Monday, June 12, 2006

Elderflower bomb

Originally uploaded by hedgiecc.
It’s still officially Spring (just), May’s monsoon is fading into memory now that the drought is back and the sun is beating down. This time of year, I always plan to make a batch of elderflower cordial.

Elderflowers are really almost weeds, and to be honest the tree/shrub/large bush-type plant-thingy is not outstanding from an aesthetic point of view. The best part is the wonderful scent of the elderflowers, wafting around on the breeze: absolute heaven, purest England.

The plant itself has had major significance in folklore and myth: Judas was supposed to have hanged himself on an elder tree; Christ was crucified on a cross of elder wood. Burning elder wood is supposed to summon the devil. Ancient European tribes used hollow elder twigs as bellows to make fires (without allowing the twigs to burn, because that would be BAD). The very name Elder is derived from the Anglo-Saxon word for fire.

Anyway, the recipe was given me by my friend Nuala. She’s a wild-child party animal, so this interest in nature is itself pretty noteworthy. She was walking one day along the Thames at Richmond, and came across a young man picking elderflowers and putting them in a bag. Nuala’s curiosity was piqued and she asked him what he was doing. After some conversation he gave her the recipe. I tasted Nuala’s cordial, and asked for the recipe. If I remember correctly, it required soaking the flowers in a bucket of sugar solution for a few days, and then boiling the whole thing up and decanting into bottles. Ivan did the boiling for me, and he strained the flowers out first: in Nuala’s version, the flowers were strained after boiling. I must say, straining first gave our cordial a distinctly more refined flavour.

You can google for a recipe: there are hundreds out there, and some don’t require boiling at all.

One of the worries about making the cordial out of free-range London elderflowers is that they are somewhat compromised by all the pollution and traffic fumes (but then so are we).

The other worry is that a key ingredient in the cordial is also highly sought after by the UK chapter of al-Qaeda: citric acid. This has made it virtually impossible to purchase in any good chemist here due to security regulations (and I suppose we must be thankful for that). So, no more homemade cordial. This makes me sad.

It’s such an innocent, quaintly English thing to do – one half maiden aunt cycling in her twin-set and pearls over the cricket field to choral evensong, the other half crusty anarchic hippy shaman, brewing up a batch of something potent. And now there’s a third half: mad jihadist terrorist.

Ah well, we can always buy it ready-made.

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