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Monday, June 16, 2008

Signs of summer

I am always impatient for the seasons to change. I love the liminal, the edge seasons of spring and autumn, but what I like most is the changing, spying signs of a difference, leaves, flowers, fruit, that weren’t there yesterday. A tang in the air as autumn approaches or the realisation that the watery sunshine now has some power in it.

One of my favourite signs of summer is the creamy white blossom of elderflower. Even in London it paints the gardens, parks and hedges a lovely green and ivory, scenting the air with its particular sweet powdery smell.

For the last five or six years I have gathered elderflowers in Abney Park Cemetery, a nineteenth century burial ground for non-conformists, penultimate resting place for the likes of William and Catherine Booth, Generalissimo and consort of the Salvation Army, several prominent abolitionists and (my favourite) Victorian menagerists Frank and Susannah Bostock, commemorated with a gorgeous marble lion. It is now maintained as wildlife reserve (butterflies, not lions)and yields a wonderful crop of blossom if you don't mind making polite conversation with suspiciously idle young men with very tight t-shirts.

The elderflowers I bring home and make into elderflower cordial, with which I make cocktails and ice-lollies and give to friends and family to drink the taste of summer.

Elderflower cordial
3 1/4 lb sugar
2 1/2 pints hot water
25 heads of elderflower, picked on a sunny day
2 lemons chopped
2 oz citric acid (this can be bought in many places,including my local Turkish grocery where it is labelled ‘lemon salt’)

Pour the water over the sugar and stir until dissolved. Add the rest of the ingredients and let stand for two days (or more, if convenient!). Strain through muslin and bottle.

I use the kind of glass bottles that have ceramic lids held on with thick wire. In hot weather, I have known plastic bottles blow their lids off, sending sticky stuff all over the entire flat. It comes off easily with water, but before you get it all, you’re already invaded by ants. Sigh.