Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Belvoir’s Cordial way to Celebrate Summer

British strawberries on the supermarket shelf may herald the start of Wimbledon, Henley and the lazy days of leather on willow but, says British folklore, it’s another great British crop that marks the actual start of summer – the humble Elderflower.
 
One company which always welcomes the flowering of this ancient hedgerow crop is Belvoir Fruit Farms, makers of the original elderflower cordial, and who every June frantically harvest the saucer sized frothy cream blossoms to transform into their lovely cordials and pressés, made just as nature intended with no preservatives or artificial ingredients.  

This year to help celebrate the six week Elderflower harvest, Belvoir has enlisted the skills of Valentine Warner, the chef known for his love of seasonal  ingredients and in particular his ability to forage for them, to raise the profile of this quintessentially British plant that has so much to offer.
 
Valentine has devised two truly delicious recipes featuring Elderflower cordial – Elderflower & Gooseberry Jelly and Elderflower Cream Shortbread Tartlets - perfect for that other great British institution of afternoon tea.   

True to his passion, Valentine has also provided a recipe for Elderflower cordial itself, using freshly picked Elderflowers.  Whilst relatively easy to make, it does need to stand for 24 hours and requires a large quantity of fresh Elderflowers. These can be great fun to pick but with only a short six week harvesting window – you have to be quick! 
 
Says Valentine Warner: “The Elderflower is a fabulously versatile plant but one that tends to be sadly overlooked.  It is readily available in the wild but often people don’t know what it is and certainly don’t realise what an amazing addition to recipes elderflower can be. The beautiful white blossoms can add a distinctive flavour to sweet dishes that just talk to the tongue of balmy summer days. Personally, I also think that elderflower makes one of the most refreshing and delicious drinks.”
 
No surprise that Pev Manners, MD of Belvoir Fruit Farms completely agrees, however he would recommend you save yourself the time and effort of making elderflower cordial and buy the best elderflower cordial on the market instead! Belvoir Elderflower cordial is still made to his mother’s original recipe cooked up in her kitchen more than 25 years ago.  (EDITOR: We have a bottle in the fridge! it's delicious!)

“The secret of a really good elderflower cordial,” says Pev “is to use masses of flowers that have been picked in the sunshine when they are warm and heavy with yellow pollen, then get them into the vat within three hours.  It is this freshness that gives Belvoir’s cordial its intense bouquet.”
 
Valentine agrees:  “Belvoir’s Elderflower drinks are made with immense care and attention to detail. You can really taste the love that has been lavished on them from the first to the last drop. Their Elderflower pressé, served with fresh mint, is a delectable soft drink alternative for a summer party or wedding, while the cordial is delicious simply chilled with still or sparkling water or makes a refreshing addition to white wine spritzers, champagne or a gin and tonic.” 
 
Belvoir has 90 acres of elderflower orchard that bursts into blossom in June every year.  But, to help make the millions of bottles of Belvoir elderflower cordials and pressés consumed worldwide, Belvoir enlists the help of the local villagers paying them for any elderflowers they pick from the wild in the Leicestershire countryside, to maximise on the brief six week elderflower harvest period.
 
The elder occurs naturally all over Britain.  However, it is traditionally a hedgerow plant and as the hedgerows themselves are in decline so naturally occurring elders are in decline too.  To help raise awareness of the plight of the British hedgerow and wild flower meadows, Belvoir has forged a partnership with Plantlife, the charity that works to protect Britain’s wild plants and to improve understanding of the vital role they play in everyone’s lives.   Belvoir has committed to donating 10p to Plantlife for every person who signs up to the Belvoir newsletter by visiting www.belvoirfruitfarms.co.uk.

Victoria Chester, Plantlife CEO said: “We are delighted to be working with Belvoir.  A member of the honeysuckle family, elder Sambucus nigra is an evocative native species, associated with abundant folklore and a vital source of food for wildlife. Its alkaline bark also provides a perfect home for lichens.   Smelling of honey and muscat, elderflowers are a harbinger of summer and, by promoting their use in such delicious recipes as elderflower cordial, Belvoir is raising the profile of a plant whose qualities are often overlooked.”
 
As well as being the plant to trumpet the arrival of summer, the Elder is steeped in mystery and superstition.  The Elder was thought of as a protective tree, and growing it outside your door was believed to keep evil spirits from entering the house.  Flutes made of Elder were used to summon spirits and Elder was also the common wood of wands, while washing her face in dew gathered from elderflowers was believed to enhance and preserve a woman’s youthful beauty.  It is, however, the Elder’s medicinal properties that truly impress.  Every part of the Elder - bark, leaves, flowers and berries – has been used in domestic medicine since the days of Hippocrates and the plant has been called Nature’s Medicine Chest.  It is said the great physician Boerhaave never passed an Elder without raising his hat, so great an opinion had he of its curative properties.  The Mrs. Beeton of herbalists, Mrs. Grieve, recommended an elderflower infusion as a “good old fashioned remedy for colds and throat trouble.”  It is also reputed to combat hay fever, and is a remedy that Pev swears by.
 
Why not experience the taste sensation that is elderflower for yourself?   Here is how Valentine Warner has made use of this quintessential, British drink to add some extra zing to two classic sweets together with a recipe for elderflower cordial itself:
 
Elderflower & Gooseberry Jelly
It can prove tricky to find fresh gooseberries these days as they, sadly, are not as popular as they used to be. This is why I have used canned fruit. The jelly is still excellent! Lady elderflower and hairy man gooseberry were born to be summer lovers.
Serves 4-6
2 x 300g tins of gooseberries in syrup
200ml Belvoir Elderflower Cordial
200ml water
12g of sheet gelatine (7 sheets approx measuring 7.5 x 11cm)
Fine kitchen muslin
1-1   ½ pt jelly mould
 
Method
1.       Pour the cordial into a saucepan followed by the water & the gooseberries with their syrup, I would note here that the gooseberries are dull in colour but once heated they will take on a wonderful blush
2.       Very gently burst the berries with a potato masher. Do not pulverise them.   Bring the mixture up to the faintest wobbling simmer but not hotter.
3.       In a separate bowl snap the gelatine into shards & cover in only just enough warm water to soak, remembering that once wet the gelatine will become limp. The water must not be boiling as it will destroy the properties of the gelatine. Leave it there until well softened , 5 minutes or so
4.       Double up some of the muslin in a sieve over bowl
5.       Pour the contents of the saucepan slowly into the lined sieve & allow to drip through of its own accord, if the latter half of the liquid stops dripping through, distress the pulp gently with a spoon to get it going again. Do not fiercely press the pulp to extract it as this will make your jelly misty.
6.       While the jelly syrup is still warm drop  in the gelatine, pulling it apart as you add it, this will help to eradicate lumps
1.       Whisk until all the gelatine has totally dissolved then pour straight into the mould & cover the top with cling film. Allow the jelly to set in the fridge for at least 4 hours
2.       When ready to serve, tease away the bottom of the jelly from the sides of the mould before briefly dipping it in a big bowl of hot water, if it’s a thin plastic mould or metal mould 1 or 2 seconds is ample.
3.       Turn out the jelly onto a serving plate .Double cream is a must.
4.       Peeled & very thinly sliced rounds of cucumber tossed in a tablespoon of sugar & left to drain then wrung out are also a very refreshing accompaniment.
 
Elderflower Cream Shortbread Tartlets
Here are some perfumed little tartlets perfect for the great English summer tradition of a little outside afternoon tea. 
Serves 6
 
Pastry
100g plain flour
50g semolina flour
100g salted butter
50g caster sugar
zested rind of the lemon
1 egg beaten
Pinch of salt
 
For the cream filling
125ml Belvoir elderflower cordial
300ml full fat double cream (not long life)
30g white castor sugar
Freshly squeezed juice of one medium lemon
You will need 1 x 6 hole muffin silicone mould
 
1.       In a large bowl combine the flours, sugars and salt with the lemon zest. Grate in the fridge cold butter
2.       Work everything together thoroughly with a wooden spoon until it forms loose dough then turn it out onto the work surface & briefly knead it into one block with your hands.
3.       Remember that the longer you work the dough, the warmth of your hands will make it overly sticky
4.       Divide the pastry into 6 parts & press it into each mould right up to edge, the pastry about the thickness of a one pound coin. Neaten up the open edges with a knife or if you like a more rustic looking tart then leave as is.
5.       Allow the chill in the fridge for one hour and preheat the oven to 150c
6.       Line each tartlet case with a scrumpled piece of baking parchment filled with ceramic beans or whatever you see fit for weighting down the pastry
7.       Bake the tarts for approx 30 minutes or until their top edges, are richly golden brown
8.       Remove them from the oven taking out the papers & beans. Lightly but carefully paint the inside of each tart case with beaten egg before returning them to the oven without the paper & beans. Cook them for a further 5 minutes or so until the bases are deep golden as well.  Allow the tart cases to cool
9.       In a non stick saucepan mix the double cream with the cordial & caster sugar, bring it up to a very brief but gentle boil and then simmer for 2 minutes (please do take care that it doesn’t split). Whisk in the lemon juice (it is the lemon juice that will set the boiled cream) and immediately turn off the heat
10.   Allow the mixture to cool for approximately10 minutes before pouring in to the 6 tart cases
11.   Place the tartlets in the fridge for 4 hours or  until the cream mixture has set
12.   When serving your elderflower tartlets dust the tops of each with icing sugar & accompany with fine tea, preferably outside
 
Cook’s Tips
If semolina flour for the pastry proves difficult to find, simply replace the 50g with plain flour so that you use 150g of plain flour instead.  In addition, if making your own pastry leaves you cold an alternative serving suggestion is simply to spoon the cream filling into ramekin dishes and sprinkle shortbread biscuits on top.  Delicious!
 
Elderflower Cordial
Belvoir is a favourite, but if doing some outdoor DIY here is a simple recipe. Tartaric acid is widely available in supermarkets and chemists and will not get you arrested if you buy it in large amounts.
 
Makes roughly 2 x 500ml bottles
 
25-30 largish elderflower heads, from a wild clean place.
1kg granulated sugar
25g tartaric acid
1 long peeled strip of unwaxed lemon
750ml nearly simmering water
Fine kitchen muslin
Method
1.       Snap off any particularly thick stalks connected to the flower heads, leaving just the slim stems holding each blossom
2.       Put the flower heads in a large preserving pan or bowl
3.       Sprinkle over the sugar and tartaric acid
4.       Peel the lemon rind & add to the pan, along with all the lemon juice
5.       Add the hot water and stir gently but well. Cover loosely with a tea towel and leave to stand in a cool place for 24 hours, stirring every now and then.
6.       The sugar should completely dissolve and the syrupy cordial will become infused with the flavours of elderflowers. Strain the contents of the pan through a muslin-lined colander into a clean bowl. Decant into sterilised bottles
7.       Seal and store in sterilised bottles and store
8.       Sterilising Bottles -preheat the bottles in an oven at 180c/350f/Gas 4. Wash the bottles & stoppers really well and put on a baking sheet in the oven for 10 minutes. Leave to cool slightly before adding the cordial through a funnel.
 
Belvoir Fruit Farms hand produces 13 cordial varieties, 10 pressé and 5 Fruit Crush drinks including organic and non organic.  Belvoir’s drinks are available from leading supermarkets, delicatessens, food halls, farm shops or via the website www.belvoirfruitfarms.co.uk. RRP: starts at £3.85 for regular cordial, £4.50 for organic cordial, £2.75 for regular 75cl pressé, £2.50 for elderflower 75cl pressé, £1.65 for 25cl pressé and £1.95 for Fruit Crush.

If you do want to try making your own Elderflower cordial, Valentine Warner has given some tips for collecting Elderflowers:
·         Pick your elderflowers on a nice dry day, rain does them no favours when transporting them home
·         Pick your elderflowers early in the morning when their scent is much stronger

(EDITOR: Or just nip out to the shops, or buy it on line!)

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