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.


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


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


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.



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.

stoneware crocks

The pair of stoneware crocks that came home with me from the antiques fair are sitting expectantly. Not unlike the green cabbage in the fridge, which is taking up far too much space, and would please everyone far more if it were chopped, salted, and pounded, and pushed snugly into the crocks to ferment.


Then we would feast on sauerkraut! Where is my courage and spirit? I shall report back when I get up the nerve. And what else would you put into these crocks? What did folks once use them for?

culturing yogurt

For years I’ve cultured yogurt, trying a variety of recipes and methods, in pursuit of rich, thick, Greek style yogurt. I’ve cultured yogurt in a machine, by the light of an oven, near a radiator, by a wood stove. I’ve tried endless combinations of starters. I’m ecstatic to finally have a method that achieved the thickest, the best, the most gorgeous yogurt.

I took out a pot of yogurt and a couple of pints of raw whole milk to come to room temperature on the counter, and then heated the milk slowly to 110 F. This is very quick, don’t go anywhere. While it was heating I filled a large jar with very hot water, and let it stand, closed. Three or four tablespoons of yogurt went into a cup, and a bit of warm milk ladled in and mixed. Then I poured out the hot water, poured in the milk, stirred in the cup of thinned, warmed yogurt, shut the jar, wrapped it in a towel, and put it somewhere warm. I reckoned that if the sourdough sponge liked the airing cupboard, the yogurt might like it too, so that’s where it spent the night. In the morning it was thick enough to wobble pleasantly. But not thick enough.


I happen to have a bit of cheesecloth sewn into a bag, so I used it, but you could use layers of cheesecloth in a colander just as well. I hung it up for a couple of hours to allow some of the whey to drain off into a jar.


When there was roughly half of the amount of liquid drained off the in the form of lovely chartreuse whey, I put the yogurt into its own jar. From two pints of milk and a few tablespoons of yogurt, I got just over a pint of whey and just under a pint of yogurt.


Gorgeous, thickest, best yogurt. It received the children’s highest rating (something involving many fingers and lots of waving) and disappeared immediately. The whey will be used in place of water in our next sourdough, or to soak oats overnight for porridge. I think we’d better get some milk to start it again. Oh yes, and next time save a ladleful to start the next batch.


Every day I care for a sourdough culture that I started a couple of weeks ago. I feed it half a cup of rye flour and water, sometimes pouring off some to make room. First it sat near the wood stove and I fed it twice a day, then it moved into the kitchen, to a cosy spot where I won’t forget it. Beside the kettle. It makes a resounding pop when I open the seal, the bubbles are tremendous, and it grows significantly each day. Seeing that it was more mature and hearty than a previous attempt, I thought I’d give it a crack at raising a few loaves.

I love that sourdough culture forms from wild yeasts, it is much easier on our digestion. We’re also sensitive to wheat, so this bread is made from spelt. I’ve been reading the Bread handbook by Daniel Stevens, which is an intense pleasure all by itself and very distracting. Flatbreads! Croissants!… oh yes, and Spelt Sourdough, hurrah. Before bed, as I was told to, I mixed up the sponge and put it near the stove for the night.

dough ingredients.jpg

In the morning it looked like bubbly soup, but when I measured in the flour and mixed that in, I was amazed to find it became a dough. Following some good advice, I left it to rest for 10 minutes before adding the salt, which I did. Scientific reasons, you see.


Flour, salt, a glug of olive oil, mixed about;


Turned out and kneaded. A lot, (or perhaps not) as spelt has lower gluten. I am so glad that I learned to knead at River Cottage! The Bread handbook has great illustrations of this technique. Mine are provided by my small child;


And by my tall child, made far taller by a handy stool. What a pleasure it is to knead the dough, I’m in love.


I formed the dough into a tight round and put it near the wood stove to proof for an hour, repeated this a few times; it got lighter and lighter; then finally made it into three boules, dusted with flour and put into linens. I later discovered that the bowls I had them in made them too humid; suddenly proofing baskets sound very good. From here I left them to double, which they sort of did.


Baking the sourdough was quite dramatic. I have tried a no-knead bread recipe, which has a wonderful technique of cooking in a good pot, but I just had to try this way, using a hot pan with a water bath below it. Only I had no roasting tin for the boiling water and used a ceramic piece, which promptly cracked in two. Oh dear! I had reserved two of the boules to rise a bit longer, and tried my muffin tin in its stead on those two; much better. We did try hard to wait for that first loaf to cool, before eating all of it. Gorgeous.


While I was at River Cottage this week I spotted a pair of bottles in the corner of the barn.


Steve Lamb tells me they are demijohns, fermenting apple juice, pressed from the farm’s orchard, into apple cider. They’re fitted with fermentation locks, and I think they’re gorgeous. I’m quite sure he said that the bottles are at two different stages of the fermenting process. I would love to try this kind of brew. I’ve tried making elderflower champagne. I aspire to make ginger beer, dandelion & burdock, and mead one day too. There are so many things I would like to do, but after such an exhilarating, dizzying week studying at River Cottage, I need a very quiet weekend.