Homemade Christmas Wreath

I love a nice, fresh Christmas wreath, but they are so very expensive to buy (the good ones anyway), so its a great idea and a nice seasonal activity to make your own.

The first thing you need to decide upon is what kind of base to use, I’ve used a wire ring and covered it in moss, but you can also get a foam one that you soak first to keep the foliage fresh. Both are fairly inexpensive, but a wire one is reusable.

The only other equipment you need is some florist wire, some wire cutters and a hook for the door if you don’t already have one – I used a Command hook that is temporary as I didn’t want to screw a hook into my front door!

If using a wire ring, it’s a good idea to cover it in nice fresh moss that will keep the base moist and help your foliage last longer. You can buy moss from a florist, or you can take a basket and go foraging. The best time to go is after the rain. I found some in my garden, but for the majority, I went to the local woods and found plenty at the base of the trees. Just take care not to take too much from the same place.

Using the wire, wind it around the moss to cover the ring completely. Covering the ring with moss can be a messy business, so its a good idea to do it outside!

Once you have covered the ring in moss, its time to attach your foliage of choice. I foraged some, but also bought some nice Christmas stems too. I also used cinnamon sticks, dried lotus heads, pine cones and dried orange slices tied on with twine. I couldn’t find any crab apples, or else I would have used some of those too.

I’ve gone for a simple, traditional wreath, but the designs are unlimited. Just be sure there are no wires sticking out of the back that might scratch the door.

Once a week, spray with water, or if you have a foam ring, you can soak it to help stop the foliage drying out

Cherry Hand Pies

It’s coming to the end of cherry season here and I’ve been trying to make a cherry pie for a while now, but every time I buy any cherries, they are eaten!

Cherries

Thankfully, I managed to make these little pies before anyone scoffed them!

These cherries are sweetheart cherries and are really dark, sweet and luscious to eat right away, but also great for making into pies, jams and tarts.  They don’t need too much sugar and make the perfect filling for a hand pie.

Cherry handpie

The pies are really quick and easy to make, the worst thing is taking the stones out.  It’s a really messy job.  You can either cut the cherries in half and remove the stones that way, or I use a cherry stoner.  I’m not sure either way is any less messy than the other, but the little tool is definitely quicker.

When cherries are out of season, frozen cherries work well too and they are already pitted!

In these pies, I have cooked the filling first as I wanted to lock in all the juice that can run out of a little pie, you just need to let it cool before adding to the pastry.

Cherry handpies baked

Ingredients:
For the filling:
300g cherries, pitted – I used two punnets
125g sugar
Juice of one lemon
1/4 cup of water
2tbs corn starch or thickener – I used King Arthur Clear Gel
1/4 tsp almond extract
Pinch of salt

For the crust:
250g plain/all purpose flour
100g icing/confectioner’s sugar
150g cold butter, cut into cubes and refrigerated
2 egg yolks
1tsp vanilla extract
1-3tbs iced water
1 egg and a little milk to make an egg wash

Method:
To make the crust, place the flour, sugar, butter and vanilla into a food processor and pulse until you have the texture of rough breadcrumbs.  You can also do this by hand, using a pastry cutter.

Add the yolks and pulse, before adding the iced water one tablespoon at a time, you are looking for the dough to just come together.

Turn the dough out, form into a disc and wrap in plastic before refrigerating until you are ready to roll out.

Cherry hand pie rack

To make the filling, mix the sugar and thickener together and place the pitted cherries into a saucepan, along with the other ingredients.  If you don’t like almond extract, either replace with vanilla, or leave it out.

Bring up to the boil, turn the heat down and simmer for a few minutes – until the mixture has thickened and reduced, then leave to cool completely.

Roll out the dough and cut out enough shapes for the bases and lids.  I’ve used a circle cutter, but the bottom of a glass would do the job too.

Spoon a little of the filling into the middle of each circle and brush a little egg wash onto the edges.  Cover with the lid and press around the edges with a fork to seal each pie.  Dip the fork into some flour if it starts to stick.

Cherry Hand Pies cooling

Place the pies onto a baking sheet lined with parchment or a non stick liner.  I’ve used a cute little cherry cutter to top my pies too.  Refrigerate for 30 minutes to chill and firm up.

When you are ready to bake, pre-heat the oven to 190°C/375°F

Brush each pie with a little of the egg wash and bake for 15-20 minutes, or until cooked through and golden brown and make sure no one bites into one straight from the oven as they will be insanely hot!

Cherry handpies

These are lovely warm with ice cream, or the perfect portable pie to take on a picnic.  They also make a really nice after-school treat.

Cherry hand pie tin

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