Posts Tagged ‘summer weather’

Recipe – Chocolate And Nutella Tart

Friday, July 2nd, 2010

England’s football team were abject last Sunday, but the Chocolate And Nutella Tart recipe from the French patisserie chef, Pierre Hermé, was the perfect compensation – sweet, rich and complex in taste that left you just wanting more.  In one of my personal quests, to get better at making pastry, I treated myself to Pierre Hermé’s “Chocolate Desserts”.  I appreciate I am so behind the times as this was published in 2001, but us country folk take a little longer to catch up with you fast and quick city folk; anyway, I got there in the end. 

Nutella Tart By Pierre Herme

Nutella Tart By Pierre Herme

We had some friends around for sunday lunch yesterday, and, with England playing Germany and it being forecast to be the hottest day of the year, I decided to make roast beef, roast potatoes, Yorkshire puddings and green beans then top it off with a chocolate tart, raspberries and cream.  The roast was spot on, while the Chocolate And Nutella Tart was a revelation – the sweet pastry is a soft, delicate, marzipan affair while the filling is a glorious melding of the sweet, nutty familiarity of Nutella and the rich, dense velvety texture of pure chocolate.  We served the tart with rasperries and cream, which were a perfect combination, as you got the slight tartness of the rasperries to offset the pure sweet richness of the chocolate ganache.

For me, it was the sweet pastry that was the real excitement, even if the chocolate was pure joy.  It’s lucky I made enough for three sweet tarts, so I can next try his other chocolate masterpieces.

For those without Pierre Hermé’s book, here’s the recipe which has been slightly tweaked, for better or worse:

The crust

1 fully baked 22cm / 8¾ inch tart shell made from Sweet Pastry Dough, cooled to room temperature (see separate blog)

The filling

200g / 7 oz Nutella or other chocolate & hazelnut spread
140g / 4¾ oz  dark cooking chocolate, broken into pieces
200g / 7 oz unsalted butter
1 large egg, lightly whisked (at room temperature)
3 large egg yolks, lightly whisked (at room temperature)
2 TBSP caster sugar (or other type such as granulated)
50g / 1½ oz toasted hazelnuts, skinned and chopped 

1.  Preheat the oven to 190oC / 375oF.

2.  Spread the Nutella evenly over the base of the baked tart crust and set aside while you make the ganache.

Nutella Spread Into Baked Crust

Nutella Spread Into Baked Crust

3.  Melt the chocolate and the butter in sperate bowls either over simmering water or in the microwave.  Leave to cool until they feel just still warm – he suggests 40oC / 104oF, but the touch test worked fine for me.

4.  Using a hand whisk, stir the egg gently into the cooled melted chocolate, taking care not to add air as this is not meant to be airy and fluffy.  Next, stir in the egg yolks slowly but surely, then the sugar.  Finally, stir in the melted butter – this takes a little bit of patience at first, as the butter really didn’t feel as though it would be miscible, but it got there, eventually.  Pour the chocolate ganache over the Nutella in the tart shell.  Sprinkle over the roasted hazelnuts.

5.  Bake for 11 minutes, then remove the tart from the oven and leave to cool.  Allow the tart to cool for at least 20 minutes or until it reaches room temperature. 

6.  Eat on its own or with cream or with raspberries and cream, but whatever, enjoy a moment of pure, divine decadence.

Baked Hazelnut And Chocolate Tart

Baked Hazelnut And Chocolate Tart

Herme's Chocolate & Nutella Tart

Herme's Chocolate & Nutella Tart

Ripon Water Walks – Along The Ure

Monday, May 31st, 2010

I mentioned in my first blog about walks in Ripon in North Yorkshire that I did not believe that Ripon had only been settled as a monastery in 650AD.  I believe this basic historical fact about Ripon’s history even less now after walking along the River Ure.  Firstly, wherever you walk along the Ure and also nearly everywhere you are in the Dallamires area south of the River Skell, you are watched over by the brooding presence of Ripon Cathedral.  It seems to be watching you, eyeing you up and saying: what are you doing, where are you going and are you sure you should really be doing that because I am watching you?  Secondly, Hewick Bridge by one of the markers that indicate the edge of the sanctuary of Ripon was an important bridge in the Roman times connecting a settlement near the bridge/river with Isurium Brigantium, the major Roman town that is now the ancient village of Aldborough.  There is no physical evidence just the circumstantial thoughts of someone who has walked the land and feels that this was just too good a location to ignore.

On Saturday 23rd May, which was a warm and sunny evening after a scorching day, I parked my car on Magdalen’s Road and started my walk along the footpath over North Bridge Green.  North Bridge Green is a floodplain for the River Ure that stretches from the north side of North Bridge and follows the south side of the River Ure as it arcs round from the Bridge to where it meets with the River Skell by Fisher Green.  It is public land that floods regularly and is a green swathe of grass, however it would be great if more trees were planted, which would allow the ground to hold more water when the river is in spate and would also give more woodland for local biodiversity to thrive.

It’s a gentle 30 minute walk along the edge of the river, which languidly flows towards the Skell.  The water had a peaty brown hue to it and looked temptingly cool on an evening like it was.  There are shingle beeches every so often that you can wander down to and watch the river flow past, look for fish, watch the ducks swimming and the insects swarming on the water.  There were some teenagers enjoying skimming stones across the water, but most were enjoying the delights of “Over the Rainbow – The Final”  or some other TV delight.

Hidden Bench By River Ure

Hidden Bench By River Ure

Around half way around, the land rises to a small height where you can look across to Ripon Cathedral as it keeps an eye on you, before you slide back down to river height.  As you get closer to the meeting of the Rivers Ure and Skell, there’s an old bench hidden beneath bushes and covered in nettles, where once there must have been a lovely river view – a romantic sign of decay – while a newer bench by the meeting of the rivers has no seat and just the concrete base – a sign simply of neglect.  Once again, you can turnaround and see Ripon Cathedral checking up on you…

View Back To Ripon Cathedral

View From Skell To Ripon Cathedral

At  Fisher Green, we cross over the stepping stones across the River Skell and then follow the footpath along the south side past Yorkshire Water’s wastewater treatment plant coming out on a field called The Green, which is opposite Ripon Race Course.  It flooded here last December after a snow melt in the Yorkshire Dales and covered over the road, and the field itself floods at least once every winter.

Hewick Bridge In Ripon , Yorkshire

Hewick Bridge In Ripon , Yorkshire

Sanctuary Marker By Hewick Bridge

Sanctuary Marker By Hewick Bridge

At Hewick Bridge, you need to be careful as you cross the bridge as it’s busy and there’s no footpath.  Just over Hewick Bridge, there’s a footpath and a sanctuary marker that marks the start of a walk called the Sanctuary Walk, where you can walk around the ancient limits of one league from the monastery.  We just use the part that goes along the northern banks of the River Ure.  A few yards in from the start there is a concrete section that goes into the river and comes out the other side – I always thought this was a car park but apparently this is where tanks used to cross over the river.

This section of the walk to Sharrow and back to North Bridge takes another hour, bringing the total walk time to a good 2 hours.  This section is a decent walk in the countryside, save for the sound of cars constantly moving.  Soon you blot these out and can hear only the sounds of the birds with their evening chorus – swallows, thrush, ducks, blackbirds, pigeons, the high pitched chirrup chirrup of house martins and then the loud honking of a couple of geese as they flew overhead like 2 bombers.  The trees and flowers alongside the river were in full bloom – hawthorn, chestnut, white butterbur, nettles, wild garlic, bluebells and then you had the white parachute seed heads of the the Old Man’s Clock’s and downy female catkins on some small shrubby willow bushes (I think it’s a type of Osier Willow or Salix viminalis as the leaves are definitely spear shaped, but I am not convinced about this), as well as a patch of forget-me-nots in the middle of nowhere as if someone had just dropped a pack of seeds as they wandered idly by.

Forget-me-nots Among White Butterbur

Forget-me-nots Among White Butterbur

As I got to the point that the Rivers Ure and Skell meet, I walked through nettles and elder, climbed over an ineffectual fence and clambered down the riverbank and stood over the river on the trunk of an elder tree and took a picture of the confluence.  It was probably not worth the effort as it was decidely undramatic, but it was something I had been keen to do, and it satisfied a curiosity.  I still need to find the meeting places of the Ure with the Ouse Beck and also Kex Beck with the River Laver, having found the meeting between the Rivers Skell and Laver earlier.

Meeting Of Rivers Ure and Skell In Ripon In Yorkshire

Meeting Of Rivers Ure and Skell In Ripon In Yorkshire

Near here it is worth looking east towards the Blackamoor Pub and looking over the perfectly landscaped farmland and the patches of Van Goghian yellow of rapeseed flowers, then to the north a derelict farmhouse that I will explore another day.

View Back To Blackamoor Pub

View Back To Blackamoor Pub

Beware Of Witches And The Gruffalo

Beware Of Witches And The Gruffalo

Two-thirds of the way along, you follow a pathway off the river bank and upwards onto Bell Bank, which is a National Trust owned wood that’s about 30 metres above the Ure.  It’s a steep slope upwards covered in trees clinging to the riverbank, so there’s an out-of-place sign warning those who enter the wood that they do so at their own risk – what of: witches or the gruffalo or that I might not notice the steep slope down to the river.  The wood was shaded and dappled with the setting sun and with patches of bluebells here and there, adding a colour contrast to the greens and browns of the woodland.

As you come out of the wood, you get a good glimpse of Ripon Cathedral staring at you, then you are down and nearly out at Sharrow.  As you follow the path along, you go under the Duchess of Kent Bridge, then out and over North Bridge.  Cross over to the opposite side of the bridge and look over the floodplain at one of Ripon’s curiosities – a white wigwam, why?  And you’re back at Magdalen’s Road.

White Teepee Near North Bridge In Ripon

White Teepee By North Bridge In Ripon In Yorkshire

Thinking about it, do you know what I hardly have seen when I do these short potters – people fishing.  Only once have I seen someone and that was in the centre of Ripon, but few people seem to be sitting on the bank, idling their time away trying to catch brown trout or whatever is in the river.  I know there are fishers out there, but where are they hiding?

PS: I must get a filter for my camera as I regularly get the blue sky whiting out in the photos I am taking.

Global warming – reworking out the actual changes

Sunday, April 4th, 2010

As already discussed, I have become sanguine about the global warming information that I have been reading and hearing from the media – lots of noise and jumping up & down by all sorts of people.  And perhaps, I have taken too much on trust and should have looked in more detail at the raw information from scientists rather than listened to politicians and journalists, who don’t always know the detail but like the spin of a story; some of my earlier blogs specifically take the line fed to me in the media, which I am now thinking could have been a rash way to go – see for example

Hence, the next stage of my quest was to hunt down some raw data that was simple enough for me to process and see what the results came up with.  That was actually harder than I thought, so while The Met Office in the UK has data linked into The Hadley Centre, I couldn’t understand their data at all – there was too much and not enough explanation.  I did try and contact them and an email was sent via The Met Office to The Hadley Centre, but I never got any response. 

Note to UK Climate Scientists – you have got to be much more open about what you’re doing as this lack of openness really increased my scepticism, and as a publicly funded body, I think you have no right to secrecy on this one.  Allied to issues of leaked emails etc, you’ve got some serious work to do on your PR and credibility!

So, as often seems to happen in life, the USA came up trumps.  I have often been very surprised by how helpful, open and progressive America can be, when at times it still sometimes is stuck in the Dark Ages (on things like good food and packaging waste and energy consumption etc).  I got useful data from NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies Surface Temperature Analysis which is available at; ironically, this data incorporates the Hadley Centre Data that I never was given when I enquired direct.  I then downloaded the information which is at the bottom of the web page on “Combined land-surface air and sea-surface water temperature anomalies” and used the Global Mean Analysis.  This comes with some caveats as does the alternative data which is also available on that page – “Means based on Land-surface air temperature anomalies only”.

I spent a merry time copying the data from the hard copy – I am sure some whizz could have automatically downloaded this and got it all pretty in spreadsheet, but as I have said before computers really are a bit of a mystery to me.  Next I sorted the data so I could represent the data graphically and I did this for monthly, seasonal and annual data.  Finally, I got a ruler and pencil out and worked out some best fit lines to come up with my own views on global warming.

The result: yes, it does appear that global temperatures have risen over the last 100+ years, BUT (and it’s a big BUT) not by as much or as quickly as all the media and political hype has been telling me, us and the world.

The data shows that global warming is running at about 0.7oC every 100 years with a maximum of about 2oC and a minimum of about 0.4oC, but it is definitely in line with my original blog that said 0.5oC – 1.8oC every 100 years.  The particular data used comes with a caveat that it might be understating temperatures, however I reckon that this will be a consistent error over the period so the trend should be the same.

Well that’s not the 3 – 4oC imminent global catastrophe that I had been led to believe with everyone being flooded away in a biblical onrush of melting land-ice drowning all of coastal Britain.  It does not mean that I must rush off down to Jewson’s to buy lots of timber and build an ark to save the planet, or at least not quite yet.

I come from eco viewpoint so I am not especially happy about my conclusions, so as I am not yet 100% with this result, I will be cross-checking the information with some specific country data if I can come by it.  But I do have to say that the data came via a web site that promotes better understanding of Climate Change and is for the issue as opposed to against, so if there is any bias it will be to promoting the likelihood of global warming rather than the skeptical position –

The graphs that I got out from the data are below (if you want better detail just email and ask):

Graph of Average Annual Temperature Anomalies (10 x degrees celsius)

Graph of Average Annual Temperature Anomalies (10 x degrees celsius)

Graph of seasonal temperature anomalies (10x degree C)

Graph of seasonal temperature anomalies (10x degree C)

Global warming – what’s the fuss all about?

Sunday, March 28th, 2010

I have to admit to becoming more skeptical about global warming since I began studying at The Open University on an Environmental Studies and Science Course.  I doubt that becoming less convinced about much of the stuff written about global warming was the expected result from being fed more information on climate change. 

However, by nature and training, I am a scientist (I did Biological Science as a Degree in the 1980s) and scientists are skeptics, therefore the more someone tells me that a particular idea is correct, and the louder they shout it, the more I want to find a quiet space and think about it myself – basically, I hate always being told to take things on trust and like to do my own thinking and understand things myself, and then if they are too complex and cannot be explained in basic, simple english or maths then I reckon it’s got to be a load of hoolley.

So there’s the background to why I have started looking in some more detail at global warming & climate change.  I am going to stick with global warming as that means we can focus on temperature whereas climate and weather is so much more complex.  Perhaps we can look at weather at a later stage.

My journey began in the most obvious starting point – the information published by the IPCC (the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), which slightly spookily was an idea of and set up by Ronald Reagan when he was President of America.  Here’s a short paper in the Frequently Asked Section of their website on how temperatures are changing: Now, the key data, that comes from the pretty graph at the bottom is that, depending on which time period you use, and also whether you start a period in a dip going to a peak in temperature, you can get a wide range for the rate of growth in global temperatures.  Their published range shows warming of 0.5oC – 1.8oC every 100 years. 

Now I have to admit I didn’t like their graph as I think you cannot take artificial time periods and force those onto the graph and felt a bit as though it was all being neatly calculated to fit a preconceived viewpoint.  Just like when you did maths at high school, you need to look at the graph and visually work a best fit line for the data, so I printed the sheet out (I am sure someone clever can do this on a computer but I am not that skilled with them but I can use a ruler and pencil!).  Now the graph is pretty small so accuracy is not going to be great but based on 150 and 100 years of data, global warming seems to be growing at about 0.45oC – 0.75oC every 100 years.

Now there are bits of the graph that can show much faster growth, however these are over really short time periods and appear to be picking rates, or periods, when you’re going from a low temperature to a high temperature that may be the result of normal cycles in sun temperatures etc, so I think you should look over longer periods that can remove some of the noise of other factors. 

That’s my view and everyone will have different thoughts on that, but this does highlight one of the contentions against “climate science” in that it is some ways “climate art” and becomes a matter of representation and debate rather than fact and science.

I was still not satisfied, in fact I wanted to look more closely at the data, so I started the hunt for some data to plug into an Excel spreadsheet and see what the answers would be, which will explain in a blog in the next week or so.

Autumnal Leaves Falling

Wednesday, November 4th, 2009

Autumnal leaves are falling everywhere.  They have hung on in there for quite a while longer as we have had a short spell of decent warm weather and very little wind.  But even so, nature cannot be stopped and even the delicate finger-like leaves of our wisteria have turned yellow and will soon have all gone until spring next year.

The River Skell at Fountains Abbey

The River Skell at Fountains Abbey

It’s a time of the year that makes you feel artistic.  I think perhaps the light is softer, making the edges of objects all fuzzy, rather than the sharp precision of winter and summer.   The smells are also old, ancient, the smells of decay; another year over.

Autumn Leaves

Autumn Leaves

I am reminded of a painting by Sir John Everett Millais that hangs in Manchester Art Gallery – “Autumn Leaves”.  John Ruskin wrote of Autumn Leaves that it was “the first instances of a perfectly painted twilight”.  I am not sure about the twilight but it does conjur up autumnal smells and sights.

In it, 4 girls stand around a pile of autumnal leaves piled up high – the 2 girls in the centre wearing deep black are Effie’s (Millais’ wife) 2 younger sisters and the others are local youngsters, Matilda Proudfoot and Isabella Nicol.  The setting is Annat Lodge in Perthshire, where the distant hills are a deep purple of twilight in the distance.

In the foreground there is a heap of papery fallen leaves, piled high having been brought there by the girls in whicker baskets.  Yellowish-green, bronze, red are the leaves, mimicked by the russet and deep purples of the younger 2 local girls as their clothes blend in with the colours of the season.  The youngest girl stares wistfully at the leaves and holds a chewed red apple in her hands.

There is a strong emotional intensity as these young girls stare out at us – it is twilight, the end of a year, yet they are just starting out.  The earth is perpetual cycle of renewal (spring) through to growth and beauty (summer) and ageing (autumn) before death (winter).  Then during winter, the earth is actively replenishing itself ready for another year of growth and death, in a perpetual cycle.

But maybe its more a time for poetry rather the visual arts; maybe poets are the more melancholic of the artists.

Summer’s Over

Monday, September 14th, 2009

Saturday was hot, a really glorious day.  However, the swallows have gone so the blue sky felt empty without their energetic dance swooping and soaring the catch insects.  They must have left while I was in London last weekend and into last week.  Another year gone, another winter to contend with.  It’s still warm and today is bright sunshine, so I shall enjoy the last days of an Indian summer.

You can see it with the changing light.  There’s a field just over Hewick Bridge as you come into Ripon where there a rows of round straw bales all lined up neatly like soldiers to attention. 

I love the long shadows cast by these as I come in of a morning.  There is a crispness of light at this time which seems to sharpen shapes and contours.  I can now see why Monet enjoyed painting these simple shapes with seemingly endless paintings of haystacks, but it is the changing light that fascinates him.  And light has weird colours to it – purples and blues in winter, but there’s still a warm orangey glow to the shadows and light in this early autumn time.

Recipe – Rediscovering Ratatouille

Thursday, June 25th, 2009


The other day, we had some visitors for a meeting at Steenbergs.  Our dilemma was not really about spices and herbs – that’s something we do, day in day out.  But what were we going to offer them for food.  We’re a small organic herbs & spices business, based in rural and very parochial North Yorkshire.  There aren’t any fancy restaurants around here and we tend to do all our own cooking – as what’s available isn’t always that great and usually overpriced, even if it saves on having to do the washing up.


What we cooked was a Mediterranean vegetable tart and ratatouille.  I have recently rediscovered ratatouille after I overdosed on it at University where we seemed to live on “rat and chips” (homemade and shallow fried, should you dare ask).


Ratatouille is simple to make, but time-consuming.  Even worse, it is easy to make horribly just by rushing it.  The classic mistake is to whack all the ingredients except the tomatoes together into a pan, fry it up quickly, then add a tin of tomatoes and stew for 10 minutes and serve.  That isn’t ratatouille even if it is perhaps rat; it’s really a vegetable mush.


No, proceed slowly and with a little bit of care and attention.  All the ingredients must be prepared and cooked separately, before being brought together as a beautiful symphony at the end.  The other thing is be flexible – use what’s in season or looks good in the grocer, together with what’s to hand in the kitchen.  I love it cold as well as hot.


2         Decent sized aubergines

4         Ripe red peppers (or other colours – I used a nice locally grown small orange pepper as well as a really sweet red pepper)

3         Courgettes

2         Large onions

4         Cloves of garlic

1kg      Ripe tomatoes

Plenty of olive oil – perhaps 150ml

Rosemary and thyme and parsley (at this time of the year, I used rosemary and thyme straight from the garden and left out the parsley)

Salt and pepper


Get a decent sized heavy bottomed casserole ready as you build up the ingredients.


Prepare the vegetables and keep separated: dice the aubergine, salt lightly and leave to drain in a colander for 10 minutes; finely chop the onions and garlic; remove the stalks and seeds from the peppers and cut into strips and then cut these into 2cm lengths; dice the courgettes, discarding the ends.  To prepare the tomatoes, plunge them in water to remove the skins and peel and then chop them up; some people remove the pips but I like the texture that they add to the sauce.


Heat 4 tablespoons of olive oil in a frying pan and gently fry the onions and garlic until soft and just turning golden.  This will take about 10 minutes.  Take out and put into casserole.


Now gently fry the prepared sweet peppers in the pan until they caramelise and soften.  Carefully remove from the oil using a slotted spoon, so preserving much of the oil.  Transfer the peppers to the casserole.


Top up the olive oil if needed.  Next add the courgettes and fry these at a slightly higher temperature, until they are lightly browned on the light green pulp.  Turn at least once.  Add these to the casserole.


Whilst the courgettes are frying wash the aubergines and then pat them dry. Salting the aubergines, removes some of the bitterness – it comes out as a green liquid that looks a bit like washing up liquid.  Fry the aubergines, until lightly browned, turning them a couple of times.  Add the fried aubergines to the casserole.


Now add the chopped tomatoes, chopped herbs and some cracked/coarsely ground Steenbergs pepper and salt to the casserole.  Alternatively, season with some Steenbergs organic Perfect Salt seasoning.  Simmer gently with the lid on for 30 minutes.  I sometimes add a little wine or cognac to give the ratatouille an extra dimension – I used a rosé that Sophie’s enjoying at the moment.


Remember that ratatouille is not a hard and fast recipe, and everyone should have their own version and should also flex around the basic recipe using whatever is in season or looks good.  The key is to be patient and to use aubergines, onions and garlic as the base and then build it up.  Even though everyone thinks of ratatouille as a tomato based dish, it’s actually an aubergine dish and you can even leave out the tomato if you want.

Recipe – Making Real Lemonade

Thursday, June 18th, 2009
As you walk along the long aisles of soft drinks in shops, it’s like hunting for a needle in a haystack to find real drinks that aren’t made with chemicals and don’t contain artificial sweeteners.  Even such national treasures as Schweppes Tonic Water are now adulterated with artificial sweeteners.  
There’s something wrong about using ersatz chemical sweeteners and we do everything to avoid them for our children and ourselves; while we have no proof for it, we have the feeling that some time over the next 20 years, scientific evidence will show that these artificial sweeteners are bad for health.  Our basic principle is that if you cannot make it at home, be wary about it.

Back to soft drinks – we love real lemonade; not the fizzy, soda water that’s been flavoured with industrial citric acid and perhaps a twist of real lemon, to aid the marketing.  No, I mean freshly made lemonade from lemons, water and sugar.  If you do a taste test of one to another, there really is no comparison; everything’s different: colour, taste, texture.

We make 2 versions of lemonade, which we give below.  Both of which are worth the effort.


Quick iced lemon 

1                      Unwaxed lemon
2 – 3 tbsp          Sugar, to taste
850ml (1.5pts)   Ice and water (about 600ml/0.25 pint water if using ice, or all water)
1                      Free range egg (optional – see note below) 1.       Wipe unpeeled lemons and cut into quarters, being careful not to lose any juice.2.              Put the diced lemons into a blender together with the sugar and egg.3.              Strain and serve immediately.

Old fashioned lemonade

3                      Unwaxed lemons
3 tbsp               Sugar
1.1 ltrs (2pts)     Water, freshly drawn then boiled
1 sprig               Mint, freshly picked is ideal (I prefer apple mint to spearmint for this)
Glass-full           Ice cubes (optional)
1 or 2                Extra slices lemon (optional) 1.       Wipe unpeeled lemons and cut into dices, being careful not to lose any juice.2.       Put the diced lemons into a jug together with the sugar.3.       Pour on boiling water and leave for 15-30 minutes until strong without becoming bitter.4.       Strain.5.       Put the mint into a serving jug with ice and the slices of lemon and leave to cool for and hour before serving. 

Note: we like to add the egg to the quick lemonade as it gives extra body and froth to the lemonade.  However, if you have been told not to eat raw egg or are wary of doing so, please just exclude it from the recipe.

Recipe – Elderflower Cordial from the Hedgerow

Monday, June 15th, 2009


Sunday morning found me walking along a small cutting down to the River Ure hunting flower heads, or corymbs, from elder bushes.  The common elder flowers in June and July over about a 6 week period.  It is fairly widespread, being a bird-sown weed and is best found on wasteland and in hedgerows.  I try and find trees that are fairly hidden down rarely-used lanes or in woodland as these are less covered in the fumes and dust from traffic.


I carefully collected a whole basketful of these sweet wine smelling white flowerheads.  You need to try and minimise the number of insects on them and yet find those that are flowering – that is not in bud – and where the petals are not falling off.


I then like to make our own elderflower cordial.  It tastes a lot nicer and more flowery than the shop bought cordials, although I never make enough so we need to resort to one of the brands later in the year.


My recipe is as follows:


24         large elderflower heads (or as many as you want so long as it’s more than this)

4          large unwaxed lemons

1.8kg    granulated sugar

1.5ltrs   water


Slice the lemons moderately thinly, discarding the ends, and put the slices into a large stainless steel pan.  Pour the granulated sugar into the large pan.  Add the water.  Bring this sugar solution gently to the boil, stirring occasionally to ensure that the sugar dissolves fully.  This is your sugar solution.


While the sugar solution is heating up, sort through the elderflower heads, getting rid of any insects by gently shaking the corymbs over a bowl,  This ensures that you don’t lose too many of the little flowers as you can then get rid of the insects that fall in and keep the flowers.  I also clip off any excess stalk and any remove leaves.


Bring the sugar solution to the boil, then remove from the heat.  Add the flower heads and stir into the sugar solution.  Put a lid on the solution and leave to steep for at least 24 hours.  We leave for about 3 days.


Strain the cordial, then bottle in clean bottles.  It should be stored in the fridge as it does not last long.  We use plastic bottles that have been saved or glass bottles with screw on lids.  We part fill the bottles and freeze them; you can take them out the freezer and defrost as and when you want them.


To use, simply dilute with water.  A little cordial goes a long way so do not put much in a glass.

A walk on the River Ure

Sunday, June 14th, 2009


Yesterday evening (Saturday), I went for a quick 1 hour walk by the River Ure near Boroughbridge.  It was a warm evening and the sky was blue.  The swallows were flying high in the sky and the kine were busy chomping on the grass on the river bank.  I met only a few other groups walking as I suspect the attractions of Robin Hood in the TV or a happy barbecue were more enticing than a wander by the river.  A family was having a barbecue on the lock with their lovely canal boat moored beside them.


As I looked around at the young cattle, the delicate greeny-white heads on the elder trees and the wheat growing like soldiers standing to attention in the fields, I had the sense of the earth sighing a delighted, gentle breath out at the end of a glorious day.  I also had the sense of a much deeper, longer breath of the earth as the planet breathed in replenishing itself after the winter. 


It is important to feel these longer rhythms of the earth as it moves through the seasons, breathing in and out, refreshing itself in Spring, renewing itself through the Summer, preparing itself for Winter during Autumn and then cleaning itself and using up the fruits of the Summer/ Autumn during the Winter, then starting the cycle again as the snowdrops reappear in early Spring.


The earth must be allowed to go through these rhythms.  It lets the earth rest, clean itself and then refresh itself before creating the bounty of the soil over the summer months.  Without these periods of rest to cleanse itself, it starts to build up toxins and the soil, water and air become enervated, losing its power to nurture life.


As we lose our connections to the soil, we forget these natural rhythms of the planet and force it to operate at full speed without the time to rest and recuperate.  We must simply slow down or the productivity of our planet will be eked away.