I love the countryside and have been lucky to have always lived in semi-rural places. To me, there could be nothing worse than living in a city. I need grass, trees and wild life. Having two dogs I spend a lot of time walking the local country park.
I am so blessed living where I do, perched on the side of the Pennines, two minutes from the site of a long gone country house. The grounds are open to the public and there is a variety of landscapes to explore from woodland to fields, winding pathways and the ruins of the old hall, its predecessor and the stable block. There are always amazing views over the Cheshire plain, Manchester and up towards the Peak District.
In amongst the vegetation there is also a wealth of plants to forage. I have been walking here for the last seven years’, but it was only last Autumn that I realised I was regularly wandering past a treasure trove of nature’s bounty. It started with picking blackberries, which I have done before but then realising that there were also elderberries, rosehips, sloes, wild raspberries and apples.
I started gathering the fruits and berries and looking up recipes. I made blackberry and apple crumble and a blackberry syrup for pouring over ice cream and pairing with prosecco instead of Chambord. I remembered the Delrose rosehip syrup I was given as a child to boost my Vitamin C, D and A intake, which I loved and decided to make some of that. In the end, I didn’t have enough hips, so I combined them with the elderberries. Rosehips have a wealth of health benefits besides the vitamins, especially for those of us with creaking joints. Elderberries also have great immune system boosting properties and are helpful when suffering with winter colds and coughs.
Recently the parklands’s verdant fields and hedgerows have bought forth another jewel. Blossom. Hawthorn, blackthorn and rowan trees have been heavy with frothy, tumbling blooms. The hawthorns have been particularly spectacular this year. In the last 3 weeks the white, lacy elderflowers have also appeared on the branches of the elder trees.
I love the elderflower season because their delicate, floral taste can be used in so many dishes and drinks and it is one of the true flavours of a British Summer. It is such fleeting season, so you have to gather them quickly. But please remember, never strip a tree, leave plenty of blossom to continue to feed the insects and to develop into berries in Autumn to feed the wild life. Collect on a sunny, dry morning when the flowers are at their most fragrant. Don’t wash the flowers but gently shake to dislodge the tiny bugs. Elderflowers have antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties. Steep as soon as possible after picking to make cordial.
ELDERFLOWER CORDIAL RECIPE
½ litre boiling water
500g caster sugar
Zest of 1 lemon and 1 lime, unwaxed
50ml of lemon and lime juice
10/12 elderflower heads
Pour boiling water into a boil with the sugar and stir until dissolved. Add in zest, juice and flower heads and stir. Cover and allow to steep for 2 days. Strain through muslin and decant into sterilised bottles. Makes approx. ¾ litre. Keep in the fridge. Dilute with water and add ice for a cooling drink or even better, add a little to your G&T.