frying. Wine and fizz are my choices for this year, and for the first time I've made Jon Wright's Dandelion Apple Marmalade.

Dandelion Fizz 
(by Pamela Michael "Edible Wild Plants and Herbs")

1 litre dandelion flowers picked in the sun when fully open
2 and a half litres of water
1kg of sugar
2 lemons

  1. Trim the stalks from the flower heads but leave the green sepals on.
  2. Put into a container and pour over the boiling water.
  3. Cover and leave to stand for 12 hours or overnight.
  4. Strain through a double thickness of muslin into a saucepan. Add the sugar, lemon juice and rind (pith removed)
  5. Heat gently and stir until the sugar has dissolved.
  6. Strain into jugs and when cool pour into sterilised screw top bottles.
  7. Store in a cool dark place for 3 - 4 weeks before drinking this mildly alcoholic beverage.

Dandelion Wine
 (by Pamela Michael "Edible Wild Plants and Herbs")

3 litres of dandelion flowers
5 litres of water
250g (1 1/2 cups) chopped raisins
2 oranges
1 lemon
1 1/2 kg (6 cups) sugar
2 tbsps cold tea or 1 tsp wine tannin
  1. Start the yeast by putting it into a sterilised screw top bottle with approx 400ml of luke warm water that has 2 tbspns of caster sugar and juice of half a lemon dissolved within it.
  2. Remove the stalks from the dandelion flowers but keep the green sepals on.
  3. Place the prepared flowers and 2 1/2 litres of boiling water into a bucket or bowl, cover with a clean cloth and leave for 2 days, stirring once each day.
  4. On the third day empty the contents into a large saucepan, add the pith (no rind) of the oranges and lemon, add the sugar and bring to the boil stirring until the sugar dissolves.
  5. Boil gently for 30 minutes.
  6. Put the raisins and strained orange and lemon juice into a plastic bucket and pour on the boiling contents of the saucepan.
  7. Add the remaining 2 1/2 litres of cold water, cover the bucket and leave to cool.
  8. At about 20 degrees C stir in the tea or tannin and activated yeast, cover and leave in a warm place for 3 days.
  9. Strain the liquid into a Demijohn fitted with a bung and airlock and rack into a second Demijohn once fermentation has ceased.
  10. Leave in a cool place for a few months to clear before bottling.
There are a good number of excellent websites and books available that give more detailed descriptions about the winemaking process. It's not at all difficult but if you haven't made wine before, it might be worth spending a little time having a quick look at them.

Dandelion Marmalade
(by John Wright "River Cottage Handbook No. 7 - Hedgerow")

1 litre apple juice (not from concentrate)
80g (approx 180 flowers) of dandelion petals (green sepals and stalk removed)
100ml fresh lemon juice (approx 2-3 lemons)
750g jam sugar

  1. Put a plate into the freezer to test for setting later.
  2. Pour the apple juice into a saucepan and stir in 60g (approx 130 flowers) of the petals.
  3. Bring to simmering point, remove from the heat, cover and leave overnight.
  4. Strain the juice into a separate pan and add the lemon juice and slowly heat to boiling point.
  5. Add the sugar and stir until dissolved before adding the remaining 20g (approx 50 flowers)
  6. Increase the heat and boil for 6-7 minutes until the setting point has been reached. (Remove the pan from the heat and test for setting by placing a small spoonful of marmalade onto the frozen plate, if after a minute the marmalade wrinkes when you push it gently with your finger, it is ready.)
  7. Remove scum with a slotted spoon before ladelling into warm, sterilised jars. Cover and seal.
  8. Once cool enough to handle, give the jar a sharp shake to distribute the petals through the marmalade.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Ramson fest

Oh my, how time flies! Honestly, it doesn't feel like nearly a year since I was last on here posting my foraging musings. How did it happen that we're well into March already?! Thankfully I have continued in the past year to bimble along in the countryside, woodland, mountain and seashore, I have continued to get a regular wild food fix along the way, I guess I just haven't had time to write about it. I feel genuine regret for that and I wholeheartedly apologise. Anyway, I'm back now so let's get started again... 

Ok so, to anybody that has spent time in damp dappled woodland or walked along shady country roads, wild garlic, or ramsons as they're otherwise known, will be a familiar plant and a very good one to start us on our foraging journey again. You will often smell wild garlic before you see it, indeed as the season progresses the fragrance can become less delicate and distinctly overpowering. If you happen upon wild garlic, you generally won't find one plant situated in splendid isolation, you'll find carpets of the stuff. Long elegant deep green leaves overwhelm the woodland floor or roadside bank and turn the previous wintry bareness into something lush and vibrant.

A carpet of fragrant garlic

This sight fills me with excitement at the promise of all the wild food that will gradually appear during the coming year. The pleasant familiarity of this plant's smell and taste always guides me with gentleness back to wild food after a winter of scarcity. It is a plant that is easy on the eye, the palate and one that takes very little time to pick or imagination to use. I look forward to its arrival in March very much.

As far as identification goes, the smell of garlic from the crushed leaves is unmistakable. Beyond that look for broad elliptical leaves that taper to a point all growing separately from the bulb beneath the ground. The soft leaves will also show parallel leaf veins. The pretty six petal white flowers burst from long stems like an exploding firework. By far the best way to harvest your garlic is to use scissors because as well as it being all too easy to uproot the plant by pulling on the leaves, you don't really want to bring half of the woodland floor home with you in your foraging basket. Once picked, the leaves don't keep particularly well and are best used promptly. Do be careful not to mistake wild garlic for the much more slender bluebell or lily of the valley, both of which are poisonous. Also to be avoided is Lords and Ladies which is another common plant that enjoys the very same habitats as wild garlic and is usually to be found growing amongst it. Be sure of your identification and careful in your harvesting and you'll be fine with this addition to your wild larder.

The pretty star shaped flowers with the lush lanceolate leaves behind

Every single part of this plant can be used. The fresh leaves can be used as a flavouring in soups, stews, oil, butter, sauces or eaten raw in salads. The flower buds and open flowers make a pretty garnish to most savoury dishes or salads. Even the bulbs can be used in a similar way to cultivated garlic or pickled to use at a later date (remember though that uprooting any plant will always require the express permission of the landowner.) 

Inspired by Robin Harford of, I always make sure to save the taste of wild garlic for months to come by making a big batch of garlic oil that I use as a base for pesto amongst other things. I take equal quantities of leaves and light olive oil (usually 500g and 500ml) and a good pinch of salt and blitz the lot together in a food processor. Poured into sterilised containers with an extra glug of oil over the top this puree will keep in the fridge for months or, if poured into an icecube tray it can be frozen and popped out whenever that garlicky punch is needed.

Wild garlic leaves preserved in oil

There are any number of recipes that could utilise the flavour of this plant: bread, chicken kiev, risotto, dolmades, pasta... Wherever you see scallion or garlic in a recipe perhaps now you could open that jar of wild garlic oil and bring the satisfying taste of a wild Spring to your dinner plate.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Wild Raspberry Cranachan, Muffins and Omelettes.

Happening upon a patch of ripe wild raspberries is one of my greatest foraging pleasures. I don't use the words "happening upon" casually either. I have wandered along familiar paths only to discover that a raspberry bush has suddenly appeared out of nowhere. Obviously, this isn't the case, it's just that the raspberry is such an inconspicuous plant, even in flower, and so easily blends into the ever-present brambles, that I have often overlooked its presence until I happen to be walking past it whilst it's in full fruit in late June-July. I think therein lies the greatest pleasure, the happy surprise of discovery and its coinciding with the most glorious of fruits usually in their prime for scoffing on the spot.
The tumbling red jewels of the wild raspberry are a delight to the eye as well as the palate.

It seems as though I have to be thankful for the dampness of the Irish weather for the quantity of wild raspberries near me. Apparently they like the rain and are more common in wetter locations such as Ireland and Scotland. It's not bad compensation, I suppose. They differ very little from the cultivated kind so its easy to identify it confidently. The canes grow tall (about 1.5 metres) and straight and the underside of the leaves, which usuallly consist of 3-5 leaflets, are covered in dense white hairs. Like the wild strawberry, the fruit is quite a bit smaller and therefore takes a little longer to collect a worthwhile quantity.

A useful size comparison between wild and cultivated raspberries

They also seem to go from unripe to over-ripe in no time at all and so picking them can involve messy fingers as you grapple some from the bush and watch others slide through your fingers as liquid. I tend to  tuck an empty plastic punnet securely into an open bumbag (I hate that word, but there it is) leaving me with two hands to give careful and speedy handling to the fruits - I've come to loathe one-handed foraging. Thankfully, as raspberries don't have particularly savage prickles, they are pleasurable to pick regardless. Another point to note for successful gathering is this - I've been out with children collecting these little gems and that's brilliant if you want to share the joys and experience of wild food. If, however, you have culinary plans for the raspberries and need a fair few to reach your kitchen, it might be best to leave the kids at home. Just saying.
Most parts of the plant have their uses. The leaves make an excellent tasting tea (25g dried leaves to 500ml boiling water) that has been used to treat sore throats, clean wounds and ulcers and help with relaxing the uterus for childbirth. The root can be eaten if it's thoroughly cooked although I've never tried this - for me, the pleasure of eating the fruit year after year, far outweighs any delight that might be had from uprooting the plant for one meal. The petals too are edible and a pretty addition to any salad. The fruit though is the highlight of this plant, for as well as being the most attractive of fruits, the wild raspberry has the most intense of flavours that is best treated simply.

There are a number of ways to preserve the berries. They can be spread thinly on a baking sheet and frozen, although they do become a little soggy on thawing. They can be dried like raisins, or mushed or boiled before drying in the sun, in a container to make loaves, or in thin strips to make fruit leathers. I happen to like Dick and James Strawbridge's method that I found in their Practical Self-Sufficiency - it involves alcohol! *Ahem* Place equal quantities of raspberries, caster sugar and alcohol of choice into a sterilised jar making sure the alcohol covers the fruit. Add a muslin bag containing a tsp juniper berries if desired. Seal and store in a dark place. Gently shake the jar daily for the first week or so. The higher the alcohol content, the longer the fruits will last. Never tried this but it would be rude not to give it a go this year.

So yes, there are a lot of ways to keep the fruit edible over long periods but I still think that raspberries are always best eaten shortly after picking and preferably uncooked - although I am partial to the odd raspberry muffin.

Wild Raspberry Cranachan
From Pamela Michael's Edible Wild Herbs and Plants

4 heaped tablespoons wild raspberries
2 generous teaspoons Drambuie (or 2 teaspoons caster sugar if serving to children)
2 level tablespoons of medium oatmeal (not porridge)
6 tablespoons of whipping cream
  •  Spoon the raspberries into individual glasses and sprinkle over the Drambuie or caster sugar.
  • Leave to macerate for 30 minutes.
  • Measure the oatmeal onto a baking tray and toast in a medium oven (180 degrees C) for 4-5 minutes. Shake the tray half way through to avoid burning.
  • Once the oatmeal is lightly browned and slightly toasted remove to cool.
  • Measure the cream into a bowl and whip until soft peaks are only just starting to form.
  • Fold in the oatmeal leaving a little for garnish.
  • Pile the cream over the raspberries, garnish and serve straight away. 

 Wild Raspberry and Dark Chocolate Muffins
75g unsalted butter
200g plain flour
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 tspns baking powder
75g caster sugar
pinch of salt
200ml buttermilk (or 100g yoghurt & 100ml semi-skimmed milk; or 200ml regular milk at a push)
1 large egg
200g raspberries
50g dark chocolate chopped
  • Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C
  • Melt the butter and allow to cool
  • Combine all the dry ingredients (except for the raspberries and chocolate) in a bowl.
  • In a seperate bowl beat together the buttermilk, egg and melted butter.
  • Very gently mix the wet ingredients into the dry using a wooden spoon until barely mixed - there will be lumps.
  • Fold in the raspberries and chocolate keeping mixing to a minimum.
  • Divide equally into 12 paper muffin cases and pop the tray in the oven for about 20 mins
I think these are best served warm whilst the chocolate is still deliciously gooey.

Wild Raspberry Sweet Omelette
From Pamela Michael's Edible Wild Herbs and Plants

50 g/1/2 cup of wild raspberries
1 tsp caster sugar
2 egg yolks
1/2 tablespoon sugar
1 egg white
15g butter
A little icing sugar

  • Lightly mash the raspberries and caster sugar together
  • Put egg yolks and sugar together in a bowl and beat well.
  • Put egg whites into another bowl with a pinch of salt and whisk until stiff.
  • Fold the whites into the yolk mixture.
  • Put butter into the pan and add when sizzling add the egg mixture, turn down heat and cook for 3 mins.
  • Pop the pan under a preheated grill for a couple of mins to puff up and colour.
  • Slide onto plate and pour over the raspberries.
  • Fold in half and dust with icing sugar.
This sweet and fluffy omelette is divine and unquestionably my favourite way to consume the good old wild raspberry

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Experiments with Red Clover

Clover's pink, purple or white flowers clustered in globular heads can often be found on grassland between May and October.. Their trifolate green leaves have pale to white markings.
How about some interesting clover facts to start:
  • Both the flowers and leaves of red and white clovers are edible (unless you're pregnant or breastfeeding.)
  • The leaves are a great source of calcium and protein.
  • Red clover is slightly better for you than white because it contains more of the medicinal good stuff including salicylic acid from which aspirin is made, and something called genistein,"which is thought to inhibit blood flow to cancerous growths" - Miles Irving.
  • Its dried flower heads and seeds were used to make bread during the famine in Ireland.
  • Bees are the only insect with tongues long enough to pollinate the flowers.
  • As members of the pea-family they have amazing nitrogen-fixing capabilities.
  • It was the Druids who imbued the four leaved clover with Celtic charms. It was thought to discourage malevolent spirits which was  lucky indeed.
  • Single ladies, put a two leaved clover in your right shoe and go out for a walk. The first man you encounter is supposed to be the one for you (or, at least, his namesake is!)
  • The world record for the number of leaves found on a clover is a massive 52!
Let me tell you this, I've eaten clover. I've picked the flowers as a bimble nibble, I've occasionally gathered the flowers and leaves to prettify salads, I've bought clover honey - hmm pushing it now? I have to admit it, I've pretty much neglected clover of all kinds. There must be more to it than I've given it credit for. I've actually always enjoyed the taste so why haven't I seen more recipes with clover as the star, it might have prompted me to use it a bit more. Time to trawl the internet and do a few experiments of my own to see what joys I've been missing out on. It was the Prodigal Gardens website that came up trumps with these recipes.

Red Clover Syrup
4 cups red clover flowers
4 cups water
4 cups sugar
  • Place the flowers and water in a saucepan. Bring to the boil and simmer gently for 15 mins.
  • Cover and leave to infuse overnight.
  • Remove the flowers using a piece of muslin, making sure to squeeze as much juice from the flowers as possible.
  • Add the sugar to the water (you can add 1/2 an orange at this stage if you like) and simmer gently for a couple of hours, stirring occasionally.
  • When the liquid looks quite frothy on the top and resembles honey when drizzled onto a cool plate, it's ready to bottle into sterilised jars.

I was pleasantly surprised by how this turned out. It has a taste not too dissimilar to clover honey. This syrup is superb poured over porridge, pancakes and ice cream.

Red Clover Pancakes
2 cups plain flour
1 cup clover flowers pulled apart
2 eggs
2 cups of milk
1/2 cup red clover blossom syrup (or honey)
2 tspns baking powder
1 tspn salt
1/4 cup oil + a little extra
  • Mix the dry ingredients together in one bowl and the wet ingredients in another.
  • Gradually pour the wet ingredients into the dry whisking together thoroughly.
  • You want a mixture that can be poured but one that isn't too runny. Add extra milk or flour if needed to achieve the right consistency.
  • Cook on an oiled griddle or frying pan over a low heat.
  • Serve with butter and/or red clover blossom syrup.
The clover gave these a beautifully delicate flavour.

Red Clover and Almond Scones
2 cups plain flour
1 1/2 cups red clover flowers pulled apart.
1/2 cup ground almonds
2 eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup butter
3 tspns baking powder
1/4 tspn almond extract
  • Place the flour, baking powder, butter and almonds in a food processor and whizz to form a crumbly mixture.
  • Add the eggs, buttermilk, almond extract and flowers and whizz again until combined.
  • Using an icecream scoop, spoon onto baking parchment and cook in a pre-heated oven 200 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes until golden.

I have to admit, other than an aftertaste of almond, I found these rather bland. Nothing that a couple of tablespoons of sugar wouldn't sort out, I'm sure. I'll tweak the recipe and have another bash at them. I really want to make this work because, although you sadly can't taste them, the little flecks of purple and pink running through the scones are unbelievably pretty.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Wild Strawberries - Pure and Simple!

Wimbledon has started! Two weeks of Pimms and lemonade, strawberries and cream,  rain, groundsheets and the odd smattering of tennis. What's that got to do with a blog about wild food? Not a lot, except for the strawberry part.

Apparently, the English word strawberry has nothing to do with the straw that farmers often put under the crop to stop the fruit from spoiling and has everything to do with its origin as a "strew"berry, meaning to scatter. This is probably as a reference to its habit of spreading across an area of ground by means of its runners. This is why you'll often find a patch of strawberries rather than one or two in splendid isolation. It's a fabulous little plant and, as well as being good eating, has a fair few medicinal uses traditionally being used to cure fevers, gout and the like. Culpeper declared it to be "singularly good for the healing of many ills."

You may well have encountered many strawberry plants if you've spent time out and about but, have you ever had your eye on patch of strawberry leaves in the spring only to become a bit miffed as to why no fruit has developed to harvest? It could be that you had your eye on the Wild Strawberry's second cousin, the Barren Strawberry. Even the latin name Potentilla sterilis takes great pains to tell us that this isn't a real strawberry at all. To avoid wasting your time and the inevitable disappointment in summer, it's worth learning a few distinguishing characteristics between the two species before the tell-tale emergence of fruit, or not.

Wild Strawberry

Barren Strawberry

  • The Barren Strawberry flowers earlier, typically February-May, whereas the Wild Strawberry flowers May-July.
  • Barren petals are slightly notched and more widely separated.
  • The central part of the flower is domed in the Wild Strawberry but not the Barren.
  • The leaves of the Barren Strawberry are softer, less shiny, less noticeably veined and less sharply toothed.
  • My personal favourite though, is that the centre tooth is the smallest tooth on the Barren Strawberry leaf and longer in the Wild Strawberry. This is my fail safe distinguishing feature.
If you have a quick look again, at the first photo in particular, you'll see the glamorous nature of strawberries - they've painted their nails crimson. Gorgeous!

Anyway, confident that you have identified strawberries proper, you can go to your patch in the sunny woodland clearing or grassy bank in June-July to gather the goods. I'm not just talking about collecting the fruit either, the fresh leaves are good in salads and tea. I always find it easier to see the strawberries if I get down to plant level. The fruit is pretty small, about the size of a pea, but when you catch a glimpse of the ruby amongst the green it really is a thrill. Unless you've found a beauty of a patch, it is highly unlikely that you will be able to easily collect massive quantities of strawberries. If you do, it is unlikelier still that they will make it back to your kitchen. If you have restraint enough to refrain from eating your bounty on the spot, I offer you my deepest respect and a couple of simple recipes.

Wild Strawberries With Cream Cheese
100g Wild Strawberries per person
75g full-cream cream cheese
1-2 tablespoons caster sugar per person

Not much to this one. Beat the cream cheese and sugar together and serve with the strawberries. It's simple yet entirely delicious!

Wild Strawberry Leaf Tea
Bruise a handful of young strawberry leaves and pop them into a teapot. Cover with boiling water and allow to infuse for about 5 minutes. Strain into cups and serve with a slice of lemon if desired.

Wild Strawberry Salad Dressing
You'll need equal quantites of strawberries and red wine vinegar, perhaps a cup of each. Mash the strawberries in a jar and stir in the vinegar. Cover with a lid and leave on a windowsill for a few days -give it a shake whenever you remember. After 4 days strain through muslin into a sterilised jar or bottle. Use in place of ordinary vinegar for a rich and fruity salad dressing.

Getting back to Wimbledon, how's about this beauty from Mark Hix?

Wild Strawberries and Pimm's Jelly

..or this one from Paul at WIld Food, Wild Mushrooms and Fishing?

Wild Strawberry and Rose Meringue Roulade with Crystalised Rose Petals

There are many other recipes to be found and I've seen some on the internet asking you to collect 2lbs of WIld Strawberries HaaahaaaHAAhaaaaHAAAAhaaaa!!!! Errr okay!! But listen, I'll be honest and say that I only made these dishes in the interests of testing for the blog. I would generally only use cultivated strawberries in most recipes. The reason being is that they take such a long time to pick in any quantity and I actually prefer my strawberries to be pure and simple - straight from plant to me in under a second! That's pretty hard to beat!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Elderflower Fizz

I know, I know, it's yet another post about elderflowers and it's about the ubiquitous elderflower champagne at that. Yes, it's a topic that has been done to death, but that's probably for very good reason. Elderflower champagne, or fizz if you'd prefer to keep the word champagne sacred, is a magnificent drink. It ranges in strength from cordial, to fizzy pop, to mildly alcoholic, to blow your socks off depending on your luck and cunning. No matter what strength you're aiming for, or receive, it's a drink that never seems to disappoint the palate. It also has the added bonus of giving seriously quick results - the flowers can go from tree to champagne glass in as little as two weeks. Groovy stuff. Obviously, like most things, if you have a bit of patience and are prepared to wait it out, the drink will be the better for it but after the first glass you perhaps won't notice anyway.

The fizz that you hope for in the elderflower champagne is a result of the fermentation happening inside the bottle - I think it's imaginatively called 'bottle fermentation.' The success of the fermentation is down to the yeast and sugar relationship - when alcohol is produced, carbon-dioxide is the by-product. Many recipes say there is sufficient wild/ambient yeast within the flowers to make the most sublimely bubbly and alcoholic of champagnes. I'm not denying this, but how do you know if you're collecting flowers with a good amount of wild yeast, or collecting from a barren area? How do you know that the wild yeast is the one that will react the way you want, to give the strength and flavour that you want? Well, you don't really. They're unpredictable and it's pot luck how your bubbly will turn out. I know I already said that even elderflower pop is yummy, it is, but let's face it if you're looking at champagne recipes you want a fair amount of alcohol in the finished product to be completely satisfied. Anything less feels a lot like failure. I know, I've been there. Having read this you might think, why bother making it? Well, I for one have had more success than failure with wild yeasts. I perversely quite like the anticipation and the thrill when it 'goes right.' But the best part is that there is a magic in making alcohol from ambient yeasts and the enjoyment is greater for it.

I'm going to describe two recipes here - one for the gambler/purist/magic-lover amongst you, the other for those that prefer more dependable results. I'm making both! Before we start, it would probably be wise to mention the bottling of elderflower champagne. It can be a very volatile liquid and can sometimes explode from the bottle in which it ferments. I always use either Grolsch type bottles with the swing top lid (excess gas is able to escape from this type of lid) or I use plastic bottles with screw top lids - the type that's used for fizzy drinks or water. You can see when the plastic bottles are bulging dangerously with gas and release a little if needed. Whichever type of bottle you use, it is important that they are scrupulously clean and well sterilised. I tend to store my bottles of bubbly inside a plastic box with an old towel draped over the top - just in case!

Magical Elderflower Champagne
6 large fully open elderflower heads
1kg sugar
2 lemons
4 tablespoons of white wine vinegar
10 litres cold water
  • Wash the lemons and remove the rind with a potato peeler. Squeeze the lemons and place lemon juice and rind in a suitably large container.
  • Add the sugar and white wine vinegar to the container along with the shaken (but not washed) elderflower heads.
  • Pour over the water, cover and leave to stand for 24 hours - gently stirring every few hours.
  • After 24 hours strain through a sieve and pour into sterilised bottles securing/screwing the cap very firmly.
  • Store in a room that is neither too hot or cold for at least two weeks.

Guaranteed Alcoholic Elderflower Champagne
15 large fully open elderflower heads
900g sugar
150ml white grape juice concentrate
3 washed lemons
Champagne yeast
Yeast nutrient
4.5 litres cooled boiled water
  • Remove the flowers from the stems using a fork. and place in a suitably large sterilised container.
  • Mix in the sugar and leave for three hours to extract maximum flavour.
  • Add the water and stir until the sugar has dissolved.
  • Stir in the grape concentrate, yeast and yeast nutrient.
  • Remove the lemon zest with a potato peeler and add this and the juice from the 3 lemons to the mixture.
  • Cover and leave for a week - stirring occassionally for the first few days.
  • Siphon into a sterilised demi-john with a bubble trap.
  • After one or two weeks you can test the specifc gravity of the champagne by dropping in a sterilised hydrometer. A reading of 1010 indicates it's time to siphon into sterilsed bottles leaving the sediment behind in the demi-john.
  • Leave for several weeks to develop fizz.
Perhaps it's not just the magic of wild yeast I like. Guaranteed alcohol is much harder work. I've just come across another recipe from Andy Hamilton that looks very interesting and a bit simpler:   I will probably try this one too - hic!


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Elderflower Turkish Delight

The weather here has been miserable - cold, dark and damp for days. Famously not the best weather for collecting elderflowers, but as I've never perceived an odd flavour from my previous rainy harvests, I'm going to risk it again with the damp flowers that now sit in my basket. Perhaps I should wait for resplendent sunshine, but hey, I live in Ireland. It rains a lot here. It rained through almost the entire elderflower season last year. It could be a long wait for elderflowers collected by the book this year. Damp elderflowers it has to be.

Alrighty then, plans for these fragrant little flowers. Since reading Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's Hedgerow River Cottage Handbook, which is excellent by the way, I've had a bit of a yearning to try the Elderflower Delight. It's been a bit of a wait between reading and for the elderflowers to arrive, but arrive they finally have!  Hugh's recipe uses gelatine which is something I'm not keen on. I've done a bit of improvising with cream of tartar and, I'm pleased to say, it worked!

Elderflower Turkish Delight
20 Elderflower sprays
700g granulated sugar
Juice of 2 lemons
400ml water
1 heaped tsp cream of tartar
130g cornflour + a little extra
30g icing sugar
  • Strip the elderflower blossoms using a fork and tie them into a piece of muslin (or similar) to form a bag.
  • Put the granulated sugar, lemon juice and 300ml of water in a heavy based pan, heat gently to dissolve the sugar, then leave to cool.
  • Line a shallow baking tray with baking parchment and dust with the extra cornflour.
  • In a bowl mix the 130g of cornflour, cream of tartar and remaining water until smooth, then add to the lemon sugar syrup.
  • Suspend the muslin bag in the pan and put back on a low heat stirring continuously (in a figure of eight) giving the bag a squeeze with the back of the spoon from time to time.
  • After 10/15 mins remove the bag - continuing to stir the now thickening mixture.
  • The mixture will become extremely gloopy. Test for readiness by dropping a little of the mixture onto a cold plate - you're looking for it to set firm. This can take quite a while and is tough on the arms.
  • Pour onto the prepared lined shallow baking tin and leave to cool for an hour before placing in the fridge.
  • Cut into squares with a sharp knife and roll in icing sugar.

Typically, the day after I wrote this post we've had the most glorious sunshiny day. Tsk. I don't think the Delight could have turned out any better though, sunshine or no :0)