Its very nearly the end of the the elderflowers for this year, in fact in some parts of the country I’m sure they are already gone gone gone. But in a few places there are still some good ones to be found so if you are quick you might be able to grab a few flower heads and make cordial, champagne or…guess what……yes flavoured vodka.
Somehow I seem to have gathered a reputation for all things flavoured voddy and a few people have asked for the method for doing an elderflower one. So here it is:
6-8 good size elderflower heads in full bloom
750ml – 1l of vodka – basic supermarket is fine
250g-300g granulated sugar
a large glass jar or a s/steel pan will do
Make sure there are no bugs on the elderflowers.
Put the sugar then the flower heads in the jar or pan.
Pour over the vodka. I don’t use citric acid like you are supposed to in the cordial because I don’t think you need it here.
Leave to steep for at least a week preferably three. It will go a very pale sand colour. Or possibly look like ditchwater. This is okay
Stir or shake if the jar has a good seal regularly to help the sugar dissolve.
Strain either just with a sieve (so expect a bit of debris) or through muslin/coffee filter for a clearer result.
Leave to mature for at least 4 weeks or longer, the longer you leave it the mellower it gets but as elderflower is delicate you don’t want to leave it for ages, sloes and damsons can mature for a couple of years and get better but this would lose its flavour.
Drink straight. Use as a mixer like you would cassis. Or give it as gifts if you make loads.
Here’s a blog post with my more general method and tips for flavoured voddies:
“Here, turn right here, this has got to be it”.
We swerve round the corner and bounce along the driveway. “Nice pond, but where’s the big house?” There’s plenty of rolling parkland and a cluster of outbuildings but no grand house to be seen.
There’s also a tall affable looking chap wearing wellies and a big chunky jumper so we slow up and roll down the window. “Here for the food foraging?” he says, “follow the track round between these buildings and you’ll see a group of parked cars and over to the right people on the lawn, that’s were you need to be.” So we drive on as instructed and sure enough there’s about 15 cars and a bunch of people standing about having coffee. I get out and amble over and my husband drives off to a day of peace and quiet.
I get a coffee and Polly (half of the duo that makes up Food Safari) passes me some still warm flapjack (yum! this is a good way to start) then introduces me to the rest of the group – none of whom I’ve met before but some of whom I’ve been chatting to via twitter (yes that’s you @Farctum and @EssexGourmet). Once everyone is here Tim (the tall affable chap in wellies, he’s the other half of Food Safari) tells us the format of the day. We’re going to be foraging for wild foods here on the estate and then also down by the river Blyth (also on estate land) then we’ll be off to The Anchor at Walberswick for a lunch show-casing some of the wild foods.
Tim hands over to Jacky (aka WildFoodie) who’s our foraging expert today. She explains that we are on private land so sadly we can’t entertain any thoughts of popping back sometime to bag some more goodies; well I guess not unless we can get to be new best friends with Hektor who manages the estate, I imagine he’s probably got enough friends already though. Jacky also explains that the weather in Suffolk has been so dry recently that we probably aren’t going to find enough stuff in really good condition for us to take bagfuls home. We are going to have to be content to watch and learn, that’s the nature of foraging, it’s a real luck of the draw thing. Jacky had a scout about yesterday so she’s got lots of examples to show us and she’s been able to collect enough goodies for our meal later.
Then we move on to our first spot, I’m expecting we’re going to have to walk a good distance across the park perhaps into a wooded area, but no, there’s plenty to see only steps away from where we are. Take a look – what can you see that’s edible?
Hmmm looks like a bunch of weeds in a badly tended garden if you ask me…..but hold one we are going to find at least FOUR, yes that’s four, edible goodies in this patch.
Okay so clearly I’m in nappies on the foraging front compared to the likes of Jacky – I can’t see a thing I’d fancy eating. But with Jacky’s expert guidance we learn about ground ivy, cleavers (aka sticky willy – hmmm), nettles, ground elder, burdock and elderflower – blimey that’s six – and I don’t think Jacky was even trying hard….she tells use how to identify each of them through look, feel and even sound and also which bits to pick and even how to pick (clever scissor movement with your fingers for nettle tops). We taste as we go when things are okay to eat raw. Mostly everything we test has a fresh but quite bitter taste but there are differences between them.
Next its time to move on to the river. But before that a few of us think a comfort stop might be good so Polly takes us over to the stable block, which has been converted into a rather lovely looking B&B, and we get to use the facilities there. I also get a quick lesson in the intricacies and long running feuds of the Rous family and learn that the final version of the big grand house was knocked down (some say a fortuitous fire…) in 1953, so that’s why we couldn’t see it. There are plans afoot for a new house to be built.
Anyway down to the river – I would say bank but here the estuary is really wide and flat so it’s more like a gentle slope. The estuary systems in Suffolk and Norfolk are havens for all sorts of things and in particular marsh samphire.
If you look really hard you can see the samphire at the front of this picture
I’ve had this before, bought from local farm shops and I love it. We are a little early in the season but we can see the samphire starting to sprout like some kind of mini primeval forest. We get to test the samphire and its wonderfully juicy with a salty tang –I’m looking forward to it being available in the farm shop soon and hoping we get some at lunch. We also find sea purslane which looks a bit like a succulent version of sage although it tastes nothing like sage. Again it’s juicy and salty.
And finally we head off to The Anchor pub at Walberswick with our appetites suitable whetted. But before we get to tuck into lunch we take a quick look at the pub’s allotment where Jacky tells us about poppy leaves (nice and sweet and almost pea like in flavour), hops shoots, dead nettles and chickweed (plus other assorted things you might just throw away but can actually eat!).
At last it really is time for food. We wander over to the beautifully refurbished stable block and are served with glasses of refreshing elderflower scented beer from Lowestoft whilst nibbling on fresh asparagus, tempura hop shoots and absolutely wonderful chickpea and samphire mini pancakes. These are so divine we are nearly knocking each other out of the way to get our hands on them; I’m definitely going to be trying to recreate them at home.
Mark then guides us into the stable block itself where a huge long table awaits us and a further three courses of food with matched beers. Mark is an absolute mine of information about the beers and clearly likes to surprise his guests with things such as a Gueuze he describes as having aromas of sweaty horse saddle and horse piss – great! Hektor and I try to tell him that we are not especially familiar with either of these but to no avail. Food wise every thing was delicious but dishes and flavours that particularly stood out were the chicken of the woods in the risotto,
The chicken of the woods is the pinky/orange bits
a very meaty mushroom that might make some vegetarians shudder, the semi pickled carrots in the salad, the elderflower panacotta
and finally my favourite local cheese, Buxlow Wonmil. It makes a change to have lovely food paired with beers rather than wines and is something I might try myself. Of the beers I think my favourite was the Frambozen although the Gueuze was much nicer than Mark’s description would lead you to expect; its kind of nicely tangy and refreshing, a bit like liquid sourdough.
Its time for everyone to head their separate ways, full of new knowledge, exceptional food and plenty of beers. I have a glass of Benedictine for the road (fortunately my husband is collecting me) and we waddle off clutching our information packs, happy foragers that we now are.
You can find out more about Food Safari’s days out in Suffolk on their website, arrange gift vouchers for loved ones or simply book a treat for yourself. I’m hoping to try another one of their days soon.
To view the menu and other information about The Anchor at Walberswick click here. Go on treat yourself to some great food and beer.
As the sun has been out quite a bit over the last few weeks my mind turned to ice cream making. I don’t make lots of desserts or do lots of baking – I enjoy it but we just don’t eat dessert that often so it kind of gets wasted (this is not some ‘health’ or ‘no sugar’ things its just I prefer munching on savoury stuff these days); but every now and then a sweet dish is just what’s needed.
There are some really good ice creams out there especially at farm shops – enough really to make you wonder if home made ice cream is worth it, but of course it is – it’s a great project thing and good for impressing guests (or just your other half).
I’ve been a fan of Alder Carr Farm’s Alder Tree ice creams for a good number of years and when I get the chance I indulge in a little pot, sometimes insisting on a stop off at their farm shop just to get my hands on one. My favourite flavours are; Gooseberry and elderflower, Raspberry, Stem ginger and rhubarb and Summer fruits – its so hard to pick. Anyhow, we went for a walk near Blythburgh the other day and I was hoping for an ice cream treat at the end, but we were later than expected due to a route diversion and so there was no hope of getting my mitts on any ice cream anywhere ?
Okay a big disappointment – but there are always ways to compensate and so I started planning some ice cream making. I’d picked up some rhubarb at the farm shop and hadn’t decided what to do with it so, with the cogs in my head whirring into action, I settled on either rhubarb and elderflower or rhubarb and pink ginger ice cream. I generously allowed my husband to pick between these two choices and he went for the ginger option.
This is so easy to make you won’t believe it! You’ll need:
rhubarb – a couple of sticks
4 tbsp pink ginger cordial (I used Thorncrofts)
100g of greek style yoghurt
100g of crème fraiche (basically half of the standard size tub)
an ice cream maker (much easier) or a strong plastic box and a freezer (slightly harder)
What to do?
1. cut the rhubarb up pretty small – about 5mm thickness max – you don’t want big stringy bits of rhubarb in your ice cream. Then simmer in about 2tbsp of water (no sugar) it until its soft and breaks up easily (10-15 mins should do it). Leave it to cool completely.
2. when its cool mix in the 4 tbsp of pink ginger cordial (undiluted); or of course elderflower cordial if that’s what you fancy. Check the taste and add a bit more if you like things extra sweet.
3. stir in the yoghurt and crème fraiche – it’ll be pretty sloppy
4. fire up the ice cream maker if you have one and pour in the mixture, allow to churn. It’ll take at least 30 minutes to get to a good frozen but soft scoop consistency. Eat.
5. if you don’t have an ice cream maker then first of all get on to your loved ones and drop hints that you’d quite like one – the ones where you freeze the bowl start at around £35, if you’ve got rich loved ones make noises for one that has its own freezing unit (£220+). Then once you’ve done that put the mix in the plastic box, put it in the freezer and take it out every now and then to stir it as this breaks up the ice crystals and mkes for a smoother consistenty, probably every 2 hours will do it. It’ll take about 8 hours if you can wait that long.
Enjoy, and feel smug.