Thursday, 19 May 2011

Elderflower Heaven

My kitchen smells glorious today! Next week sees the arrival of guests for two weeks of painting bliss with celebrated artist Nicola Slattery so I'm busy in the kitchen and garden preparing treats for their stay. I love foraging in the hedgerows around here, particularly the ones at 'Les Cerisiers' and right now they are dominated by the splendour of Elderflowers. I love the creamy mass of brightness, the sweet scent they produce and their promise of Elderflower cordial and, later on in the year, elderbery jam and wine. Today I thought I'd share my recipe for the cordial with you:

You will need-

1.5 litres water

1.5 kilos of white sugar

2 oranges thinly sliced

2 lemons thinly sliced

Thinly sliced ginger to taste

40 grammes citric acid (available from chemists)

20 Elderflower heads

What to do-

On a warm afternoon or evening (and we're having quite a few of these at the moment) harvest your flower heads. Just snip across the stalk to keep the flower heads whole. Fresh flower heads will be light and creamy with plenty of pollen and are heavily fragranced. If they smell like old socks or cats pee, they are passed their best (or your cat has widdled on them) so don't use them. As you harvest the flower heads, lie them flower down, stalk up, on a flat surface giving any unwanted visitors the opportunity to escape. There are no strict rules regarding numbers of flower heads, I was making a double batch and lost count after 27, it doesn't matter.

Warm the sugar and water in a large pan until the sugar has dissolved, then bring to the boil. Add the flower heads and bring to the boil again then remove from the heat. Stir in your remaining ingredients and leave this mixture to steep for 24 hours in a cool place whilst you enjoy yourself doing something that makes you feel glad to be alive.

Strain the liquid into bottles or jars that can be well sealed. The cordial will keep for up to a year if placed in the freezer or 2 months in the fridge.
To serve, blend with mineral water or lemonde then share with a friend.

NB Harry Cat has agreed to his photo being published on the understanding that I point out he has in no way interfered with the Elderflowers featured in a negative way!

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Catch up

Gosh! Where did March and April go? We've been having a lovely, albeit busy, time since I last blogged so I thought I'd better update with what we've been up to. This time of year is usually the calm before the (welcome) storm of guests who come to attend one of our courses, join one of our retreats, simply rent the space or pass through on motorbikes: details of all of these can be found

However, we've been fortunate to have our families and friends staying here on and off for several weeks (March, April) so have been dividing our time between catching up on all those out doors jobs (preparing the veggie patch, laying concrete, building a hen house, painting fences, harvesting nettles - more of this later) and having a thoroughly excellent time being site see-ers.
It's true of a lot of us that when you live somewhere amazing, you rarely actually go and visit all that the area has to offer. Two of our first time visits I'll share with you now. Not 15 minutes from our front door is the lovely Chateau de Dree. We pitched up on a gorgeous, sunny afternoon and whilst the Mums sat in the rose garden soaking up the rays, Mark, his Dad, Adam and I explored the 17th century house. A picture of Queen victoria adorned the entrance hall so we felt right at home and we marvelled at the collection of chamber pots, bathroom (complete with six baths of varying size) and views from the windows.

A little further from home are the Cascades d'herrison, dramatic waterfalls during the winter and breathtaking iced stalagtites when it's really cold, we only got to see a trickle (we've had a heat wave for two months) so had to draw on our imaginations to fill in the gaps where the water should have been. The ride over, we took our motor bike, was great though and we will certainly go back after the rain.

The other event in April that made me smile was the royal wedding. The Brits do ceremony well and I say any excuse to have a party. There was one potential hitch, accoring to French law, the flying of any national flags other than the tricoleur is forbidden without permission from the mayor. Not wishing to miss out on flying some bunting, I hastily scrawled a note to our leader and received a charming responce not only giving permission for us to fly our Union Jacks with vigour, but also wishing Wills and Kate a long and happy life together - I'll pass the sentiments on.

Back to the nettle harvest, living in the country fills me with joy and discovering new recipes from the produce around the house gives me a great deal of fulfilment. Last years Lavender lemonade went down a storm and I hope to eclipse this with my Elderflower cordial. But the surprise for me was finding out just how tasty (and nutrious) nettles are. In my previous life as a city girl, I would have bet against the chances of me ever picking, cooking and eating nettles in this life time. Never say Never!

The last photo is of my irises - much more pretty than nettles (though not as flavoursome!)