Neiva & Elderflowers

It’s hard to believe whilst I sit here typing, listening to the summer rain pattering against the window, just how gloriously beautiful the afternoon was picking elderflowers only a few days before.

If there is one scent that smells of an English summer its elderflowers. Tiny beautiful frothy fragrant white flowers made from tiny blossoms appear from May onwards, with the black purply berries taking over from August.

Whilst we love some of the organic shop varieties, I really wanted to have a go at making it myself. I also wanted Neiva to have the whole experience. From picking to steeping, straining then decanting to drinking the final product. 

Tips for picking Elderflower:

  • Pick the flowers preferably around midday when the suns heat is on them. The warmth of the sun enhances the beautiful perfume.
  • Make sure the flowers have plenty of blossom on them
  • Do not gather after a rainfall. It’s the pollen that gives the flower flavour and the rain will wash that away.
  • For the same reason as above, do not wash the flowers. Any insects or debris hiding amongst the tiny petals will be strained out later.

So after consulting my Hedgerow Handbook and with a beautiful sunny afternoon ahead of us, off we went to find our bounty. There were so many elderflowers to choose from we lost track of time and only when our basket was full to bursting did we venture back. 

Elderflower Cordial

For this recipe you will need: 

  • 1.5 sugar
  • 1.7 litres water
  • 2 unwaxed lemons (sliced)
  • Muslim cloth or jelly bag strainer

Method 

    1. Add the sugar and water to a pan and simmer gently until the sugar has dissolved. 
    2. Turn off the heat and add the elderflowers (flower heads down to submerge them completely) and the lemon slices, cover and leave to sit for 24 hours to infuse.
    3. Strain the liquid with a muslin cloth.
    4. Decant into a glass bottle and top with either water, soda water (for elderflower presse) or champagne/prosecco (for a grown up version!)

    This should keep for up to 6 weeks in the fridge although I doubt it will be there that long. I found the flavour is enhanced, very intense and extremely delicious in comparison to shop bought cordial. So sweet and so very fragrant.

    Making elderflower cordial certainly isn’t a quick process, however as well as being a fantastic sensory and learning experience, it also taught Neiva to learn patience in a beautiful and fun way. 

    Good things do come to those who wait…..

    Homemade Bird Feeders

    Despite living in a noisy little town, our house resides on a hill that backs on to a steep bank filled with trees, a haven for wildlife. It was the perfect setting to take part in the RSPB’s big garden bird watch over the weekend.

    I ordered our free pack some weeks back which, coupled with a few ideas from Pinterest, gave us all the ammunition we needed to get started.

    Bird Feeder #1
    For this we needed;

    • twine
    • cardboard toilet roll inner tube
    • peanut butter
    • wild bird seed


    METHOD:
    Using a butter knife we coated the tube with peanut butter until completely covered. Under close supervision from Enid, Neiva then rolled the tube in the wild bird seed. We then  threaded through the twine and hung outside.

    To make the second bird feeder below, we needed to first make the suet cakes which ideally need to be done the night before so they can set completely in the fridge. It really was so simple to make and the finished effect looked lovely.

    Suet (Lard) Cakes
    For this we needed;

    • a packet of lard
    • an old baking tray
    • wild bird seed
    • twine
    • cookie cutters (we used hearts and stars)


    METHOD:
    Melt a full packet of lard gently. Add enough bird seed to coat thoroughly. Thread through the twine and ensure the two ends meet at the top. Transfer to the cookie cutters packing them down nice and tight. Leave in the fridge overnight to set. In hindsight I would have not used stars as they were quite difficult to remove once set. I would have also laid them on grease proof paper as they did stick to the tray.

    Bird Food Garland
    This was a little bit more complex but Neiva did love making this. For this we needed:

    • a bamboo stick (or a dry twig)
    • twine
    • two apples
    • suet (lard) cakes
    • small heart cookie cutter


    METHOD:
    Slice the apples into thin slices and use the small heart cutter to cut a hole in the middle. Thread the twine through the hole (we did rows of three) Remove the suet cakes from the cutters and tie to the bamboo along with the apple slices.

    We did enjoy counting the different types of birds on the sheet and look forward to reporting our findings to the RSPB. Poor Enid not so much. Not only did she have the local squirrel to contend with, she had to deal with extra visitors to her garden this weekend.

    If you want more information on why the RSPB carry out an annual survey on local birdlife, please click here.

     

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