The perfect pink of nettle cordial

So about 2 weeks ago I put on my thick gloves and lifted my basket and went nettle picking. My recipe was for 1 litre of nettle cordial but being a cautious soul I halved the quantities just in case I didn’t like it. Out I went to gather the required 100g of nettle tops. I knew it would be a lot more than you would expect ( just like spinach) but my first ‘weigh in’ was a measly 75g so back out I went.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I washed and dried the nettles, placed them in a bowl and added the solution of water, citric acid and sugar  – it’s quite an unusual smell! After a week it was time to filter and sample the result.

The perfect pink liquid was delicious diluted with sparkling water – a definite success!

I had a bit of fun a few days later when I put the members of a local gardening club to the test  – not one person guessed what it was. Many thought it was gooseberry.

I am so pleased with the result that it will be gloves on for a mass harvest. I plan to make a couple of litres and freeze it in containers  so we can enjoy nettle cordial throughout the summer.


I researched a number of websites for recipes and you can see the recipe for my version of nettle cordial  here or check out the sites below – there are loads more!

skyeforestgarden.com
eatweeds.co.uk

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Clarity of light and the beauty of winter colours

I am not sure whether the light this year has really been any different to previous years or whether I have just been more aware of it but one thing is for sure is that today was stunning.  The day started with a crisp clear sunrise with the sheep in the back field standing Christmas card like to welcome the new day.

As the sun rose in the sky became a wonderful clear blue a perfect backdrop for winter trees and the recent frost shave heightened and deepened the colour of so many trees and shrubs.  The frost gives seed heads from summer flowers a magical outline and spiders’ webs glisten in the early morning light.

I spent the morning cutting willow of many colours. My labours were interrupted frequently as I was distracted by the sheer beauty of the day and of nature.  The delicate spindle berries with their orange seed cased in a delicate pink fruit which looks like it should be in an exotic garden rather than a Shropshire hedgerow.  The long tailed tits with their pink tinged feathers flitting and twittering in the dark willow – their delicate colours complementing the emerging pussy willows.  Flocks of Redwing passed to and fro stopping to feast in the ancient field hedges with their fine array of different fruits and seeds – spindle, rosehip, haw, alder buckthorn and sloe.

Rose hips and willow in the winter sunshine  20161201_132259

 

 

 

 

 

As I reluctantly decided to head homeward y three swans flew over – the bright sunlight behind them meant that I couldn’t tell whether they were Whooper or Bewick but I like to think they were Whooper.

How lucky I a20161201_175102m to have spent a morning enjoying  the beauty of nature and to spend the afternoon working with the freshly cut willow.

 

Lovely lemon verbena

I have growing lemon verbena for years, have read numerous recipes but never quite got round to using it until by chance I came across Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s recipe for Verbena Lemonade made with crushed leaves of lemon verbena infused in hot water with a couple of tablespoons of sugar. I gave it a go and it has quickly become a favourite – really quick and easy to make and delicious to drink.  Once made it can be stored in the fridge for about a week or you could freeze it to bring a taste of summer to mid winter.

To drink squeeze lemon or lime juice and add to lemon verbena infusion – I find 2 lemons or limes add the right level of zing for a litre. Not being contented with drinking it  I have also used it to make lovely light summery jellies  served with a skim of pouring cream on the top, a few berries on the side and some shortbread. If you are feeling really organised adding  lemon or lime zest to the shortbread complements the jellies.

And the final use of this easy to make drink is to add a dash of gin for a summer evening tipple or for a sparkling version  pour a little lemon verbena infusion (without the lemon or lime juice) into a glass and top up with prosecco – enjoy!

 

 

The positive side of a challenge

Last weekend we headed south to act as  support team for eldest son who was taking part in Race to the Stones (http://www.racetothestones.com) a 100km journey along the ancient Ridgeway Path from just north of High Wycombe to Avebury Stone Circle.

Preparation for the event began in January and there was a bit of blow about four weeks ago when an injury meant no more running. But he rose to the challenge and decided that despite shin splints he still had to take part even if it meant walking rather than running.

It’s a part of the country I don’t know very well. It was really enjoyable discovering the area with its rolling views and learning a bit about its ancient history even if there was a bit of pressure navigating along busy roads and tiny lanes to get to the next crossing point ready to cheer and encourage participants including son number one.

As we clapped and cheered as people passed by it was an uplifting experience to see how a bit of human encouragement can ease the weary step and bring a cheery smile to what a minute or two before had been drooping shoulders and an air of despondency. We saw the warm side of human nature with one being giving another support, encouragement and help – whether fellow participants or spectators.

I have consciously avoided using the word competitor as there seemed to be so much cooperation and the only competitiveness was personal. It was the individual’s sheer will power and drive to push themselves to finish not to ‘beat’ another participant.

But what made the event even more special was the area that it passed through – a path walked by generations of people absolutely steeped in history and mysticism. Hill forts, castle mounds and amazing places like the white horse at Uffington and the stone circle at Avebury are found along the route.

We arrived at Avebury just as the sun was setting over the dry golden landscape and there was an area of peace and tranquillity around the stones. The race finish was just up the road where we watched glowing head torches bob down the hill to the finish line as all around people clapped, cheered and welcomed home those who had followed in ancient footsteps to complete the route.

At the finishing point there were scenes of jubilation, relief and pain but the overriding feeling was the sense of pride that a challenge had been met and a journey completed no matter how blistered the feet  or how sore the legs.

Our forebears worked together to create the amazing landmarks, like the stone circles, which have survived and on Saturday the spirit of cooperation continued with all involved whether watching, taking part or organising the event. If only that spirit of cooperation and human warmth and support could be evident in all walks of life and in all parts of the world.

Is life too short to make marmalade?

Shirley Conran thought life was too short to stuff a mushroom but when the Seville oranges appear in the shops I have a bit of crisis – to buy or not to buy? There is no doubt that making marmalade is a time consuming and messy job and at the time of maximum mess the thought ‘why not buy it? the shops have so much they sell it’ is very much at the front of my mind.

This year, as in most years, I bought even though I knew that life was far too busy to make marmalade in the near future.  But one of the good things about Seville oranges is that they can be frozen until there is sufficient time to make marmalade so in previous years I have popped the whole lot in the freezer for a month or so. I didn’t freeze them this year but put them in our new cold food store and the weather has been so icy recently they probably have been frozen. When I got them out to make the marmalade they seemed  perfect.

Part of the fun of cooking is reading round the subject and I spent some time enjoying a coffee and reading different recipes to decide whether to hand cut all the rind as I did last year or whether to try the liquidiser attachment on my ancient Kenwood chef.  Next decision soak over night and then boil the pulp, rind and water or try the slow cooker.  I decided to live life on the edge and if I was trying a new method of fruit preparation I should try a new method of cooking so Kenwood and slow cooker out and off I set.

20140216_114510Roughly chopping the oranges (once juiced and then pips and pith were removed) and popping it in the Kenwood was easy.  Next I loaded the prepared rind,juice, pips and pith tied up firmly in butter muslin, and water into the slow cooker put it on and went outside to finish cutting the willow.

Four hours later when I came back into the house there was a beautiful, tangy citrus aroma filling the kitchen.  Next the easy bit remove the jelly bag and squeezing out all the lovely pectin laden juice.  Important next step (which I often forget)  is to weigh the empty preserving pan before adding the fruit so when you add the boiled fruit and weigh you can calculate how much sugar is needed.  Rule of thumb is add 1lb of sugar for every 1lb of fruit.

20140217_183239The marmalade has been boiled and bottled in clean warm jars so it’s just a matter of patience waiting for it to cool ready for breakfast tomorrow, Having had a few tastes during the ‘test for setting’ process I know that life is not too short to make marmalade and it is certainly not too short to eat it,

 

 

 

Christmas trees, stars and ‘burglars’

I may not have finished buying all the Christmas presents but I have made the second batch of Christmas ginger biscuits.  The first batch disappeared with mulled wine following the carol service so batch two has been made tonight.

I started making these biscuits, in a variety of festive shapes, to occupy small children (and adults) after lengthy festive meals. I would make batches of the biscuits and serve accompanied by tubes of icing, and glittery bits and so that each person could decorate their chosen shape to their delight. The Christmas cutters have been around a long time too and they include an angel, a snowman, star, Christmas tree and Father Christmas who really looks like a burglar as the top row of the picture proves!

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The little children are all pretty big now but I still have to make the biscuits and buy the icing. And despite wanting to concentrate on pretty stars and trees the festive burglar still is in demand.

 

Christmas wreaths and Advent rings

It’s been a week full of many meetings,  a growing number of end of year deadlines which are creeping closer as is Christmas and a mind that seems to be getting very busy. That’s why an afternoon outside in the fresh air under the clear blue sky gathering goodies for a creative morning in our local village hall was the best medicine that could be on offer.

I spent the whole afternoon cutting willow, dog wood and ivy as  well as trimming branches off our enormous Christmas trees and pulling wild hops out of the hedgerow.  The trailer is a treasure trove of goodies ready to be taken up to the village hall in the morning.

The final joy of the day was creating a few example Christmas rings with willow, ivy, and teasels as well as giving the advent ring, created very quickly  in the semi dark last Sunday, a bit of a facelift.

Tomorrow’s ‘event’  is something I have never done before but I just wanted people to come together to use their hands and create something natural to take home to start their Christmas and who knows perhaps they will feel as much benefit from the morning as I have gained from preparing for it.

I also hope to raise some money for Crisis at Christmas

Update after the event…

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We raised £50 for Crisis and had a fantastic morning with 17 people creating beautiful rings out of natural materials.

Early new year’s resolution to organise more craft events in the village!

 

 

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IMG_8359Nature is a an amazing thing just as the rhubarb comes into its own the angelica ( Angelica archangelica) raises its lofty head as if to say  ‘here I am don’t forget how useful I am’

Before I started growing angelica I  associated it with the sticky green candied variety used to decorate cakes and puddings. But now I know better. Fresh angelica is one of those amazing plants that reduces the acidity or sourness in fruit such as rhubarb and gooseberries so that much less sugar is needed to sweeten it.

The plant in the picture is in its third year and as you can see from the swollen stems near the top it is really trying to flower. The flower is a large umbelliferae (Apiaceae) blossom which is really quite beautiful. I have removed the flowers to try and prolong this plant’s life because once it flowers it will die.  However, I feel that this one will probably sneak a flower or two when my back is turned and then gracefully fade in the autumn. But all will not be lost as each flower head produces literally hundreds of seeds which look a bit like fennel or cumin seeds. The seeds should be planted immediately as if kept there is a much lower germination rate. Before winter there will be lots of little seedlings ready to be planted out for next year and the promise of tender fresh angelica. I have just planted three plants into a different herb bed which I grew from last year’s seed just to make certain that the angelica supply will not cease.

So how to use angelica? The simplest use is  adding a few leaves when your are stewing fruit and remove them before serving. ( People don’t really like seeing wilted leaves in their pudding).  Taste the stewed fruit before adding sugar and you will be amazed that it not very sour – add sugar with care as you will probably need much much less than you would normally add.

But if you have a little more time then why not go for pan cooked rhubarb and angelica  served with vanilla infused cream and some home-made shortbread. But the most delightful spring pudding of all is rhubarb and angelica tart where a creamy rich filling made with double cream infused with angelica and vanilla, eggs and sugar is poured over rhubarb and baked.