I can’t say that making the first batch of elderflower cordial was one of those wonderful spontaneous moments – it wasn’t – it’s been planned really carefully because the best flowers need to be picked in the sunshine and just as they’re opening from the bud stage and so weather forecasts played a big part in the decision to pick the first lot yesterday. Here in lockdown there’s another factor because we’re surrounded by competitors with the same idea. Even then, there are other factors. Elderflowers can be fragrantly (flagrantly?) evocative of lazy summer days or they can smell like tomcat marking which is an acquired taste. So out we whizzed on to the secret harvesting site in full view of several hundred flats, wielding a trug and two pairs of scissors. It’s difficult to be furtive when you’re carrying a trug. By the time we got home the front of my hat was bright yellow with pollen and we had something over fifty flower heads.
After much zesting and squeezing of lemons and oranges the mixture was submerged in boiling water to rest for 24 hours while it absorbed all the flavour. This morning the straining began and it’s been quite vexing because the flowers are so full of pollen they’re clogging the linen jelly bag. I think we’ll have to accept that this first batch is going to contain a lot of pollen which – after all – tends to settle out when the bottles are left standing.
The next challenge is finding enough clean and empty clip top bottles. Normally if we were short I’d pop along the road and buy some more; but this year we have to be self-sufficient. Cleaning, scrubbing and sterilising takes a while, and finding useable rubber washers, hidden all over the kitchen takes ages too. So that’s a job for later this evening.
Once all the preparations were done we went for a walk along the canal and discovered that there are areas where the rewilding project is working beautifully. After an initial burst of (often inappropriate) wildflower meadow seed a couple of years ago, the local botanical bullies took over last year and I’d thought that it was all over for the rarer species; but the native wildflowers are nothing if not resilient and so this morning, parts of the riverside were groaning with interesting plants which have – at last – been left unmolested by the strimmers. I just love the feeling of greeting old friends like the greater celandine and the burdocks as well as a lovely stand of vipers bugloss which must have come from the re-seeding because I’ve never seen it there before, but which has obviously found a small site greatly to its liking. It was so lovely to walk alongside the river and then the canal with almost shoulder high plants – as if we were walking in a country lane. Ragged robin, lady’s smock, green alkanet, wall valerian, cow parsley, winter hellebore pretending to be coltsfoot. Don’t ever dismiss them as ‘weeds’! I don’t think the towpath was ever more beautiful – or quieter.
And so to the allotment where we needed to make preparation for a threatened frost, and once again – hopefully for the last time this season – the plot looks like a Christo sculpture. We should see the night time temperatures rise consistently above 10C in about a week’s time, and then we can really start to get the plants out into their final positions.