Elderflower Cordial

You know summer has arrived when the elder is in bloom.  You can often smell the sweet, pungent flowers carried on the warm June air well before you find the tree itself.

ElderflowersThe flowers are easily identified by their heady scent, but if you’re not sure, look out for the flat topped heads that appear in abundance at the end of May and into June in hedgerows, woodland and scrubland.  Lots of people have them in their gardens too and according to folklore, an elder planted by your home will keep the devil away.

The flowers don’t last for long and so now is the time to gather them to bottle a taste of summer.
Elderflower Basket
You can make lots of things out of the flowers – sorbet, fritters and champagne, but old fashioned cordial is super easy and tastes much better than the stuff you can buy year round in the supermarket.

The flowers are easy to harvest if you take a pair of sharp scissors or some secateurs out with you on your walk, and a basket to carry them in.  They wilt really quickly, so make sure you pick them on your way back home and choose a warm, sunny day when they will be at their very best.

Also, make sure you don’t pick too many flowers all from the same tree, or there won’t be any flowers left for the bees, or any berries – we will be back for you later…!

The following recipe makes around 2 litres, but can easily be sized up for a bigger batch and the sweetness adjusted to taste.  I think you need a jelly bag to make this as you need to strain the infusion, but you could use muslin and a sieve too.

Elder basket
Ingredients:
Around 30 heads of elderflowers, picked on a warm, sunny day
6 unwaxed lemons
1kg of sugar, or 800g sugar and 4tbs of runny honey
1tsp citric acid
1.5 litres of water

Elderflower cordial prep
Method:
Before you start, you have a choice, to wash the flowers, or not!

Lots of people think if you wash the flowers, you wash away the pollen and lots of the flavour and fragrance.  However, the flowers are usually full of thrips, also known as thunderflies or thunderbugs, so some people prefer to wash the flowers to remove them.

You will be straining the final product, but if you prefer to not see your lovely elderflower infusion teaming with hundreds of insects, then wash them!  I washed mine and still found a few in the jelly bag.  The final cordial was still full of flavour and fragrance too, so the choice is yours.

Snip the flowers into a clean bowl with the grated zest of 4 lemons and 2 sliced lemons.  Boil the water and pour over the flowers and lemons, stir, cover with a tea towel and leave overnight to infuse.  Reserve the zested lemons as you will need the juice.

Elderflower infusion
The next day, when you are ready to make the cordial, sterilise the bottles by washing in hot soapy water and then placing them in the oven at 140°C/210°F for up to 20 minutes.

Strain the infusion through a scalded jelly bag into a large pan and add the sugar (or sugar and honey), juice of 4 lemons and the citric acid.

Heat gently, stirring until the sugar has dissolved and bring up to a simmer but don’t let it boil.

Using a funnel, or very carefully, pour the hot cordial into the hot, sterilized bottles and seal using screw tops or swing-top stoppers like I used.  Leave to cool and store somewhere cool or the refrigerator for up to 4 months.

Elderflower cordial

The cordial can be diluted with water and ice for a refreshing drink on a hot day or added to prosecco, cocktails and a couple of tablespoons added to icing sugar makes a lovely summery frosting for cakes too.

If you have any cordial left over that doesn’t fit in the bottles, you can freeze into cubes to add to a gin and tonic, or add a little water and make ice lollies.

Elder cordial

 

 

Heritage Tomato Salad with Goats Cheese and Balsamic

Lovely tomatoes that taste of the sun, fragrant basil, cool goats cheese and spiky balsamic – a simple but really good salad for a hot summer’s day.

Heirloom Tomatoes

You can get tomatoes all year round in the supermarket, but most of them have been grown in a poly tunnel and travelled half way around the world and taste of nothing. A tomato that has been grown in sunshine is a wonderful thing and should be celebrated.

These big, juicy, seasonal tomatoes don’t have a long shelf life, so if you are lucky enough to get hold of them, make sure you enjoy them while they are at their best.

Heirloom Tomatoes and Basil

One of the best ways to enjoy them is a simple salad. This one uses very few ingredients as the tomatoes are the star of the show.

You could dress the tomatoes with an olive oil and balsamic vinaigrette, but simple balsamic vinegar, reduced until thickened, is really good here. Reducing the vinegar, really insensifies the depth and flavour. You could of course, just buy a bottle of ready made balsamic glaze which is the speediest option, but it’s really worth making your own for the best flavour.

Tomatoes and basil

I’ve made a large platter here, which is nice for people to help themselves, but this could easily be scaled down for two people to enjoy.

Ingredients:
Assorted heritage tomatoes – as many as you like, I’ve added a few cherry tomatoes too
Goats cheese – around 100g per person
Fresh basil
Balsamic vinegar – around 3/4 of a cup
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Method:
To reduce the balsamic vinegar, place in a saucepan, bring to the boil and reduce the heat to low and leave for around 10 minutes or until thickened. Set aside and then refrigerate until you are ready to use.

Tomato Salad

Slice the tomatoes and arrange on your serving plate, sprinkling a little sea salt and freshly ground black pepper over the slices.

Tear some of the basil leaves and make sure some of the leaves are between the layers, leave some of them whole too.

Heritage Tomato and Goats Cheese Salad

Break up the goats cheese and scatter over the tomatoes, you can remove the rind, or leave on.  I’ve tucked a few crumbles of cheese in between the tomatoes too.

Drizzle over the balsamic reduction and serve immediately.

Tomato Goat Cheese Salad Balsamic

This is one of the nicest salads to enjoy on a hot summer’s day.  You can scale up or down, add pita chips if you would like some crunch, or slices of toasted baguette make a nice addition too.

Tomato Goat Cheese Salad

Some very cold white wine would be another nice addition to this salad!

Asparagus and Hot Smoked Salmon Puff Pastry Bundles

These are a delicious combination of asparagus, hot smoked salmon, cream cheese and lemon zest, all wrapped in buttery puff pastry. I’ve used 4 asparagus spears per bundle here, but it really depends on how thin your asparagus is – you could get away with more, if using the very thin ones. I wouldn’t use the very thick spears for this.

Salmon and asparagus bundle

I think puff pastry – especially ready-made puff pastry is one of the most versatile ingredients you can have on hand. I love homemade puff pastry too, but it’s super time consuming and the all-butter pastry you can get is really very good. The ready rolled stuff – even better!

These asparagus bundles are really delicious to eat and are nice served warm from the oven as an appetiser with salad, cold on a buffet table and make a great portable snack to take on a picnic. Like all things made with puff pastry though, they will lose their crispness, so they are best eaten within 24 hours of making them.

Salmon asparagus parcels

Leave the puff pastry in the fridge until you have all the other ingredients ready to assemble.  It can behave badly if it gets too warm and not puff up as much as it should do.

Ingredients:
1 sheet of ready-made, ready-rolled, all-butter puff pastry
150g (approx) cream cheese – I used Philadelphia, full fat
24 (approx) trimmed asparagus spears – I used 4 per bundle
2 fillets of hot smoked salmon – I used honey roasted, ready to eat
Zest of 1 unwaxed lemon
Salt and pepper
1 little olive oil
1 egg, beaten

Salmon and asparagus parcels

Method:
Pre-heat the oven to 180°C/350°F and line a baking tin with parchment or a non-stick liner

On a lightly floured surface, cut the rectangle of ready-rolled puff pastry into 6 equal squares. I used a pizza cutter to do this.

Then, on a diagonal, spoon a little cream cheese onto each square and flake the salmon on top.  You really don’t need a lot, or you won’t be able to close your parcel.

Rub a little oil onto the asparagus spears with your hands, just enough to help it cook in the oven.

Season with salt and black pepper and then sprinkle over the lemon zest.  This really helps lift the flavours.

Brush the visible edges of the pastry with beaten egg and draw up two opposite corners to form a bundle, press the edges together to seal.

Salmon & asparagus parcels

Place the pastry bundles ontp the prepared baking sheet and brush the tops with beaten egg and sprinkle over a little extra salt and pepper if you like.

If it’s a very warm day and the parcels have warmed up too much, put them in the fridge to chill out and firm back up for 10-20 minutes.

Salmon & asparagus bundle1

Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until puffed and golden.  Serve warm from the oven as an appetiser with salad, or cold for a buffet or picnic