Seeking Chicks and Finding Elderflowers

The pot­ter Edmund de Waal, author of the mem­oir The Hare With Amber Eyes, describes his favour­ite Japan­ese net­suke, or mini­ature sculp­tures, as ones where you can ‘feel the wear’. They’re the ones that have ‘been changed by being handled; they’ve had a life, and a his­tory, and been knocked around and rubbed away.…’

I was just think­ing that my favour­ite people could be described in exactly the same way when I got a mes­sage from my very clever friend. If you’ve been read­ing Eggs on the Roof over the months you will know that she’s my neigh­bour who grows end­less amounts of deli­cious things, appar­ently effort­lessly, in a garden that can best be described as bucolic. The brief mes­sage said 3 chicks now. Newly-hatched chick­ens soun­ded worth see­ing, so I stopped think­ing about people who’ve had a life and star­ted think­ing about creatures just about to embark on theirs.

Trail­ing through the orch­ard at this time of year is like inhab­it­ing the pages of a Laurie Lee novel. The chicks were ludicrously cute and barely an hour old.

As they were tucked back under­neath their mother to keep warm, my eye was drawn to a trio of frothy, flor­idly pink bushes in the orchard.

They’re eld­er­flowers,’ said my v.c.f. ‘Would you like some?’ I had no idea that eld­er­flowers came in bubble-gum pink and the answer was ‘of course I would’. Although I’m ter­rible at grow­ing things, I love turn­ing what she grows into some­thing worth eat­ing or drinking.

In Oxford later in the day I bumped into three friends in quick suc­ces­sion. I asked each of them if they had a favour­ite eld­er­flower cor­dial recipe ‘because’, I boas­ted, ‘I have pink eld­er­flowers’. Know­ing what an incom­pet­ent gardener I am, each asked if I was quite sure that I wasn’t about to poison myself by try­ing to cook rhodo­den­drons or camel­lias. They may have faith in my culin­ary skills, but not my hor­ti­cul­tural ones.

The recipe I devised is a little bit of Alison’s, a touch of Richard’s, a smat­ter­ing of Anwen’s and a sprink­ling of my own. The flowers were pink… but would the cor­dial be?

Eld­er­flower Cordial

  • 20 eld­er­flower heads
  • 1.5 litres water
  • 1.7 kg sugar
  • 50g cit­ric acid
  • 4 unwaxed lemons

Tap the flower heads before you pick them, to get rid of dust and any insects. You don’t need to wash them. Put them in a large ceramic bowl. Boil the water in a pan and add the sugar and cit­ric acid. Take off the heat and stir until the crys­tals are com­pletely dis­solved. Thinly slice the lem­ons, add them to the bowl and tip the water and sugar solu­tion over the top.

Stir, cover lightly and allow to steep for 24 hours. Strain through a sieve and muslin cloth and pour into ster­il­ised bottles. I filled five 50cl plastic water bottles. One is in the fridge, four are in the freezer for another day.

The day that began with chicks ended very hap­pily with the flash­i­est, show­i­est eld­er­flower cor­dial I’ve ever seen. And yes, it’s PINK.