The spring and summer cause great issues for foragers in the fact what do we pick first? There is so much ready all at once that it drives me mad, I work on average this time of year 18 hours, plus a day, the phone rings off the hook with many friends, family, and customers with news of a find, a new secret place to forage or they do indeed a glut of fruit that needs picking and of course (anyone who cooks will tell you this ) they all demand, new and interesting for recipes along with special tips and new ideas! I do my best and there’s the garden to tend too. Would I change it? No! Do I love it yes.
However this year I am picking Rowan berries before elderberries that is a first for me. Elderberries need cooking before you eat them they can make you ill if uncooked.
The Leaves and stems mustn’t be used and these too can make you quite ill. So cook them first. So yes you can make an amazing syrup, jam and jelly but here I like to tell you about a soup.
To get to the soup we first have to travel back in time to Barland Estate in Powys Wales and into Garden Cottage. In the garden the plums are ready to pick, loganberries are ripping fast each day against the walled garden space dripping with flavour, the apples are promising a bumper crop and I am still picking raspberries, strawberries and of course, the currant cage is not giving in just yet. Our freezers are full and the larder is filling up. It’s early August and the kitchen hot from the Rayburn. A constant smell of cooking fruit fills our house.
A large bowl of water with a small hint of wine, is on the heat, the air is filled with warm smells, first the fresh fruity aroma, then a whisper of cinnamon with undertones of honey fill the air in between and remind me that the summer not going to last forever, my choice of school has been my undoing. I will at the end of this month get back on the bus and although my days will be busy, I not be with my mum & dad, my little brother and of the mad dog “hop along Cassidy” and I will miss them all so much along with the garden full of fruit and flowers, dinner will become just food. I indeed missed them more than I ever told them. (Turn back the clock).
My mum’s storytelling was always fascinating and all the time she was passing on everything she learnt, she had a thirst for knowledge, and her desire to pass on everything she knows was so important. She was like a missionary spreading and sharing the word! Especially when she was in the kitchen, so as she cooked she told stories, and apart from cooking lessons we had, history lessons, art lessons and life lessons! Why, and how certain dishes came about why we forage and the importance of not forgetting what we once knew.
My mum was and is still my hero, she could cook anything and did indeed cook everything, and could make a meal from nothing. Her heart still beats in mine and although I miss her every single day I know she is with me every second. She made me who I am today, she taught me the love of life, passion and of course cooking. She was outstanding at everything especially making soups, from all most anything from the garden. Even the hardened meat eater couldn’t resist her delicious green and bean soup. So as the seasons changed and slowly moved on so did the recipes and the soup. I not sure I could even to this day give you my favourite choice if I was to choose? Then I would choose them all a small tiny cup of each starting with the pea, then cold fennel, but always finishing with the Elderberry soup.
Elderberry Soup recipe
1.5 litres of water
500g of Elderberries
2 tablespoons of Lemon Juice (one large lemon)
100ml of white wine
1 stick of cinnamon
A little arrowroot to thicken or you can have this without if you would like a thin soup.
Place on the heat water, wine, lemon juice and spice.
Pick the elderberries off the stalks, discarding any leaves and stalks.
Add carefully to the warm water, bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and cook gently for 10-15 mins
The fruit will so mushy, Add a teaspoon of honey at this point.
Strain the fruit and press out the juice. Then return the soup to the pan. (Discard the pulp)
If you would like a thicker soup, mix the arrow route with a drop of cold water and the rest of the lemon juice and pour into the soup and now season to your taste.
Return to a soft heat and slowly bring to a light boil to cook the arrowroot and thicken the soup.
Serve with roasted ground cobnuts and sourdough bread croutons drizzled with honey.
Possible side effects (Autoimmune diseases” such as multiple sclerosis (MS), lupus (systemic lupus erythematosus, SLE), rheumatoid arthritis (RA), or other conditions: Elderberry might cause the immune system to become more active, and this could increase the symptoms of autoimmune diseases. If you have one of these conditions, it’s best to avoid using elderberry.)
5 years ago I entered the World Marmalade Awards and won a bronze for my Seville with Cacao it was an epic day it lead me to decided that this is what really makes my world go around. So I thank Dalemain House for giving me the confidence that started me on this epic journey, this road has consisted of late nights and even hospital visits as I have fallen out of a trees. So thank you. (I am giving the world marmalade awards a rest, no other reason than I didn’t post it on time yet again!)
So now I make jam and the very fact you all wanted to buy eat and enjoy it well is nothing more than fabulous. Time has flown by and I moved out of my home kitchen, to one I built, started to keep bees, planted more fruit and vegetables, teamed up with the Chewton Glen to forage sustainably. So far so good.
I’ve lived and loved every minute, every disaster, every high, every low, they have all been fantastic. Although I feel that I may have lost the plot from time to time! But you, my friends, my children and my family have been there always encouraging me, every step of the way believing in me. Which means so much to me it hard to put into words.
So thank you all for supporting me in every way be it small large for helping me forage be it picking crab apples Carol,(Daisy cake company)or for growing them Darren Venables, to believing in my wacky ideas Martyn Nail, Luke Mathews, Leckford Farm, and of course the many bar tenders who have invited me in to help develop products cocktails and use jam in ways that made toast curl !
If I was to say I love what I do, it would underestimate the passion I have and my urgent need to cook everyday. I am always up early and chomping at the bit to get into the kitchen. So as I stop and reflect on the past five years, I shall share with you a few moments below.
Antonio Carluccio at Leckford Farm shop opening
Waitrose Charimans Award 2013
BBC Children in Need Carfest
Lunch Break with the Fabulous Baker Boys
Food & Drinks Award Hampshire
Foraging with nothing but the Bear essentials
Cooking at the Hotel & Catering Show
Cooking with Luke Mathews (my hero)
Talking Foraging with Estate Manger Darren Venables
What a summer and the weather been terrible?? So everyone keeps telling me, personally I thought it was fine! A typical English summer, it has been a little windy and maybe the last few days a little too wet. But to be honest at least the grass looks green.
But without the weather what would we talk about?
Has it been challenging well yes, my vegetable plot has rather lost the plot, and on top of that my produce has been either too early and lots of it, or its started too late, with little results. But isn’t the case? The very idea that the seasons change, each year and the weather is slightly different is well a welcome challenge. Each day can and is a surprise and isn’t it wicked how we cope how we change how we adapt (and by we, I mean the inhabitants of this green isle we live on). Aren’t we fortunate are we not to wake up every day to wall to wall sunshine or wall to wall rain? How boring would that be?
Well I guess for a week it would be rather nice and picnics could be planed and events schedule in without the fear for cancellation? But how boring would that be? Seriously how exciting is it when the tent still standing after a few days of rain. This morning I heard Chris Hughes on radio 2 (Still owe you a beer I haven’t forgotten) off Brand Events talking to Chris Evans on how Carfest was shaping up, in the mud, his pride and excitement of overcoming such a challenge sent tingles down my spine, he was loving it! Something he and his staff could get their teeth into, and in months to come they will be reliving laughing reminiscing how they managed in the mud the rain and what a success it has all been.
My mind wondered back to the Darren at the Chewton Glen his a gardener down and his beautiful lawn after a good soaking has had 12 cars parked on it! His challenge to restore it is going to be interesting this year and I can’t wait to hear about it! With that in mind, I shall take on the challenge of my rather bedraggled vegetable plot. Although I have no idea what I’ll be cooking today at least the jam pan does it knows no matter what the weather brings there be fruit in the pan and the challenge will be for it to set it in this damp weather! Life is never dull in the jam world; in the meantime I bring in the fairies to help with the garden!