Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Elderflower Everywhere

You know that Summer is coming, when the Elderflowers begin to pop their snowy white heads up through the fresh green hedgerows. They add a delightfully subtle, citrusy aroma to city park and countryside walks.
My kids always get excited, planning for their cordial and can spot a suitable bunch of flower-heads at 100 yards. Although we will be harvesting together, this year, as normal, I will be leaving them to their own devices when it comes to making this.

The kids and I got on our bikes and whizzed up to the common for a reconnoitre, but the flowers were not yet open. We spotted some on the way home and planned to return to the common the next weekend, to get picking!
I will be needing to gather rather more than I normally do. I always make Elderflower Champagne, this however, only requires a few big flower-heads. This time around, I will be helping to make a new seasonal beer as well.
Following on from my successful collaboration with Jimmy Hatherley at Unity Brewing Co. The Spring ale, named Printemps, employed stinging nettles for their unique flavour, but this time around I will be collecting Elderflowers, towards a Summer Saison Beer.
This is Apple blossom.

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Butser, Beltain and the Wicker Man

Butser hill is the highest point in Hampshire, it was also an Iron Age hill fort. It is a fantastic spot for a wild walk or picnic. Nearby, on the other side of the A3 main road, lies Butser Ancient Farm, an experimental, archaeologically accurate farmstead.
Butser is an interesting place for school children to visit and experience what it might have been like to live under the conditions of ancient man (without any screens).
Each year around the beginning of May Butser hosts a Beltain festival, to celebrate the lengthening of the days in a suitable May fayre style.
There is lots of daytime entertainment, including flint napping (creating Stone Age tools and weapons), bronze smelting, weapon training, Roman soldiers, wood crafting, story telling, astronomy, live folk music, Maypole dancing, food and drink, drumming, fancy dress and, as the dusk draws in, the burning of an enormous Wicker Man.
We always try to get along and we always have a fantastic time, this year was no exception. Since that day, I have seen swifts, swallows and house martins, so the warmer weather is definitely on the way.

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Immature Fruit, Blossom and Wild Garlic

Bluebells and Wild Garlic are flooding the woodland borders with colour and pungent aromas, Apple and Pear blossom is filling the trees. If you pop down to the Mansbridge Community Orchard, you will be able to see where all the trees are located.
The weather has changed here; we have even had flurries of snow and nights of frost, which has been a shock because of the unseasonably warm March that this year brought us.
Regardless of the chill that has been in the air, the early blossom is now developing into immature fruit. However, you will will be unlikely to notice this ripening bounty unless you are actively looking for it.
Even though the Plum flowers first, the Cherries will win the race to maturity and they will normally be the first fresh fruit that we pick in June, followed by the Plums in July. Needless to say, we will be keeping an eye on the progress of our favourite trees.
This weekend we will visit Butser Ancient Farm to enjoy a Beltain celebration and help burn a gigantic wicker man. I cannot think of a better way to welcome in May. Soon we will be spotting Elderflower and the sun will be warming our faces.

In the meantime, we have been reminding ourselves of last year's glorious Summer sunshine by making hot Mulberry compote, using our frozen stash, and drizzling it over ice cream!