Mind Charity Event – The charity Feast!

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This time last year, I was preparing to cycle through Cambridge on a fairly ancient pushbike dressed as Princess Leia, with a papier mache R2D2 strapped to the back of my bike. This is not just because I am a far-too-geeky exhibitionist (although it’s a contributing factor…) but my cycling escapade in the Great British Summer (read: pouring rain) raised £800 for a charity that is very important to me, Mind.

Just over a year ago a good friend of mine killed himself. This was a long time coming, in as far as he had some very serious mental health problems that were not being properly addressed with constructive healthcare. As a friend, it was maddening to hear him get a little worse every time I spoke to him. We suffered from two crucial problems – he felt as though his depression was embarrassing and shameful, and had to be hidden away from as many people as possible. Because he was not alone in that mindset, I had very little experience of dealing with someone with (frequently suicidal) depression, and had no idea what to say or do.

When he reached the point that he seemed dangerously suicidal, I googled ‘mental health helpline’ and started calling any charity that looked like it could offer me some kind of advice on what to do for my friend. Many, like the Samaritans, offer an outstanding listening service (that I know for a fact saved my friend from himself more than once) but they are not in a position to offer advice.

I eventually struck on Mind’s mental health helpline. When I said I was ‘calling about a friend’ they did not immediately assume that this was a lie, and listened carefully to what I had to say. When I explained that I wanted help knowing how to talk to my friend about his depression, what things are dangerous to say to a suicidal person, what things are known to be constructive, they were well-prepared to help. They sent me all sorts of information tailored towards helping someone who is supporting a suicidal friend/relative, and provided me a list of their services in my friend’s area that he may find helpful. Most of these were free or heavily subsidised. After my friend died, again, their website and helpline provided me with outstanding support and comfort.

I found no other mental health charity to offer such impressive services, but more to the point, Mind is one of the key voices in helping to break down the stigma of mental illness, and have it treated as just that: an illness.

This year, I am once again raising money for this charity. I am combining my love of food with a fundraising event, by inviting eight unsuspecting victims guests to my house for a meal. After the meal, they will then donate to charity what they feel that the meal was worth. The guest list is now pretty much confirmed, but as with last year, the Justgiving page I’m using to collect donations is open access. If you would like to make a donation to this charity, you can do so either through the Mind website, or on my Justgiving page (links below).

Make a one-off donation (Mind website): www.mind.org.uk/donate

Make a regular donation (Mind website): www.mind.org.uk/get_involved/donate/make_a_regular_donation

Donate via my Justgiving page: http://www.justgiving.com/Amanda-Brunton1

If you are also in a situation where you either want to seek help for mental illness, or are supporting someone else, you may find the following links helpful.

Mind website: www.mind.org.uk

– Full of useful information (I’ve picked out some links below) and also has a very useful helpline.

Mental health A-Z (Mind website): http://www.mind.org.uk/mental_health_a-z

Coping with suicidal feelings (Mind website): http://www.mind.org.uk/mental_health_a-z/8053_suicidal_feelings

Supporting someone with suicidal feelings (Mind website): http://www.mind.org.uk/mental_health_a-z/8065_suicide-supporting_someone_else

The Samaritans: http://www.samaritans.org/

– The Samaritans offer a listening service, although not advice. They are open 24/7.

You can also go to one of their branches, to talk to someone face-to-face, or contact them over email. Details below:

http://www.samaritans.org/how-we-can-help-you/contact-us

If you’re outside the UK, Befrienders worldwide partner with the Samaritans and offer a worldwide service: http://www.befrienders.org/

If you live in the UK, your first port of call should really be your GP. Some areas are limited in funding for mental healthcare, so it is important to know what other avenues you have for support. Nonetheless, none of the services above can replace a trained mental health practitioner.

 

Thanks for reading – I’ll be sure to post some pictures of the delicious meal I come up with after the event 🙂

 

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Hot Pink Apron – A new chapter

We just got a little nuttier

It all started with pine nut biscuits.

Well, sort of.

A couple of weeks ago I had a hankering after biscuits – pine nut biscuits to be precise. My father in law had just served up a delicious risotto scattered with them, and sure enough the next day I wanted them in biscuit form. A bit of googling revealed that the Italians were already on the case, and the resulting biscuit was a ‘pignoli’. The only hold up – it needed almond paste, which I had no idea where to buy. Undeterred, I decided to make my own.

The biscuits were something of a mixed success (taste: gorgeous. Texture: not unlike cinder toffee. Needs work!) and lamenting my misfortune to hunger after such a complicated recipe on facebook (where else) an interesting email pinged its way to my inbox.

proposal

I was excited. Dana is one of my husband’s Canadian cousins, and her blog, Hot Pink Apron, is one of the reasons I started blogging. Whatever this proposition was, I had already decided that I wanted in. I waited by my email, hitting refresh like a madwoman, but it was hella worth it.

Hot Pink Apron up to this point has been Dana’s baby. Having let the career take a back seat while she raises two gorgeous girls, Hot Pink Apron has been an amazing creative outlet for a lady with some serious talent with food. It’s garnered a bigger and bigger following, and has started producing all kinds of opportunities to review food, restaurants and kitchen products. It’s as much about being a parent, a misfit (in the best possible way) and being a unique and interesting person as it is about food, and it’s easy to see why the blog has so many dedicated followers these days.

The proposal Dana sent me was to turn an already-popular one-woman blog into an even-better collaborative magazine. My (slightly wobbly) attempts at pignoli were apparently attention-grabbing enough to grab me on board, and I’m so glad to be here. Sit tight for the next Bruntonian adventure, because Hot Pink Apron is about love of life, good food, local produce, and laughing often. I’ve already been introduced to some fabulous people as part of this project, and I can’t wait to get started on making it every bit as awesome as it looks.

Launch date is 4th April and will involve a new shiny website, and a bucket load of new content from the lovely ladies behind Hot Pink Apron. Come on over – trust me, you’ll love it here.

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Baking your own bread – Sourdough

Last summer, as part of my ongoing experimentation with making different kinds of bread, I decided to make sourdough. This is more than likely one of the earliest forms of bread, as it simply capitalises on naturally found yeast. Unlike with regular bread, you don’t add yeast – you grow it yourself in what is known as a ‘starter’. The flavour (as the name suggests) is a little sour and the texture is firmer than normal bread (I’ve heard it described as almost ‘chewy’). It is also much slower to make than regular bread – the natural yeasts aren’t cultivated for speed, so it will need several hours at a time for proving. I find this to be something of an advantage, particularly for making bread over the weekend – once you have got the dough ready, you simply leave it somewhere warm for the day, and come back to beautifully risen dough. Still, the technique is very different, largely due to having to cultivate your ‘starter’.

This rich, dense bread really lends itself to being made with walnuts, poppy seeds, or sunflower seeds and is categorically the most delicious bread for jam and toast. The slightly sour tang of the bread really enhances the sweetness of the jam (recipe for jam here. Not as hard as you might think).

Yay, science!

The starter relies on two symbiotic micro-organisms, yeast, and lactobacilli. The lactobacilli are a type of bacteria that produce lactic acid, and create the slightly sour tang to the bread. They also break down the maltose sugar into straight-up glucose. The yeast does what yeast always does – chows down on sugar (made by the handy lactobacilli) and produces carbon dioxide and alcohol. The alcohol, as in all bread, evaporates in the oven, but the carbon dioxide is what makes your bread rise.

Your starter will be full of living organisms, and as such they’ll need to be fed. You have to ‘refresh’ the starter every so often and ‘feed’ it with more flour and water. The strains of yeast and bacteria will vary from bakery to bakery, kitchen to kitchen, so you often find people getting rather possessive about their preferred starter – it becomes something like a kitchen pet.

Convinced you to give it a try yet?

Sourdough

The starter

The natural yeast you will be using needs time to get going. Your starter will need to be at least a week old before you use it.

To get it going, whisk together 100g wholemeal bread flour with enough warm water to make something like the texture of runny pancake batter – fairly sloppy is fine. Beat plenty of air into it and wander round the kitchen as you do – you want plenty of chance for it to meet up with some natural yeast. Cover it with cling film and leave 24 hours.

After 24 hours, you should see some signs that it is fermenting – it should start to bubble, and over time it will start to smell a bit vinegary/fermented. It won’t smell terribly delicious at this stage, but that’s normal. Provided it’s starting to bubble a little, tip out half and then ‘feed’ it with 100g more wholemeal flour and enough water to bring it back to that runny consistency. Do this daily for a week. Getting it going is quite expensive in flour, but once you’ve got your starter fermenting, it won’t need feeding anything like as often.

The bread

After your week is up, you should start to notice a difference in the smell and texture of the starter. It will still be a sour smell, but should have started to smell less acrid, almost a little beery. If it is mouldy, or still smells revolting, then throw it out and start over.

I tend to make it very slowly to give it the best rise, so you start the dough off the day before.

The night before mix together:
– 100 ml of your starter
– 250g strong bread flour
– 275ml water

Pop this in a bowl with clingfilm and leave at room temperature overnight. It will bubble up nicely provided your starter was a success.

The next morning knead in:
– 10g salt (essential and not just for taste – it holds back the yeast a bit)
– 200g strong bread flour
– 1 tbsp olive oil (rapeseed oil is even better if you have it, this is optional but makes a nice texture)
Give it a good knead for 10 minutes – it will be really sticky, don’t be tempted to dry it out too much by adding more flour – you’ll get a better rise this way. Be firm with kneading it – if after about 7 minutes of kneading it feels a little dry, wet the dough. How much water to add depends on how wet your starter is/how active your yeast is/how warm it is etc so experiment a bit. You do start to get a feel for it after a couple of attempts. The worst that happens is that your bread is a little dense.

Leave this to prove somewhere warm until it has doubled in size. It will take longer than regular bread (usually at least 3 hours) but can be left all day really.

Later that afternoon/evening knock back your dough, and leave it to prove either on a baking tray, or in a loaf tin if you prefer. Again, leave it somewhere warm to prove – usually around 3 hours.

Recently, I have taken to putting it in a large round cake tin, covering it with another bowl so that it doesn’t dry out, and leaving it overnight to bake in the morning. This ensure the slow, even rise that sourdough likes.

Bake once it looks good to go – either late that night or early the next morning. As with any bread, you’re waiting for it to have doubled in size – give it 15 mins at 220* and then another 15-20 at around 190*. To get the best oven spring out of it, get a spray bottle of water and occasionally give the hot oven a judicious squirt – bread loves a steamy oven.

It’s a fairly long process, but the amount of time you spend on each bit is no more than 10 mins at a go really.

How to take care of your starter

Top your starter up as follows:

– If you’re baking really regularly, do the flour and water feed daily. Keep your starter at room temperature.

– This takes A LOT of flour, so alternatively, keep it in the fridge and it will go a whole week quite happily. Just bring it up to room temperature when you want to use it.

– Even more extreme – overfeed it. Give it enough flour to get a sticky dough and it will go about four days at room temperature.

– More extreme still – overfeed and put in the fridge. We’re talking like ten days + here before it’s going to want your attention.

– If you really only want this occasionally, chuck it in the freezer. It will get going again upon being (gently) defrosted, and brought back to its runny consistency for a day.

If you forget to feed it – panic not. Yeast and bacteria tend to just go dormant until food is available, so unless it has gone mouldy, just feed it and stir it well.

It will also live very happily in a jar, so you can seal it up in there once it’s had that first week of sucking up all the yeast in the air.

Enjoy your new found love of sourdough, it’s addictive stuff 🙂

Getting ready for Christmas part 2 – Chocolate Truffles

This is a recipe I found on a forum back in the day when I was about 17. I have no idea where the original came from any more, but I had never seen anything like it at the time and have been using it for years. Now that people like Jamie Oliver and Delia Smith (whose recipes, incidentally, I can’t stand since the great coffee cake disaster of ’06…just ask my poor nan!) have websites, there are a proliferation of similar recipes all over the internet now. They’re very simple to make and taste delicious. Great for Christmas, or in fact, just for scoffing. Either way, they’re going in the hampers!

(Pictures to follow on Friday once I have actually made them – just thought I’d give you all the recipe as early as possible!)

Chocolate Truffles

Ingredients

– 225g dark chocolate (milk doesn’t set so well – plus you’re adding loads of cream. Dark is fine milky chocolate lovers.)
– 250ml thick double cream
– 55g butter
– Unsweetened cocoa powder to dust
– Flavouring of your choice – more on that at the end!

Method

– Chop the chocolate into small chunks. A pain in the backside, but important to have it set properly.

– Put the cream into a heavy bottomed pan and slowly bring to a gentle simmer. The intention is not to boil it to death, just get it hot. Tip in the butter, and keep simmering until it is melted.

– Pour the cream and butter mixture over your melted chocolate in a heatproof bowl. The smallness of the chunks of chocolate is important here because you want the chocolate to gently melt under the influence of warm cream – slowly and gently. This will make it set better. Don’t cheat by just nuking your chocolate – if it persistently won’t melt, make a bain marie by putting it in a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water, and stir constantly. Don’t let the water touch the bowl – we’re going for a gentle heat here.

– Sometimes it separates a little at this stage. I don’t fret too much as once it’s chilled this usually resolves itself with a bit of stirring. Leave to cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally, and then give it a little time in the fridge until it’s quite firm and cool to the touch.

– Spoon out the mixture into truffle sized pieces and with COLD HANDS (run under the cold tap if necessary) roll out into a surface dusted with cocoa to get a good shape. Keep refrigerated (fresh cream won’t keep that long at room temperature!).

– Eat. Or give away as presents. Or serve at your Christmas party. If you have the self restraint.

I said I’d talk about flavourings didn’t I?

Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten. You have a few options here – your imagination is the limit. Some flavourings are better added to the cream, some are better added to something approximating the finished mixture.

  • If you want to add cinnamon or similar, I’d recommend adding this to the cream as it heats up, then strain the cream before tipping over your chocolate to remove any chunks. This will make a lighter, more delicate flavour.
  • Whiskey, rum, and most spirits are pretty delicious with chocolate. I add a tablespoon or so to the cream just before pouring over the chocolate as it is the easiest way of incorporating the liquid.
  • On the other hand, citrus, such as orange, is easiest to add to the hot mixture – a tbsp of juice plus a little finely grated zest is good. Decorate the top with a tiny sliver of sliced peel, or candied peel if you can get it.
  • Chilli! Chilli chocolate is the business. Add some finely chopped chilli to the mixture and decorate with a thin slice of chilli so everyone knows these chocolates are HOT.
  • Cracked black pepper – also nice. Go for something fairly coarse.
  • Mint – I add a touch of mint essence to the cream. Be sparing.
  • Alternatively, roll your finished chocolates in flaked almonds, or stir in chopped nuts – hazelnuts are good, as are walnuts.
  • I personally can’t abide coconut but there are some depraved individuals who might consider ruining some perfectly good truffles by rolling them in dessicated coconut. I’ve heard they exist, anyway.

Hopefully these are enough ideas to get you started! Fudge recipe will go up shortly – once I find it!

Of Jam and Jerusalem

Well… mostly jam.

A few months ago a friend of mine asked me to join the WI with her. Obviously I said yes. The prospect of belting out Jerusalem at the top of my lungs was a massive draw, but too old to be a girl guide, and never really having got into rangers, I was really looking forward to joining what to me, looked like girl guides for grownups.

Thankfully, turns out I was bang on the money. Except for the Jerusalem bit, apparently nobody does that anymore. (boo)

The CamCityWI (as we have recently named ourselves) are a pretty exciting bunch – set up to be a bit less formal, a bit more creative, the group certainly has a less traditional mindset than you might expect. By the very nature of the beast it has attracted a large number of women who crochet, knit, bake, and do other ‘traditional’ WI activities – but it’s also attracted a different age group, and with it, a very lively attitude. The age range is surprisingly big – 20 somethings through 50 somethings on the whole – but where most groups tailor themselves towards retired members in what they do, where they meet, and the time of day they meet, this group is most certainly aimed at a younger demographic.

Me and the mother in law have joined, and will be paying our subs at next month’s meeting, and the mother is also seriously considering making an appearance – consider the WI the next adventure in Bruntonia!

So is there going to be any actual content in this post Amanda?

Well jam is kind of in the title, so it would seem a bit disingenuous not to talk about jam. Remember that massive glut of strawberries I mentioned we had earlier this year? Well Brunton number one and I froze plenty of them, as there were simply basketfuls that we couldn’t eat. Literally several kilos of strawberries. Now, wet fruit like strawberries don’t love being frozen – the liquid expands as it freezes, breaks down the fruit, and then when it defrosts, leaves a limp, juicy lump that is nothing like the delicious plump fruit you froze three months before.

We discovered that these make the best ice cubes in Pimm’s – keeping the drink cool and pouring out delicious strawberry juice as they melt. We also experimented with strawberry wine (a great success) but still have well over a kilo left. The raspberries are also going great guns right now, as is the rhubard plant.

Jam simply had to happen.

So this is a full on make it up as you go along recipe, but is as good a place to start as any, and nothing like as difficult as I thought it would be.

Mixed fruit jam

You will need:

  • Sterilised jam jars – you can sterilise them but putting them in a cold oven and gradually heating up to 100*, turning the oven off, and leaving it to cool down. By the time your jam’s done, they’ll be both cool and sterile. Alternatively, if you’re worried about the structural integrity of your jars, use a sterilising fluid, such as Milton.
  • A big ol’ pan
  • A long handled spoon
  • Patience

The actual ingredients:

  • A couple of sticks of rhubard, chopped up
  • About 150g of apple peel and core
  • The rind of two lemons
  • 1 kilo strawberries
  • 500g raspberries
  • 750 jam sugar (it has added pectin)

Method:

  • Sterilise your jars first, as described above. You all know about my thing with the zombie virus. Don’t question me, just do it.
  • Put the apple bits and the lemon rind in a saucepan and cover with boiling water – use just enough to cover. Simmer for at least 40 mins. This is basically a jam stock, and will add flavour and pectin later.
  • Put the raspberries in a pan and heat them up. The juice will start to come out and they will go to mush. Once it’s started to reduce, add the strawberries, and the chopped up rhubarb.
  • Actually pay attention to it a while – you risk burning if you don’t. Keep stirring until you genuinely have fruit pulp and nothing more. Throw in the sugar!
  • Keep simmering. You want that stuff to start reducing into a jammy gunk. This is going to want at least 20-30 mins so turn the heat down and make yourself a cup of tea.
  • Hopefully your tea was delish and you haven’t forgotten about your jam. It should be good and sticky, and nicely reduced. Hopefully your jam stock has also been sitting there simmering away for a good while, so strain the liquid, and chuck it into your jam (no need to keep the boiled apple and lemon, bleugh)
  • Guess what? Keep simmering! To test if your jam is done, put a plate in the fridge and let it get super cold. Drip some jam onto the plate and blow on it. If it starts setting on the plate, and when you push at the blob the surface wrinkles a bit, your jam is ready to rumble!
  • Get your jars out of the oven (with a bit of luck they’re cool by now) and tip in the jam while still hot, and seal straight away – this will make a good vacuum seal.

Once your jam is cool – chow down on it with all that lovely fresh bread you’ve been making since my bread posts. Obviously.

Greengage and Christmas Jam

So my friend offered me to come collect some plums from her back garden that were just going to waste. I had plans for making these over-ripe plums into delicious plum wine (if you haven’t ever tried it, then do, it’s sickly sweet dessert wine, and frankly amazing). However, when I turned up, I found a tree full of greengages.

Jam had to happen.

Ingredients:

  • 1700g greengages (there were loads. You can of course scale this down.)
  • 850g preserving sugar (NOT the same as jam sugar – greengages don’t need as much pectin)
  • 2 tsp mixed spice
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg

Now our greengages were very over-ripe so were already very mushy – it’s easier if the fruit is nice and mushy, but it doesn’t need to be.

  • Sterilise your jars as above.
  • Get the stones out of the greengages and put them in a heavy bottomed pan to mush up.
  • Let them reduce for a bit, and then add the sugar.
  • After reducing it a bit further, add the seasoning. We wanted this really Christmassy for gifts later in the year, but use your own discretion for how much spice to add – it’s down to your own taste.
  • reduce it until it passes the cold plate test – when tipped onto a cold plate and left to cool for a second, does it wrinkle on the surface when you push it with a fingertip? If not, leave it a little longer. If yes, get it into your jars while it’s still hot. Enjoy!

Oh and one other thing.

I learned to crochet at the WI. Crochet is awesome. Especially when you can make angry birds. Ho yiss.

There’s all kind of awesomeness like this over at Ravelry, with loads of free patterns (and some awesome paid for ones at that) and you can learn to knit and crochet here (I use this constantly!). They even do videos 🙂

If you want to join in with the awesomeness that is jam and angry birds, have a look over here:

http://www.thewi.org.uk/

https://twitter.com/CambridgeCityWI

http://www.facebook.com/CambridgeCityWi

Cinnamon buns – A Father’s day post

So basically I tried this recipe out a week or two ago when I had a late night hankering for cinnamon buns. They do take a couple of hours to make, so I wouldn’t recommend them as a late night recipe, but they are very good! It’s father’s day this Sunday in the uk, and my dad has both a sweet tooth, and a love of home baked munchies. Basically, my mum taught my sister and I to bake at an early age so she would never have to make cake for herself again. So far, so good in that respect! In any case, this weekend I am having a go at teaching mum some bread-baking.

So the dough for cinnamon buns is precisely somewhere between bread dough and cake. The dough is a recipe from BBC Good Food which I have tweaked until it is a bit more to my liking, the sauce is pretty much a customised fudge recipe. As with my general bread baking post, I still advise that a high quality yeast (such as Allinson’s dried active yeast) is essential to decent bread – especially for a rich, heavy dough like this. The crowning glory of good yeast is still always fresh cake yeast if you can get it though.

Ingredients

For the dough:
– 450g strong white bread flour
– 2 x 7g sachets ready yeast/1tbsp dry yeast/30g cake yeast
– 150ml warm milk
– 50 ml warm water
– 1 beaten egg
– 1 tsp salt
– 50 g caster sugar
– 50g melted butter

For the sauce
– 1/4 cup molasses sugar (dark as you can get it)
– 1/4 cup dark brown soft sugar
– 1/2 cup caster sugar
– 1 cup boiling water
– 1/2 tsp cinnamon
– 2 tsp vanilla essence
– 2 tbsp butter

The recipe

  • Start out with the dough. If you’ve used quick yeast, stir together all the dry ingredients, then beat in the wet ingredients.

OR

If you’ve got fancy live yeast, put it in the milk with 1tsp of the sugar for 15 mins to wake up. Add to the dry ingredients along with the egg, butter and water.

  • Knead for about 10 mins, or until springy to the touch – this is a weird dough as it is so rich, so knead fairly lightly to start with and build it up – the approved technique is to stretch but never split the dough.

Leave to prove for 1 hour. In the meantime, make your sauce!

  • Mix together the sugars in a heavy saucepan. Pour on the boiling water and mix thoroughly – simmer for 3 mins. Add in the butter and boil for a further 8 mins. STIR CONSTANTLY OR IT WILL BURN! It should start smelling fudgey and delicious. Mix in the vanilla and cinnamon. Leave to cool. Try to resist tipping it over some ice cream and gobbling it straight away!

Back to the dough…

  • Your dough should be done proving for now so knock it back and roll it out into a long rectangle. Indent all around the edge, just under a centimetre from the edge – stops the sauce from pouring off! Tip over the sauce – be as generous as you dare. Lots of it will soak in as you bake the bread so pour plenty (but not all) of the sauce onto the dough.
  • Roll it up lengthways like a swiss roll and cut into eight pieces. The sauce will inevitably be all over your counter top unless you’re neater with the dough than I am! Line a 23 cm cake tin with greaseproof paper (you will need it if you want your tin to ever look the same again…) and put the pieces in side by side. Leave to prove somewhere warm for 30 – 40 mins.
  • Preheat your oven to 220*c. At this point I smothered my buns in crumbled pecans as a last minute moment of inspiration, and poured over some extra sauce 🙂 Once they’re done proving (they should fill the tin) bake for 10 mins, then cover the tin with foil, and bake for another 10 mins at 180*c. You should even have a little leftover sauce for that ice cream as well!

Enjoy!

p.s. Incidentally, I’m starting off some elderflower wine this weekend. I’ll be posting it as a two-parter recipe mid-week next week, as the elderflower season is far from over and there’s still time to make some for yourself. Think elderflower cordial… but with booze.

Elderflower Cordial

It’s my guess that most people in the UK will stroll past an elderflower bush at least once on a day to day basis. It’s an absolute nuisance to get rid of (you can cut it back and basically watch it regrow) but extremely useful to the home cook and brewer. At this time of year the bushes are flowering producing strongly scented white flowers, and they are amazing for making both cordial and wine.

I have based my recipe on the BBC one by Lotte Duncan – I personally add a little less lemon and a bit more citric acid, and make it in bulk, so the recipe below is a slightly customised version!

Picking your elderflowers

Most advice is to do it on a warm, dry day. Fewer bugs about on the plant, nice dry flowers, and you can get a better whiff of the pollen to see if it is a good healthy plant. Alternatively, if like me you get dreadful hayfever, do it on a fairly miserable wet day and spare yourself the sneezing! You want to pick fresh flowers –  no buds, and no brown bits. Equally, don’t strip out each bush – you’ll want to leave some flowers for elderberries later in the year! Don’t pick them in advance – you will want to use them straight away.

A quick note on citric acid…

Citric acid is advised in most elderflower cordial. It acts as a preservative and is found naturally in citrus fruits. I personally find to get enough citric acid into the cordial to preserve it, it tastes overpoweringly lemon-y, so a tub of citric acid is very useful. Having said that – it’s a pain to get hold of. I have been reliably informed that it is used as an ingredient for class A drugs, so where it used to be easily bought from a large Boots store or chemist, it’s now much more restricted. If you’re lucky enough to have a brewing shop nearby, you should be able to buy some, but don’t be surprised if they don’t allow you to ‘stock up’! Wilkinson’s stores often stock it as well.

The recipe

Makes 9 pints cordial (if you’re not a piggy for cordial like me, then just half this!)

– 60 good-size elderflower heads

– 6 pints water

– 1.8 kilos sugar

– 4 unwaxed oranges

– 4 unwaxed lemons

– 100g citric acid

– 1 campden tablet (optional)

  • Boil up the water and add all the sugar. Stir constantly, and simmer for 5 mins. Leave to cool.
  • Gently rinse off the elderflower heads to get rid of the bugs. Then strip the flowers from the heads into a bowl. I find it’s easiest to do it with a fork.
  • Once the sugar mixture has cooled, chop up all your citrus fruit, and tip it in with the citric acid, and stir thoroughly. Add the elderflowers, and stir.
  • Leave for about 24-36 hours, and stir every few hours when you think of it.
  • Strain out the cordial through a sieve, and then squeeze the flowers for the last of the cordial. Pour into sterilised bottles. Drink it up over a few weeks, or add 1 powdered campden tablet – this should mean that it will keep somewhere cool pretty much indefinitely.

Water down the cordial to taste, and enjoy with sparkling water, lemonade, white wine, or ice cold water.