Summer drinks parties…

July is here and let’s hope it finally means the start of summer! Warm summer evenings are perfect for drinks parties when the emphasis is more on conversation than food. Here are two lovely fruity drinks that are bound to get the conversation flowing!

Strawberry Summer Cup

This summer cup is really lovely but, beware when sampling it – I’ve known people to drink very large quantities of this because it is so delicious!

You will need:

  • 300 ml (1/2 pint) Grand Marnier liqueur
  • 300 ml (1/2 pint) Kirsch liqueur
  • 4-5 litres (7-8 pints) medium-dry white wine
  • 2kg (41/2lb) ripe strawberries
  • 6 oranges

Slice the oranges and strawberries, then place in a large bowl and pour over the Grand Marnier and the Kirsch liqueurs. If possible, place in a refrigerator and leave to soak for one hour, but not much longer or the fruit will be past its best. Then pour over the wine and stir the mixture well.

Spiced Fruit Cooler

This recipe is a very good reason for giving alcohol a miss – it’s much nicer than some wines I’ve drunk in the past! It’s also so delicious the poor old car drivers in the party won’t feel they are missing out either.

You will need:

  • 1.8 litres (3 pints) sparkling mineral water
  • 1.8 litres (3 pints) fresh orange juice
  • 900ml (1 1/2 pints) fresh grapefruit juice
  • 900ml (11/2 pints) fresh lemon juice
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 10 cloves
  • 175g (6oz) sugar
  • 450ml (3/4 pint) water
  • 275g (10oz) runny honey
  • 1 orange for decoration
  • 1 lemon for decoration
  • ice cubes for decoration

Thoroughly chill all the fruit juices and the mineral water. Mix the 450ml (3/4 pint) of water, cinnamon sticks, cloves and sugar in a pan and bring to the boil. Stir gently until all the sugar has dissolved. Simmer for about 5 minutes, then add the honey, stirring until it has dissolved. Remove from the heat and leave to cool.

Once the mixture has cooled, strain it into a large punch bowl (preferably the most attractive one you can find), and add the fresh juices and the sparkling mineral water. Stir gently. Decorate with slices of orange and lemon and ice cubes.

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Elderflower Sparkler

The flavour of elderflower has become popular once again. Historically, the cordial has a strong Victorian heritage, however versions of an elderflower cordial recipe can be traced back as far as Roman times.

Elderflower is just starting to come out now and the flowerheads are best collected fresh and new when the tiny buds have just opened and come to bloom before the fragrance is tainted with bitterness. Make sure you shake the elderflowers to expel any lingering insects before you use them!

This recipe produces one of the most delicious drinks ever concocted. Many people prefer it to French champagne because of its light and refreshing taste. Lovely for a warm summer’s evening…

To make about 5 litres, or 8.5 pints

You will need:

750g/1¾ lb caster sugar

475ml/16fl oz hot water

4 large fresh elderflower heads

2 tbsp white wine vinegar

Juice and pared rind of a lemon

4 litres/7 pints water

1.            Mix the sugar with the hot water. Pour the mixture into a large glass or plastic container. Add all the remaining ingredients. Stir well, cover and leave for about 5 days.

2.            Strain off the liquid into sterilized screw-top bottles (glass or plastic). Leave for a further week or so. Serve very cold with slivers of lemon rind.

 

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Hedgerow rummaging again!

Spring is wonderful and, as I’ve said before, my favourite time of year! All the obvious things like baby birds, lambs and flowers bursting into life are lovely… but one of the most gorgeous things to me is the emergence of beech leaves. I know, a bit weird, but there we are!

One day, the hedge seems dull and uninteresting, speckled with narrow brown pointed buds – the next, it is smothered in delicate lime green tissue paper fluttering in the breeze. Beech leaves are so delicate and so fine and tissue-thin when they emerge, they are just breathtaking.

Goodness knows what my neighbours think as the arrival of beech leaves is yet another reason for me to be spotted rummaging around in the hedgerow, but rummage I must!

Fresh from the tree, beech leaves are a fine salad vegetable, as sweet as a mild cabbage, though much softer in texture.

My friend, Julia Horton-Powdrill – she of the food foraging in Pembrokeshire, uses beech leaves to make a potent liqueur called Beech Leaf Noyau.

Julia says: “Pack a glass jar about nine tenths full of the very young, delicate, clean leaves. Pour gin into the jar, pressing the leaves down all the time, until they are just covered. Leave it to steep for about two weeks.

Strain off the gin which should now be green in colour (although mine is quite often more brown!). To every 500ml of gin add 300g sugar dissolved in 250ml of boiling water. You can add an optional splash of brandy if you fancy it! Mix the warm syrup with the gin and bottle when cold.”

Sounds great to me – cheers!

Joanna

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Dandelion – weed or wonderful plant?

What do most of us think when we see a dandelion? WEED!!! But wait – this is such a negative view of what is actually a very versatile and edible plant. If we can train ourselves to see it as such, just think how much more relaxed we will be as gardeners!

As we all know, dandelions grow very well in the UK for pretty much most of the year. The dandelion is used by the French and Italians in their cuisine and is even cultivated. Did you know almost all of the plant can be eaten?

The leaves: The leaves of the dandelion plant are best eaten young. The dandelion has a bitter taste similar to chicory that grows stronger with age and leaf colour. Pick the young and tender leaves and you can include them in salads. You can mix them in with other greens such as spinach or cabbage or even use them in a stir-fry.

The roots: The roots are also edible and can be washed (not peeled) roasted and ground to make a caffeine-free coffee alternative. Large roots can also be roasted like small thin parsnips – delicious, but you will need a lot to make it worthwhile. They cook very quickly, so keep your eye on them!

The flower: The flower is really very attractive – I know, hard to see it in this way – but it is! Pull off the petals and scatter them in salad – it looks lovely. Or, you can use the whole flower head as a garnish or dip it in a light batter and deep-fry the flower heads as a snack or starter – they go really well with a hot chilli sauce.

If picking now, make sure you go for the smallest, newest plants. Do be careful not to pick ones have been chemically sprayed. Also avoid picking dandelions by the roadside as they will have absorbed petrol fumes. But if, like me, you have a garden full of them – pick away!

Here’s a simple little dandelion idea for you to try:

Dandelion tea

Most warm herbal teas have a comforting effect. Dandelions are a diuretic and can help to reduce water retention and bloated feelings. Many people find this tea a useful treatment for rheumatism too. The tea also acts as a mild laxative, so don’t drink too much at once!

You will need:

  • 5-6 dandelion leaves
  • Boiling water
  • 1 tsp honey (optional)
  1. Remove any stems from the leaves. Break them into strips and put in the bottom of a mug. Pour on enough boiling water to fill the mug and leave to stand for 5-10 minutes.
  2. Strain, discard most of the dandelion leaves and drink. If you prefer a sweeter brew, add a small teaspoonful of honey.

PS. And don’t forget, guinea pigs and rabbits adore dandelion leaves too!!

Smiles, Joanna

 

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Herbs for colour…

I always have to restrain myself at this time of year – unlike me I know! Yes, it’s spring and everything is bursting into life, but no, it is not *quite* time to start rushing outside and planting things as we are not safely free of frost yet.

Some of my veg growing friends have got their beds prepared and have planted their early potatoes but generally, it’s best to hang on just a week or so longer…

Luckily, one of my favourite pastimes is buying packets of seeds and looking through seed catalogues or, more likely nowadays, browsing websites full of beautiful photos of plants and herbs.

Although I don’t have time to grow veg, I do like to cultivate herbs. Herbs are so wonderful – they look gorgeous, they smell wonderful and they are delicious too.

If you intend to grow some herbs this year, now is the time to start planning and, if you can, sowing seeds indoors or in the greenhouse.

I made a list of some of the prettiest herbs I could think of and thought I’d share that with you as you might like to try something new. 

Borage
Rich blue, for salads and summer drinks, it grows like wildfire in this part of the world!

Lavender
That lovely soft purple, for scent, pot-pourri and also cooking

Nasturtiums
Vivid reds and yellows, easy to grow and lovely to add pepperiness and beauty to a salad or garnish

Violets
Purple, for medicines and crystalised decorations

Elderflowers
White and fragrant for wines, cordials and favouring fruit dishes. Again, grow freely everywhere! 

Pot marigolds or calendulas
Vivid orange for salads, pot-pourri and food colouring

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