Saturday, 1 May 2010

Prelude to Summer - Old Fashioned English Elderflower Cordial

It seems only right and proper to share an old family recipe with you for May Day ~ Prelude to Summer - Old Fashioned English Elderflower Cordial, this is delicious when added to fools, crumbles, desserts, pies and beverages.

Prelude to Summer - Old Fashioned English Elderflower Cordial

The English summer is thought to start when the elder blossoms end and the berries ripen. The citrus aroma floating down country lanes also heralds a bountiful harvest for the forager and home-brewer. Elderflower cordial costs more as the bottles get smarter and it’s seen as a luxury, which seems ludicrous to me, as I know that you can make it for next to nothing! Elderflower cordial is a wonderful base for all sorts of culinary treats............lemonade, sorbet, mousses, jelly, desserts, beverages, glazes etc. It is very easy to make, although you need to plan ahead as the flowers need to be steeped in the sugar mixture for four days. The flowers taste best picked early on a dry, hot day, and speed is crucial: they should be used straight after picking. The cream-coloured heads (or umbels) are tastier than the white, and don’t worry if they smell unappetising at first once they’re infused, the heady scent is delicious. Choose umbels free of discolouring and keep them dry until you’re ready to begin. Folklore: * One name for it is the Judas Tree, as it was thought to be the tree Judas Iscariot hanged himself from To fell a tree without suitable protection could free a spirit called the Elder Mother to take her revenge The elderflower was said to be a protection against witches, and a knotted twig kept in the pocket was a charm against rheumatism * Elderflowers were apparently never struck by lightning, and a cross of elder fastened above stables would protect the animals from evil Medicinal benefits * Elderflower cordials and elderberry wines are high in vitamins A, B and C * In A Modern Herbal of 1931, Mrs Grieves recommends an elderflower infusion, taken hot before bed, as a remedy for colds and throat trouble * Mrs Grieves swears by elder leaves as an insect deterrent. The foul-smelling bruised leaves around tender plants and buds prevent attack by aphids and cater-pillars, and gardeners can add a sprig to their hatband to ward off midges * Medical herbalist Christine Houghton says a daily elderflower infusion, made with fresh flowers, is helpful in preventing hay fever

Makes a 1 litre bottle.

15 large elderflowers, shaken to get rid of dust and insects and fertiliser free (umbels, heads)
900g white sugar
1 lemon, wiped clean and thinly sliced
40g citric acid
500ml boiling water

1. Place the freshly picked elderflowers in a large heatproof bowl or pan (that can be covered or has a lid). Add the sliced lemons. Then add the sugar.
2. Pour the boiling water over and add the citric acid - stir all the ingredients together until the sugar has dissolved.
3. Make sure the lemon slices and most of the elderflower heads are under the sugar water. Cover and leave in a cool place for 4 days.
4. Every day, remove the lid and stir the mixture - pressing the lemon slices gently to extract the juice.
5. You should be able to smell the beautiful floral fragrance of the elderflowers after only one day -- if after 4 days you feel there is not enough "floral" flavour to the cordial, leave for a further day. Remember, that this will be diluted to drink or added to other ingredients, so it should be as strong as possible in smell and flavour!
6. When you are ready to bottle the cordial, strain through a non-metallic FINE sieve (lined with muslin if necessary - if the sieve is not fine enough) into a large pouring jug or bowl.
7. Then pour the cordial into clean and sterile bottles. Seal the bottles and store the cordial in a cool, dark, dry place. This cordial is ready to use/drink now, and it will keep for a very long time if stored in the right conditions. (I have some from 4 years ago and it is still as fragrant and floral as the day I made it!)
8. NB: Citric acid can be found in chemists or pharmacists, or in special brewing and wine-making shops/departments. If you cannot source citric acid, use an extra lemon instead.

MAY DAY ~ 1st May

Today is May Day, an old British holiday steeped in tradition. Long before the 1st May was linked with workers and the trade unions, May Day was almost as popular as Christmas. It was, and still is in some regions of England, a day for fun, flowers, frivolity and food! Although summer does not officially begin until June, May Day marks its beginning. May Day celebrations have their origins in the Roman festival of Flora, goddess of fruit and flowers, which marked the beginning of summer. A few customs that are associated with this spring holiday are:

1. Washing in early morning dew ~ for the ladies! To wash one's face in May morn' dew to was to secure beauty for the next year.

2. May Day Garlands ~ Young girls would make May Garlands. They covered two hoops, one at right angles inside the other, with leaves and flowers, and sometimes they put a doll inside to represent the goddess of spring. In some parts of Britain, May the 1st is still called Garland Day.

"The first of May is Garland Day
So please remember the garland.
We don't come here but once a year,
So please remember the garland."

3. May Day Tricks ~ In the North of England, the first of May was a late 'April Fool's day' when all sorts of tricks and pranks would take place and 'May Gosling' was shouted to those who had fallen foul of the pranks. Their response would be: 'May Goslings past and gone. You're the fool for making me one!'

4. Decorating Houses and the Parish Church ~ May Day began early in the morning when the villagers would go out before sunrise in order to gather flowers and greenery to decorate their homes, villages and the local church, in the belief that the spring garden spirits would bring good fortune.

5. May Queen ~ the highlight of May Day was the crowning of the May Queen, to represent the goddess Flora. By tradition she took no part in the games or dancing, but sat like a queen in a flower decked chair to watch her 'subjects'. To be chosen as the May Queen was a great honour.

Maypole dancing and Morris dancing are also popular on May Day, and Maypoles could be seen all over Britain in every small hamlet, village or town.