Tag Archives: Cordial

Not enough hours in the day!

Sissinghurst house June 2018

I’m only too aware that it’s been ages since I posted here: I can only claim busy social weekends, work events, pressures of work, and not enough hours in the day to do everything else! Plus the hot weather over the past couple of weeks (not that I’m complaining, honest!), means that watering becomes a daily requirement not only at home, but also down at the allotment, especially for relatively new plantings. Then the prolonged warm spell has brought all the soft fruit to fruition at once, so harvesting is also in full swing  and a huge harvest at that! A few extra hours each day really wouldn’t go amiss…

So what’s been happening on the plot? Well, May/June are always the busiest months for gardeners, so going out to Berlin for a translation workshop at the end of May, lovely though it was, was bound to put a spanner in the gardening works! Spring containers at home have had to be planted up with their summer contents (begonias and lobelia as ever, although very slow to get going this year), tomatoes had to be planted outside (and are now going great guns), and beans, courgettes, squashes and sweetcorn had to be planted out at the allotment. Today I finally managed to plant out my leeks, several weeks later than usual, but there just hasn’t been time before – hen party at a retro ice cream parlour in Broadstairs for my soon-to-be-daughter-in-law last weekend, plus a visit to nearly Sissinghurst (white garden at the peak of its glory – always a good time to visit), and up to London the weekend before for another translation event. Anyway, the leeks are finally in situ, so it just remains for me to water them very well for the next few weeks while they get established, especially if this heat persists.

My allotment neighbour has had a very late delivery of spent mushroom compost, so I transferred six barrowloads up to my plot to replenish the soil in some of the beds. Not easy with everything planted, but I focussed on the peas and beans, which didn’t get their annual manure fix this year, as we had hoped the mushroom compost would arrive earlier. I also topped up the asparagus bed, as it is a hungry feeder and the asparagus has finished cropping for the season now – some extra nutrients should build the ferns up nicely over the summer. Probably not the best thing for my knee, but hey ho, needs must!

Everything is coming on apace, apart from my French beans, which are stubbornly refusing to germinate. I can only imagine it’s too hot for them – or the seed is too old. I’ve planted more this evening, so fingers crossed. Sweet peas too are ridiculously slow this year, but finally look as though they’re starting to get going. My allotment neighbour on the other side has masses, so kindly said I could help myself – so lovely to have fragrant sweet peas in the house again. With any luck I can return the favour in late summer when mine are in full bloom…

In other news, the rhubarb gin is ready after its month’s infusing – and very good it is too! I’m very impressed: it makes a delicately pink-tinged long drink with tonic, ice and a sprig of rosemary if you feel so inclined. You can really taste the rhubarb, with just a slight kick of ginger. Definitely my favourite drink of the summer so far!

Rhubarb gin finished product

I’ve also made two batches of elderflower cordial and ventured into rhubarb & ginger cordial production too. Also very good. I couldn’t find one recipe online that really appealed, so adapted several, including one from Sarah Raven, and one from Saga. Take your pick! Again, a gorgeous colour, even from garden rhubarb rather than the vivid (although in my view not as tasty!) forced stuff. Here is the result:

Rhubarb & Ginger Cordial – makes approx. 1.5 litres

Rhubarb and ginger cordiaal

1,750 g rhubarb, chopped into chunks (no need to peel)
750 g granulated sugar (or to taste)
1 litre water
1 orange
1 lemon
1 tbsp citric acid
1 knob of root ginger (about 5 cm)

Place the chopped rhubarb in a large preserving pan with the root ginger, also roughly chopped, and the juice and rind of the orange and lemon. Cover with water and bring to the boil, then simmer gently until the fruit is soft and pulpy – about half an hour. Leave to cool for an hour or so.

When cool, pour into a jelly bag suspended over a large bowl or jug, and allow to drip through overnight. Don’t press, as it will make the cordial cloudy. Discard (or compost) the rhubarb pulp.

Straining rhubarb cordial

The next day, place the resulting juice into the preserving pan again and add 750g granulated sugar (or to taste). Bring to the boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Finally add 1 tbsp citric acid; you can omit this, but it will help to preserve the cordial for longer. It should keep for several months in a cool, dark place, but refrigerate once opened.

Pour into sterilised bottles and serve with sparkling water or soda for a refreshing summer drink.

 

 

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Chasing my tail

Broad beans and rapeseed

Here I am again, chasing my tail trying to get my garden ship-shape and ready for summer, despite the fact that we’re less than a week away from the longest day. Whatever happened to those, long, balmy evenings and sun-blessed days? It’s hardly June-like here, with torrential rain one day and dismal murk the next. My tomato plants, planted in their final positions outdoors a few weeks ago, have sulked since moving outside and it’s hard to believe they’ll be healthy, fruiting plants in a few short months… I delayed planting my French and runner beans at the start of the month due to the high winds and cold temperatures, but they’ve gone in now and will have to fend for themselves, along with the courgettes, squashes and sweetcorn.

Broad beans and basil

On the plus side, my broad beans are fantastic this year, now starting to reach harvesting size (typically just before I go on holiday!). I picked my first crop of tender baby beans this week to steam with asparagus and mint as an accompaniment to my friend’s delicious Shetland lamb chops. So good. I picked so many that I was able to give half away and still have enough to toss in the first pesto sauce of the season with pasta, caramelised onions and toasted pine nuts the following night.

Broad bean pasta

Strawberries too are coming thick and fast – little sign of slug damage yet, so perhaps those nematodes are getting to work at last. A shame that they aren’t having the same effect on my salad bed, where I’m still struggling to get lettuce past the germination stage before they’re munched off in their prime! In desperation, I’ve resorted to sowing some in a seed tray at home for planting out when they are a little more established….

I finally managed to finish planting up my new oak barrels at home this week – must be an all-time record for me to fill my summer containers so late in June! The old and disintegrating barrels in situ were well past their sell-by date – but as they made the move down from Scotland with us some 13 years ago and we’d had them in the Scottish garden for a good few years beforehand, I don’t suppose they owe me anything! It was quite a job emptying and refilling five full-sized half-barrels, so hardly surprising that it took me so long. Now filled with my giant tuberous begonias, fibrous begonias, lobelia and double petunias, I’m hoping for a spectacular display once they get going – slugs and snails permitting!

New barrel near gate

One final job I’ve been keen to do before the holiday season is upon us is to make my elderflower cordial. There’s an elder bush just down the road from where I live that’s absolutely laden with blossom this year – but I’d rather pick my elderflowers from a hedgerow away from road fumes if at all possible, so I’ve been holding on and dodging the showers, waiting for the perfect moment to harvest. Success at last one day this week, on a blustery dog walk down near my local reservoir: steeped overnight in their sugar and lemon solution, they are now bottled as the quintessential elderflower cordial, perfect for Hugo cocktails with Prosecco and lemon, as a refreshing long drink with sparkling water, or added to panna cotta or gooseberry compote for a certain je ne sais quoi… I wouldn’t be without it.

Elderflower Cordial – makes 2-3 (750ml) bottles

Elderflower cordial
20 or so heads of elderflower
2 pints boiling water
3lb granulated sugar
juice and grated zest of 2 lemons
1 tbsp citric acid

Pour the boiling water onto the sugar in a large preserving pan and stir over a medium heat until dissolved. Add the lemon juice, grated zest, citric acid and elderflowers (stripped of any chunky green stems, but left as heads). Cover with a tea towel and leave for 24 hours. Strain through a sieve lined with muslin into a large jug and pour through a funnel into sterilised bottles.
Keeps for several months in a dark place – refrigerate once opened.

The Sweet Scents of Autumn

Autumn is a surprisingly scented time of year, from the assorted woodland smells of foliage in various stages of decay to the tiny but sweetly fragrant flowers on eleagnus shrubs. Walking down by our local reservoir in the sunshine the other morning, I was blown away by the fabulous fresh scent of the newly fallen larch needles as I crushed them underfoot. Yet another of my favourites is the Katsura tree (Cercidiphyllum japonicum), with its bronze-pink tinted autumn leaves and their amazing aroma of candy floss and burnt sugar – an absolute delight for the senses on a crisp autumn day. Viburnums and mahonias are other shrubs that come into flower in November, although we’ll probably have to wait until January for the heavily-scented daphnes to outmanoeuvre the opposition.

We had our first frost just a couple of weekends ago and fortunately I’d brought my last few tender plants inside the night before: the tuberous begonias had been lifted, wrapped in newspaper and put to hibernate in the shed, fuchsias are undercover in the cold frame, but the South American tibouchina and rose geraniums have to take shelter in the conservatory over winter. My rose geranium is “Attar of Roses”, a pelargonium really, with beautiful pale pink flowers and deliciously scented, crinkled, silvery-green leaves. It will survive quite happily in the conservatory, but it often spreads to cover a wide area over the summer, so I like to trim it back when bringing it inside. You can then prune it even more ruthlessly in the spring, using any promising cuttings to start off new plants, and allowing the parent plant to reshoot.

Rose geranium Attar of Roses

This year, I decided that I would put those leaf offcuts to good use and experimented with Rose Geranium Cordial on Sarah Raven’s recommendation. What a revelation: delightfully light and fragrant – an autumn variation on the elderflower cordial theme and equally good with sparkling water. I suspect it would also be delicious with Prosecco for a very unusual cocktail with a twist! This is based on Sarah’s recipe – do try it and see!

Rose Geranium and Lemon Cordial – makes 2.5 litres

Rose geranium cordial

2kg granulated sugar

1 litre water

large handful of rose-scented geranium leaves

juice of 6 lemons

finely grated zest of 2 lemons

30g citric acid

Heat the sugar, water, lemon juice and zest, plus the geranium leaves until the sugar has dissolved, then simmer for 10-15 minutes. Allow to cool and infuse. Strain through a sieve lined with muslin to remove the geranium leaves and add the citric acid. (You can omit it, but I’ve found with other cordials that they really don’t keep long at all without the preserving effects of the citric acid.) Pour through a funnel into sterilised bottles. Keep in the fridge once open.

Dilute to taste with sparkling water or soda.

Another good use of rose geranium leaves is to make scented Rose Geranium Sugar, along the lines of vanilla sugar, for sprinkling on biscuits and lemon drizzle cake to add an extra dimension. I just layer up caster sugar in a pretty glass Kilner jar, adding a few rose geranium leaves every so often. The only thing to watch here is that the moisture in the leaves can make the sugar stick together, so be prepared to crush it with a spoon when you come to use it!

My final idea for making the most of this heavenly resource is to make rose geranium shortbread biscuits – beautiful and unusual served with mousses or ice cream, or delicious with morning coffee or afternoon tea.

Rose Geranium Shortbread Biscuits

Rose geranium biscuits

125g caster sugar, plus extra for sprinkling (or use rose geranium sugar if you have it!)

225g butter, softened

300g plain flour, plus extra for dusting

50g ground rice (or rice flour or semolina work just as well)

3-4 rose geranium leaves, very finely chopped

Zest of 1 lime (or lemon)

Line two baking trays with baking parchment. Cream the sugar and butter together in a large bowl. Sift the flour and ground rice (or rice flour/semolina) into the mixture, add the finely chopped rose geranium leaves and lime zest and mix together. Using floured hands, work the mixture together to form a smooth dough. Tip onto a lightly floured work surface and knead gently until the dough is smooth. Chill in the fridge for 15 minutes.

Roll the dough out until 5mm thick and cut out biscuits using a round or heart-shaped cutter. Place the biscuits onto the baking trays, and sprinkle with a little extra rose geranium sugar. Leave to chill for a further 30 minutes in the fridge. Bake at 160°C/Gas 4 for 15-20 minutes, or until pale golden-brown. Cool on a rack, sprinkling with extra sugar if necessary.

More Alchemy in the Kitchen

Fruit glut July 2015

I’ve said before that I love the alchemy of converting piles of fresh fruit and vegetables into jams and chutneys. There’s something very special about a well-stocked store cupboard, harvesting nature’s bounty for the cold winter months ahead. If the produce in question is free from your own garden or allotment (or a neighbour’s, as in the case of my jostaberries), or better still from the hedgerow, that’s even better. I always try to make at least one batch of elderflower cordial a year, as it’s so much better than shop-bought, and this year I was tempted to experiment with my own blackcurrant cordial too, when the blackcurrants reached glut proportions during my week away! Redcurrant jelly is another favourite as it makes the most sublime sauce to accompany lamb, and recently I’ve tried jostaberry jam for the first time, using up the surplus from my neighbour’s monster bush. This hybrid of blackcurrants and gooseberries is deliciously tangy, but a devil to top and tail. Gooseberries are at least large and dry, so can be topped and tailed quite easily in front of the television, blackcurrants usually only need to be destalked as the flower “tails” are quite unobtrusive, but these berries have noticeable tops and tails – you can only really leave them on if you intend to sieve the jam. It took me 40 minutes to top and tail 3lb of fruit for this jam – not ideal, but hopefully the results will be worth it! I find it best to top and tail them in a bowl of water as they are also very juicy so you need to do it with your fingertips, rather than a knife as you would with gooseberries. Tempted? It’s really very simple. Here’s how:

 Jostaberry Jam

Jostaberries3lb jostaberries

3lb granulated sugar

1 pint water

Top and tail the jostaberries as described above, then cook with 1 pint water in a large preserving pan for about half an hour or until soft. Add the sugar over a gentle heat and stir until dissolved. Bring to the boil and cook vigorously for about 5 to 7 minutes until setting point is reached.

I find the best test is to hold your wooden spoon over the pan and when the drips run together to form a bigger drop that breaks off sharply, the jam will be done. Otherwise, have a saucer in the freezer and place a little of the jam on the saucer, cool slightly, then push with your finger: the surface should wrinkle. You will need to take the jam off the heat while you do this test to stop the jam overcooking.

When set, pour the jam into prepared jars (washed and sterilised in the oven on a low heat), cover with waxed circles and lids, then label when cool.

Jelly is slightly more fiddly than jam, but probably requires less hands-on time and is just as satisfying. You will need a jelly bag and stand, but the resulting jelly will be so much better than anything you can buy in the shops. I love to use it in a ridiculously simple Redcurrant, Orange & Mint Sauce from Delia’s original Complete Cookery Course: just mix a couple of tablespoons of home-made jelly with the grated rind of one orange and a handful of finely chopped mint. Allow to stand and serve with roast lamb – sublime! Also goes well with curry made from any leftover lamb the next day, rather than the more traditional mango chutney.

 Red & Whitecurrant Jelly

Red and whitecurrants in preserving pan3lb red and whitecurrants (or just use all redcurrants)

1 pint water

Sugar (see recipe)

Put the fruit, stalks and all, into a large preserving pan with the water and cook for ½ to ¾ hour until really soft. Strain overnight through the jelly bag attached to a jelly stand into a large jug placed beneath. Do not be tempted to squeeze or poke the fruit as otherwise the jelly will be cloudy.

Measure the extract the next morning and allow 1lb sugar to every 1 pint of extract. Return to the preserving pan and stir over a gentle heat until the sugar has dissolved. Then boil rapidly for 8-10 minutes until a set is achieved (see above). Skim off any froth, then pour into jars, seal and label as above.

Jelly bag Bubbling jam panRed and whitecurrant jellyThe third in my trio of midsummer preserves is blackcurrant cordial. Having put numerous bags in the freezer, made a divine sorbet, a summer pudding and countless other desserts, I thought I’d give this a go. What a revelation! Pure, fresh-tasting cordial, so much nicer than the branded varieties, and of course, you merely need a splash with fizzy water (or sparkling wine!) for a delicious long summer drink or Kir Royal. I tried this last year without the citric acid, but it didn’t keep very long, even in the fridge. This year, I’ve added citric acid, and whilst I’m sure it won’t hang around for long, I think it will keep as long as I need it.

Blackcurrant Cordial

500g blackcurrants
275g sugar
250ml water
½ tsp citric acid

In a heavy-based pan, simmer the sugar, blackcurrants and water gently for 5 minutes. Using a potato masher, break up the fruit to release as much juice as possible. Add the citric acid and simmer for another 2 minutes. Strain the mix through a jelly bag overnight, without squeezing and pour the resulting liquid into a sterilised bottle and keep in the fridge.

If, like me, you have so many blackcurrants that you decide to increase the proportions, please make sure that your jelly bag can take the weight…. Mine was so overloaded that it slipped off the stand, splashing cordial around the kitchen! Fortunately, not too much was lost as it landed in the bowl beneath, but I was very glad I’d had the forethought to cover the kitchen table with newspaper before starting!

Blackcurrant cordial