panna cotta

While I love to bake, occasionally an elegant dessert is called for at a particularly busy moment. I was delighted to find that panna cotta is not only absolutely gorgeous in flavour and style, it is extraordinarily simple to make. Translated from Italian as “cooked cream”, for this you’ll need 500ml each of cream and milk, six sheets of gelatine, a dozen drops of stevia (or sugar to taste) and either a splash of vanilla or a bean if you’ve got it.

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My small child helped soak the gelatine in cold water for five minutes. She was fascinated with the stuff. I put the other ingredients in a pot to warm up, just to a low simmer, stirring with a wooden spoon. Then my little one squeezed out the gelatine, I took the pot off the fire, and she stirred it in well.

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I had our sundae glasses
waiting to be filled, though turning out the panna cotta from a mould is just beautiful too.

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Put them to chill for a few hours til set. This is the most impatient part. I served these with a dusting of cocoa and berries cooked into a colourful compote on the side. Our long silver spoons reach nearly to the bottom of the glass. This recipe is perfect if you’re avoiding sugar and grains of any kind.

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Ring the changes with elderflower cordial or almond essence, even substitute coconut milk for the dairy. I adore it darkly flavoured with cocoa and melted chocolate for a last-minute Valentine.

elderberrying

Whenever I become familiar with a plant I begin to see it everywhere, ubiquitous, like the name of a star who appears everywhere you look. Each year the elderberry eluded me. I never knew it like I know the wild blackberry, sure of its stages, and though we knew where to find elders from gathering elderflower in the spring, we’d return each summer to England long past berry season. This summer we were resolute. On a sunny afternoon the children and I called on the first plants we’d collected flowers from, along an old greenway near our old flat in London, where nettles grow tall and rich and blackberries line the path.

 elderberries © elisa rathje 2011

Abundance.

 elderberries © elisa rathje 2011

I was warned that elderberries are a bit poisonous raw, and so we still only imagine their flavour, though we’ve since heard that’s only the unripe ones. The bucketful we’ve picked are bound for a medicinal cordial, but may not make it past us to flu season. While the berries on the sunny side of the path were glorious black, in the shade there are green ones, there’s time yet to return for more elderberrying.

 elderberries © elisa rathje 2011

The elders grow tormentingly tall along our path, but we made a couple of friends, building at the end of a garden, who emerged with the perfect berry snips, and helped us forage a few extra umbels. Ever so kind! I spotted what I thought were plums high up, out of reach, and I’m delighted to hear they are likely damsons. My first glimpse of them. This is wild fruit I’ve only dreamt of in deep winter whilst poring over my copy of Hedgerow.

mirabelles © elisa rathje 2011

Our friends confirmed that we’d found a wild plum. Probably mirabelles, if Mark, the head gardener at River Cottage, can be trusted. He did just write their latest handbook, Fruit, which I must wrestle away from my tall girl so I can read it myself.

hawthorn berries © elisa rathje 2011

Our small girl was enchanted with the hawthorn berries and wanted to collect them. I’m hoping they will keep on the trees until we’re back in the countryside with our trugs and our preserving jars. I’ll be back soon to show you what I’m doing with all the wild food!

Before you go, subscribe to the appleturnover postcards, which will commence with this autumn’s equinox, in celebration of a year of homemade stories. I’ll be marking the anniversary with a gloriously delicious project that tells the story of how appleturnover came to be. Get the postcards to your inbox for a peek at what I’m plotting to learn to make in the coming months and to catch singular homemade projects appearing in the impending appleturnovershop.

elderflower cordial

We all went quite mad for elderflower cordial after our first time making it, putting it in jellies, cocktails, popsicles, so I was relieved to have time to put up a few bottles this year. I hope we can console ourselves with elderberry preserves later on, when the flower cordial has disappeared. I’m delighted to bring you the great elderflower cordial recipe I use, courtesy of the good folks at River Cottage, from their essential Preserves handbook, number two in the series that I find so gloriously inspiring. Preserves makes a particularly nice companion to Hedgerow, for putting up wild edibles.

© elisa rathje 2011

  • Makes about 2 litres
  • About 25 elderflower heads
  • Finely grated zest of 3 unwaxed lemons and 1 orange, plus their juice (about 150 ml in total)
  • 1 kg sugar
  • 1 heaped tsp citric acid (optional)

© elisa rathje 2011

Inspect the elderflower heads carefully and remove any insects.

© elisa rathje 2011

Place the flower heads in a large bowl together with the orange and lemon zest. Bring 1.5 litres water to the boil and pour over the elderflowers and citrus zest. Cover and leave overnight to infuse.

© elisa rathje 2011

The colour is quite something. Heady scents.

© elisa rathje 2011

I measured out the sugar on my trusty scales.

© elisa rathje 2011

Strain the liquid through a scalded jelly bag or piece of muslin and pour into a saucepan. Add the sugar, the lemon and orange juice and the citric acid (if using).

© elisa rathje 2011

Heat gently to dissolve the sugar, then bring to a simmer and cook for a couple of minutes.

© elisa rathje 2011

Use a funnel to pour the hot syrup into sterilised bottles. Seal the bottles with swing-top lids, sterilised screw-tops or corks.

Ours will keep for about four months, as we sterilised the bottles first and poured the hot syrup in, and sealed, while the bottles were still hot. A water bath process would allow storage up to a year. Of course, it’ll be gone in a wink. Pam Corbin suggests having it with champagne, or over fruit salad. A couple of days ago we spotted a recipe for an elderflower and gin cocktail. Heaven. I’ve brought the handbook with me to Canada in hopes of preserving a few other things. Exhilarating prospect. Thanks again, River Cottage!

elderflower sherry

A moment before we left sunny England for sodden Canada, I couldn’t resist picking a few more elderflowers for one last project.

© elisa rathje 2011

A project as easy as elderflower honey. Simply pour a small bottle of sherry over a few elderflower umbels until they’re submerged.

© elisa rathje 2011

Leave it to infuse for a few weeks. Strain out the blossoms and tip in some sugar, perhaps a cupful or two to taste, then turn over for some days until it’s dissolved. It should make a lovely tipple for the darkening season. This one must infuse for months, til right about the time the elderberries appear in September, when I return to the cottage. I’ve just spotted a pair of boozy infusions in a cupboard here, gorgeous things, drowned cherries and raspberries. Just right to share with dear old friends on a terribly wet spring evening. Coming for a visit?

elderflower champagne

We’ve bottled up our annual elderflower brew. It’s remarkable how much easier it is when you’ve tried it even once before.

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While the girls were out gathering flowers, I got started. Elderflowers won’t keep!

champagne-ingredients

I followed a slightly different recipe that I discovered last year after some anxious research.

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Dissolve about a kilo and a half of sugar in eight pints of water, and let it cool.

© elisa rathje 2011

Slice a couple of lemons, choose seven or eight of your freshest elderflowers and clear off any insects (have a good shake outside!), measure a couple of tablespoons of white wine vinegar, and throw it all in the cooled sugar solution.

© elisa rathje 2011

I covered the brew with a few layers of cheesecloth, and left it for 24 hours. Some folks say to keep it longer, til it bubbles, and others say it won’t bubble til it is bottled. Oh dear. We’re trying the 24 hour version.

It does smell gorgeous, there should be a perfume. I sterilised my bottles in the dishwasher. You want very strong flip-top bottles intended for bottling under pressure, or you may have an explosion!

© elisa rathje 2011

After scalding a ladle, funnel, and mesh bag, I filled the bottles.

champagne-bottled

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p>They are a pleasure to look at, aren’t they? I’ve stored them on a shelf with another strong shelf above, so if I do get an explosion, it will be contained. I know, how terrifying! Truly these bottles are made to hold tremendous pressure – not all flip-tops are. This elderflower champagne should be ready in a couple of weeks, but I’ll uncork it for my reunion with my sweetheart, on our return to the old country cottage.