Friday June 19th 2009, 2:07 pm

summer flowers and tea cosy

The countryside in June is utterly lush. Before leaving home for work this morning I took the opportunity to pick a bunch of flowers from the garden for the shop. I simply cut single stems of one thing, two or three stems of something else, just whatever took my fancy until I’d made up a sizeable bunch. There was no real editing as regards colours with one exception – I still can’t get my head around bright yellow flowers, but apart from instinctively ignoring that part of the spectrum, all other colours were allowed.

summer flowers in The Laundry at Taurus

I included a few stems of herb robert, that seeds itself everywhere, so can be safely classified as a weed, some comfrey and three lovely scented country roses, filling in the gaps with ladies mantle. So far my arrangement has sparked off several conversations with customers and many admiring comments. Now, not only is the countryside out there rich and verdant, my shops pretty damn floribundant as well. Oh by the way – fabulous flower topped handmade tea cosies, exclusive to The Laundry can be found here.

summer flowers and tea cosy

Friday June 12th 2009, 12:50 pm

a basket of elderflowers

I grew up in a town and cordial was something you bought from a shop. When elderflower cordial became available in foodie shops and subsequently became very fashionable, to me it was as if it had only just been invented. It is of course a traditional drink that country folk have been making for centuries but that had never, to my knowledge, made it as far as the industrial north of England, not into our house at any rate. It is as easy as anything to make and round here, right now, the trees are heaving with these fluffy cream fragrant blossoms. Now is the best time to go out foraging to pick elderflowers and stock up with cordial.
The flowers are best picked on a sunny morning, when the warmth of the sun encourages the release of their exquisite floral scent. Choose fresh clean flower heads that are just off white to pale cream and discard any that are starting to yellow, then shake the flowers, face down, so any creepy crawlies fall out. Sniff the blossoms, ditching any with an unpleasant cat-pee vibe and go only for the sweetest floral scented ones. Go to work making your cordial as soon after gathering the flowers as you can. As mentioned in my last piece, citric acid can usually be bought from your chemist and apart from that ingredient, everything else is straightforward, just water, sugar, lemons and oranges.

making elderflower cordial

Makes about 1.5 litres (2 1/2 pints)
20 fresh elderflower heads
1.5kg (3lb 5oz) sugar
40g (1 1/2oz) citric acid
2 unwaxed lemons, thinly sliced
2 oranges, thinly sliced

Place the sugar and 1.2 litres (2 1/4 pints) water in a large pan and warm slowly, stirring to dissolve the sugar, then bring to the boil. Add the flowers, bring again to the boil then remove immediately from the heat. Add the citrus fruits and citric acid, stir together, then leave covered in a cool place for 24 hours to steep.
Strain the cordial into clean dry sterilised bottles with clip tops or corks and label with the date. The cordial will last for a month or 2 unopened in the fridge. Once opened keep refrigerated and use it within a few weeks. You can freeze it in plastic containers, in which case it will keep for 6 months or more in the freezer.
Serve diluted with still or fizzy water to taste or use this syrup to flavour jams, desserts and icings.

making elderflower cordial

Tuesday June 09th 2009, 9:28 am

Fruits of The Earth - My preserving book

As the preserving season starts to get into gear I am receiving more and more interest for my jam making book, Fruits of The Earth, which is selling very well in the shop. Over the next two weeks there is an abundance of elderflowers to be picked and made into cordial. Local gooseberries are also only a few weeks away from being ready to harvest, so if the elderflowers are still in good enough condition by then they can be combined to make gooseberry and elderflower jam. The same with the strawberries that will be at their best over the next few weeks.

book review waitrose food illustrated
waitrose food illustrated book review for fruits of the earth

I am really pleased that Waitrose Food Illustrated has chosen the book to review and their recommendation is very favourable. Not that there is much time to dwell on these things – there are elderflowers needing to be gathered. If I make enough cordial there will be plenty to put in the freezer, as well as for making summer drinks to consume now, not to mention for use to flavour cakes, icings and ice cream. I will post the recipe next. It always amuses me when the lady in the chemist gives me a grilling about what exactly I need citric acid for. This substance is obviously useful for some underhand illegal activity of which I have no knowledge, making the assistant behind the counter obliged to ask. But it makes me feel like a rebellious middle aged anarchist under interrogation, not generally the image I project. Or do I …..!

Thursday May 28th 2009, 11:26 pm

viburnum opulus at The Laundry

The viburnum opulus I planted in my garden 20 years ago would have been the first thing I planted after moving in. I knew this shrub as guelder rose, and went to a garden centre to order one. A couple of weeks later when I returned to pick it up, I was presented with a gerber rose, a pink rambling country-style rose with a leggy habit! It seemed that fate had meant me to have this rose so I took a philosophical view and planted the rose in the garden instead. So that was the first plant I planted after taking residency. The guelder rose became the second.

viburnum opulus sterile detail

Now, 20 years on, my little shrub has become a massive fully grown tree that straddles the borderline between mine and my neighbours garden and every year, during May, it gives a really spectacular display, covered in pom-pom blossom that is totally lovely. I like it best when the flowers are just beginning to open, when they are a subtle shade of greenish white, and the balls of flowers are still quite small. The whole process begins and ends within the month, ending up with the big blowsy snowballs going over and dropping the individual flowerlets all over the garden in such abundance it looks as if it has snowed. While the flowers are in bloom they look great used like cut flowers in a large container and I have been using them over the last few weeks to decorate the shop. The display has provided a real talking point and customers have come up with several other names for the shrub including snowball bush and Whitsunboss.

viburnum opulus in the hedgrow

This variety of viburnum opulus is the sterile one more likely to have been commercially bred as a decorative garden shrub. The non-sterile version, often found in amongst the hedgerow, has much more modest blossoms but saves its real splendour for the autumn, when it produces bright red translucent berries that look like they are made of glass, very like redcurrants. Sterile flowers around the edges of the flowerheads open up but the smaller fertile inner flowers in the centre, when pollinated, will become the berries later in the year. Here follows a description captured in biological jargon about the blossom, which I think sounds strangely poetic: ‘Inflorescence – Terminal, flat-topped cymes. Compound and resembling umbels, to +13cm broad. Stalks glabrous to very sparsely pubescent.’ Both varieties have beautiful coloured foliage in the autumn.

viburnum opulus in the hedgrow

Sunday May 24th 2009, 11:29 pm

elderflower blossom just starting to come out

Being without a car for a few days this week has meant I’ve been walking to work, and even though it has been mainly tipping it down (with rain) it is such a great way to focus my attention on what’s going on around me. I have to make a real effort to live in the moment when there is always so much needs to be done to develop things for the future. It is very easy to let things and time go by unnoticed.

elderflowers just starting to come into flower.

The elderflowers are just starting to come into blossom. I’m glad I’ve realised this as it gives me a week or two to get prepared. I never make quite enough elderflower cordial, usually only enough to last for a few weeks. I’m hoping to make more than enough this year so I can put plenty in the freezer as well.

elderflowers in close up.