Elderflower time again

IMG_7390You know it’s June when the elderflowers bloom!

I love making elderflower cordial. It’s a little bit of summer in a bottle. It’s also well worth it because the store bought version is relatively expensive.

I love picking it too: no thorns or stings and the smell is divine. We are lucky to have an elderflower tree growing over the corner of our allotment, behind the greenhouse. I harvest both the flowers and the berries each year but only from the lower branches. There is always plenty of fruit for the birds in the autumn.

IMG_7512I have been thinking all week about when I could do some foraging and preserving and today was the day. While Babykins raked and watered I snipped away at the big, creamy, flat flower heads, dusting the yellow pollen all around me as I went. Babykins and I also harvested the first courgette of the season.

IMG_7518Which, as you can see in the photo above didn’t last long.

Tonight I have started the process of making cordial. The flowers are steeping in a bath of sugar syrup and lemon slices. After my experiments last year, I have decided I prefer the sharper version of elderflower cordial (a bit like this). It’s a miracle that there’s any sharpness left in it at all when you realise just how much sugar goes into cordial.

IMG_2563Each pint of water requires 750g of sugar. I thought I would measure this by volume too. 750g of sugar is almost equivalent to a PINT and A HALF!!!!!!! No wonder it tastes good!

IMG_2559 For previous elderflower posts, click here

52 weeks of happy: 25/52

IMG_7482This is cheating a bit I suppose – four photo’s instead of one. I was very pleased with the way they all looked together though. The bright colours and the big blooms of the clematis at the top really knock you in the eye and the rose and elderflower have such beautiful, summery scents.

IMG_7486A child free night on the summer solstice saw us heading to our allotment for a spot of weeding. A shared bottle of Crabbies made it (almost) a date night. It would be an exaggeration to say the our plot is under control but it’s looking a lot better than last year. The strawberries are turning pink (yay – I might be able to stock up on jam this summer), the gooseberries are swelling, the runner beans are running up the poles, the first courgette is almost ready and the globe artichokes won’t be long either. Time to start planning some serious preserve making…

IMG_7491My first, very amateur attempt at nail art. Good job my client wasn’t fussy. She just thought it was the best thing ever to have polka dot, red, white and blue nails. Shame they could only stay on for 24 hours due to school rules. I have a feeling there might be some more fun had with this in the long summer holidays, especially when she has a birthday coming up too.

IMG_7497Son Number One requested an after school trip yesterday so we shot out as quickly as we could to RSPB Saltholme. Unfortunately, we couldn’t stay long as they close at 5pm and despite my best efforts, it was 4.30 when we got there. We just had time to check out the new ‘badger tunnels’ in the play area and have a quick race around the other (fabulous) play equipment.

So, I wondered, where to go next? The Middle Miss really wanted to go to another park with a play area but I thought something more peaceful was required. Just along the road from Saltholme is one of Teesside’s special places. Despite the proximity of a busy road, a titanium dioxide plant and a nuclear power station, there is a spot where you can almost always guarantee a seal sighting. It has been updated in the last year or two so that you now reach it via a path and a couple of boardwalks instead of by walking along the roadside. It has also been improved from a bare creek bank to a full size, elevated and sheltered hide. I know it’s impossible to tell from this photo but the row of dots on the left hand side, near the far shore are a group of harbour seals. 200 years ago about 1000 harbour seals lived in the area. Due to the massive industrialisation of the area the population was wiped out by the 1930’s. It is now recovering well. If you want to read more, follow the links here and here. To think that as a child I thought that the name ‘Seal Sands’, which describes the area where a great deal of the petrochemical industry is located, was never really going to be appropriate again. I’m really pleased that even in the depths of industrial Teesside, nature is able to recover and thrive.

Thrifty(ish) Lemon and Elderflower Jelly

I made my first batch of elderflower champagne a few weeks ago, the day the Olympic Torch came to town. I had big ideas about how much I was going to make and boiled up 16 litres of water! To cut a long story short, it was an epic fail on the domestic front and a lot of sugar went down the drain. On the plus side, I did think to keep the lemon ‘shells’ that were left when I’d squeezed out all the juice. I put them in the freezer. The following week, I added more lemons to my stash, as I made another batch of champagne (which is looking good) and some cordial.

In the back of my mind I was thinking that I’d seen a recipe for a fruity jam or jelly made from left overs of this kind. When making jams and jellies, you need fruit that contains plenty of pectin. Lemons, particularly the pith, have lots, and of course, they also have plenty of acid, another essential for a good jam.

With the elderflower season still in full swing and my cordial turning out successfully, I had a flash of inspiration. I could use the lemons to create an elderflower flavoured jelly. It is not a particularly fast thing to make but that suits me as I can do it in stages. Here is the recipe.

You will need…

25 to 30 Elderflower heads, ideally picked in warm sunshine (if you can remember what that is)

Approximately 1kg of lemon ‘shells’, i.e. cut in half and juice removed. I had 17 by the time I counted up.

2 Oranges

2 1/2 pints (1500ml) of boiling water

3 lb (1300g) of granulated sugar

A large preserving pan. Some people get away with using the largest pan they can find but it should be as deep as possible as boiling jam rises a lot.

A funnel for pouring the hot jelly.

What to do: Stage 1

Shake the elderflowers well to remove any insects

Put the lemons and elderflowers into a pan and cover with 2 1/2 pints (approximately 1500ml) of boiling water. If that is not enough water to cover your fruit, add more. It’s not too critical at this point.

Juice the oranges and add the juice and ‘shells’ to the pan.

Bring to the boil and simmer for about 2 hours or until the lemon and orange peel is soft.

Leave everything in the pan to cool and infuse. I did this over night.

What to do: Stage 2

Strain the liquid through a scalded jelly bag or muslin cloth to separate it from the fruit. It’s not too hard to set up a straining system by tying a muslin over a bowl, pan or bucket, see my picture here. If you want to save washing up, strain your liquid into your large jam pan.

You need to leave this for a couple of hours or again, you could leave it overnight. Whatever you do, don’t be tempted to prod, poke or squeeze or your jelly will be cloudy. If you are not bothered about having cloudy jelly, by all means go ahead and extract every little drop of lemony goodness.

While the liquid is straining, check on your jam jar supply. You will need roughly six small or 4 large jam jars (I always sterilise more than I need, just to be on the safe side). Make sure they are well washed in hot soapy water and inspect inside the lids for signs of rust.

Place your jars, but not the lids, the right way up on a baking tray and put them in the oven. You don’t need to switch it on yet.

Measure out your sugar. The rough rule of thumb is a pound of sugar to a pint of liquid though I’ve got a feeling I used a bit more, hence the 3lb or 1300g in the recipe. You could put your sugar in an oven proof dish and put it in the oven with the jars. That way, when you come to add it to the boiling liquid it is already warm and should dissolve more easily. It is not essential to do this, I rarely do but if you want your jelly to be a lighter colour, it might help as you shouldn’t need to boil the sugar for as long.

What to do: Stage 3

When you are satisfied that no more juice is going to drip out, discard your pulpy fruit (or see below for variation) and measure how much liquid you have left. I had about 800ml.

Now dilute your liquid with boiling water until you have 1600 ml or approximately 2 1/2 pints. I actually added a slosh of elderflower cordial at this point as well.

Put the strained liquid into your large jam pan and begin to warm it.

While it is heating you can get on with some other jobs.

Turn on the oven to 100C (Gas 1/4 or 225F) to dry and sterilise the jam jars and perhaps warm the sugar.

Put a small plate into the fridge. This will be useful later when you are testing for setting point.

Put the jam jar lids into a small pan and cover them in boiling water to sterilise. Make sure they are turned upside down so that the inside of them gets filled with water.

When the liquid is beginning to bubble, add the sugar and stir gently until it is dissolved. Keep a careful eye on the heat and your mixture at this point or you could end up with a very burnt pan!

When the sugar is completely dissolved, you can turn up the heat and bring the liquid to a rolling boil. It should rise and froth and generally remind you of a witches cauldron. In theory, you should achieve setting point in about 10 to 15 minutes. I didn’t boil my liquid hard enough so it took much longer. In any case, be prepared for at least half an hour of boiling because this is another stage when you can’t take your eye off the ball.

To test to see if your jelly is going to set, use a spoon to drip a small amount onto your cold plate. Leave it for a minute and then gently push it with your finger. If it crinkles, your jelly is ready to put into jars. If not, boil it for another five minutes and check again.

If it is ready, skim off any bubbly scum with a slotted spoon and then slowly and carefully pour the hot jelly into the hot jars using a funnel. If you keep the jars on the oven tray you will catch any spills.

CAUTION!!! You need to be VERY CAREFUL at this point. The jelly is VERY hot and could stick to your skin causing serious burns if you spill it. If the worst happens run any burnt areas under cold water until they stop stinging.

Making sure you use tongs to remove the lids from the hot water and oven gloves to protect your hands, put the lids onto the jars and screw them on well. Alternatively, you can use cellophane lids and elastic bands. You will probably have to use the latter method if you want to enter your lovely jelly into any shows or competitions as I am planning to later in the year.

When your jars are cool, label them, making sure you put on the date you made your jam and a ‘best before’ date, 12 months in the future.

Enjoy your jelly…

My next plan involves gooseberries and elderflowers. Lets hope it stops raining for long enough for me to pick some.
Variation: Lemon Marmalade with Elderflower
I haven’t tried this but it should work in theory….
After you have strained the lemon and elderflowers, remove the lemon shells and slice them very thinly to create the kind of shred you find in marmalade. Add the shred to the boiling jelly once the sugar has dissolved and before you bring it to a rolling boil. When you have achieved setting point, let your marmalade cool for approximately ten minutes as this will help the shred to be more evenly distributed in the jar when you bottle it up.