Sniffles Away!

It’s that time of year when the nights start to draw in and thoughts turn to becoming prepared for the chillier days ahead. Colds and Flu symptoms are tedious so it’s good to be armed with a recipe that Mary Poppins would be proud of! There’s certainly more than a spoonful of sugar in this recipe but it’s required to preserve the fruit mixture. Some of the documented benefits are:
1. Immune system booster
2. Powerful Antioxidant
3. Helps to relieve coughs, colds, sore throats & Flu
A spoon can be taken once a day to prevent Winter sniffles or 3-4 times a day if symptoms suddenly appear. There are thousand of recipes on the internet (I recommend that you research this for yourself) but this is the recipe I use and it tastes delicious!

Firstly, you need to locate and properly identify the Elder Sambucus nigra and collect only the fruit that is plump and really dark. We have an Elder bush that lives by the shed (that was helpfully planted by either a bird or squirrel) and luckily there are quite a few Elders down the Lane too.

The Elder is an amazing plant that not only produces pretty and useful flowers (although a little whiffy for my liking) but it also has the most amazing jewel-like berries on colourful red stems. It’s important not to strip the plant completely as many birds rely on these berries for food… and it’s also nice to leave some berries for fellow foragers! The great thing about this recipe is it’s adaptable depending on how many berries you have. If you don’t like the spices below then you can omit or replace as desired.

RECIPE
Ripe elderberries
Sugar (equal amount in weight compared to elderberries)
1 Lemon
2 Star Anise
20 Cloves
Thumb of fresh ginger
Lashings of good intentions ;-)

It’s important to only use the ripe, black berries. Those that are green or dark pink could make you ill… as do the the stems or bark so it’s important to prepare these little rascals properly! My preferred method, whilst sitting at the table with a cup of coffee, is to gently hand pick each berry off the stem. If the berries are really ripe then a fork can be used to ease them off the stalks but this can result in extra stems being added too!

It took about 45 minutes to obtain a decent bowl of elderberries and it’s slightly more interesting than podding broad beans (but not much). The berries need to be washed well – and if an earwig runs out try not to have a screaming fit and throw the berries everywhere.

1. Put the washed elderberries in a large pan
2. Cover with just enough water and put on the stove until boiling
3. Add the lemon and spices and stir well
4. Cover and leave to simmer for 30 minutes.
5. Sterilise the bottles in readiness
6. Mash the mixture to release the flavour, carefully remove the large pieces of lemon and ginger and carefully strain into another container (I used a cafetiere as my sieve wasn’t fine enough!)
7. Measure this liquid, return to a clean pan and add equal amounts of sugar*
8. Boil for approximately 10mins and ensure that the sugar has been dissolved.
9. Let the liquid cool a little then decant it into the sterilised bottles.

* some recipes recommend 3/4 amount of sugar to the full amount of elderberry juice. It’s important to remember that the sugar is there as a preservative so your juice may not stay fresh without sufficient amounts!

The containers I used were anything from old whiskey bottles to recycled glass herb pots (which are a great handbag size for taking to work!). They also make thoughtful gifts for friend or family who become ill… or those who can’t afford to be!

The spices give the syrup a lovely, mulled taste and it’s very like blackcurrant cordial. Some culinary uses are:

- Poured over pancakes or vanilla icecream
- In a favourite cocktail (eg with champagne as an alternative to Kir Royale)
- Hot Toddy
- Added to fruit crumble or fruit pie instead of sugar
- Added to sparkling water for a refreshing fruity drink

I maybe should have mentioned at the beginning of the post that these little beauties stain so protect work surfaces and wash your hands well. I still have a black stained thumb that looks like I was fingerprinted at the weekend!

March Already!

I’ve planted some “Golden Gourmet” shallots but unfortunately couldn’t find the string to mark a nice straight line so I did it free hand. The result will probably cause palpitations in many gardeners but to me it’s perfectly imperfect! I buried the shallots so that just the stems were poking out and then covered them with a cloche to stop the birds from pulling them out.

Shallots, Pulmonaria Officinalis, Beetroot & Strawberries

I was happy to see that the Lungwort (pulmonaria officinalis) was in flower. This pretty little herb has pink flowers that turn soon turn blue with age. Long ago most herbs were classified by the way they looked and Lungwort was thought to have leaves that looked like the thin, elastic tissue of the lungs. Remarkably, modern scientists have indeed confirmed that Lungwort has beneficial properties for the  lungs especially for the treatment of bronchitis!

I need to tidy the strawberries up as they’ve been sadly neglected in the shed all winter and the first signs of growth are there from early beetroot Red Ace. The seed packet states that they can be sown with protection from February but I’ve never sown beetroot that early before. I’ll give it a go as I’m sowing little batches every couple of weeks anyway and if it all goes wrong I can eat the leaves!

Crocus, Herbs & HebeThere’s not a lot of the usual yellow in the garden at the moment as the daffodils are still in bud but there are a lot of restful blues, pinks and purples. The crocus are particularly lovely this year and there’s already been a huge bumble bee checking them out!

CyclamenI’m looking forward to the weekend but the weather report is rain, rain, rain. How typical is that? It always seems to be perfect gardening weather when I’m at work or is that just my imagination :-) 

 

I ♥ Garlic

Garlic is one of my all time favourite herbs and an essential part of our kitchen garden. It may not be the prettiest plant but it certainly knows how to charm! It’s flavour and aroma are unlike any other and garlic has some interesting medicinal uses that include anti-bacterial, cholesterol lowering & blood thinning properties. The only down side is the smelly breath but it even  keeps the vampires away so what’s not to love??

New Shoots of Garlic

Garlic is a wonderful companion plant for many vegetables as it confuses the pests that rely on their sensitive noses to seek-and-destroy. It is particularly good friends with carrots, cabbages, beetroot and roses… but not so good with beans or peas so I’ve heard…… 

I should have planted the garlic in Autumn to ensure large, juicy bulbs – sadly, I couldn’t do this due to all the ongoing building work so I’ve started a few cloves of “Solent Wight” indoors and I’ll put the other cloves directly in the ground as soon as the soil is workable.

Maybe it should say plants!!

Help! The Utility Room has become a potting shed and greenhouse! There are trays, plants, fruit trees and packets of seeds everywhere… in fact, I vaguely remember a washing machine being in there somewhere! Another excuse to have to wear my pyjamas methinks x