The Summer Solstice is Elderflowers…

…and Elderflower-infused honey is a highlight, made this year in my outdoor kitchen

Leaving the honey and blossoms to stand in the sun for a couple of hours speeds up the infusing process.

Blossoms, Bees, Barns & Barrels

An April free of frost is what we wanted and its what we got this year, that and a lot more too!

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The warmest April for ten years in these parts has had the orchard out in its finest floral glory and – fortunately – there are still bees there to do the pollinating.

Copy (1) of Bee pollinator

Even more fortunate, albeit long overdue and not yet enough, is the news last week of the EU’s ban on the outdoor use of imidacloprid, clothianidin and thiamethoxam i.e. the neonicotinoid pesticides that have had such a devastating impact on bee populations across Europe.

 

 

Back in the days before Bayer & Co, my German farmers’ almanac had this to say:

April warm, Mai kühl, Juni nass, füllt dem Bauer Scheuer und Fass

April warm, May cool, June wet, fills the farmer’s barn and barrel.

We’ve had the warm April, so now we wait to see whether  May fits the pattern or not…

 

Our German Gingerbread Gallery

All quiet in the orchard at this time of the year (but Hermann the German is sharpening up his specialist tree pruning saw for the winter pruning due to start any weekend now…) so we (mainly me and sometimes Mini-Kraut) have been busy in the kitchen creating some more exhibits for our gingerbread gallery.

This year’s main creation has to remain a secret for the time being until this year’s Christmas Guests of Honour have been able to peruse and applaud it live, but we have been busy baking building components for lucky recipients in the neighbourhood, complete with building instructions, in German:

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Here are a few flashbacks to past creations where we have gained all this skill and experience 🙂

2016: Recreated in gingerbread, the little village in the Wiesent Valley, close to Erlangen, where we like to spend our holidays and long weekends

 

2015: The tree house that collapsed and became a forest hideaway (Waldversteck)

 

 

 

2014The Forest Gnomes’ Railway

Snow with copyright

 

2013: Nutville, or Nußdorf in the vernacular

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2012 was when we started expanding from single buildings to gingerbread urban development:

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2011: was our very first attempt.

Lesson 1 was: make sure the roof weighs less than the walls 🙂

But it all came right on the night!

 

 

Happy Christmas!

 

Sugar & Spice & All Things Nice

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Cardamom

A fragrantly warm winter spice – I love it and the cardamom season is getting into full swing in my house where two of our top seasonal favourites flavoured with freshly ground cardamom are:

Winter Fruit & Spice Cake

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and

The BEST Gingerbread Biscuits

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Contemplating Quinces

Its that quince time of year again!

 

 

And I’m thinking: Quince & Honey Sorbet this weekend:

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You will find plenty more quince inspiration here under Recipe Index, 

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or you can just subscribe to all this mellow fruitfulness and have Quince Jam or Quince Jelly delivered to your door from our

Online Orchard Shop

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Quince Inspiration

It is that wonderfully fragrant time of year again 🙂

Its always a bittersweet task, rounding up my favourite quince recipes for the quince harvest, but the quinces do make a wonderful conclusion to the orchard year!

My firm favourite first up (click on the links for the recipes):

Candied Quince with Ginger

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This is a famous recipe this one is, featuring as it does in The Edible City, a kind of urban kindred spirit to this blog, written by London’s foremost forager, John Rensten, and published this last September by Pan Macmillan.

And what a classy publication this is (and not just because John features my Candied Quince with Ginger!). Beautifully illustrated by Gwen Burns, it features foraged food fit for a feast from a man whose “green vision” I can totally relate to:

Once turned on, your ‘green vision’ will be impossible to turn off: otherwise neglected street trees will suddenly bear fruit, patches of previously irrelevant land will become focal points and the city will reveal a network of free, edible treats, coming and going throughout the year.”

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 My other firm favourites during the quince season include:

 Quince and Honey Sorbet

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Quince Chutney

Quince Confectionery

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and of course

Quince Liqueur

Happy quince season everyone!

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The King’s Candles

… or Verbascum, and sometimes mullein, as this genus (Verbascum, of which there are some 350 species…) is known in English.

I do think, though, that the German Königskerze does for more justice to this plant which becomes truly regal when it flowers in July:

14_07_2013 Königskerzen

Favouring dry, sandy soils in the sun (and therefore often to be found flourishing on wasteland), the Königskerze is not only regal, it has a tradition of healing dating back to Hippocrates. The plant has distinct emollient, demulcent and astringent properties and, while Hippocrates reccommended it for the external treatment of wounds, the Königskerze went on to develop a tradition of treating coughs, colds and respiratory complaints.

The flowers have robust, fleshy petals making them difficult to dry and so one of the best and easiest ways of extracting their healing properties is to use them to make an infused honey in readiness for the onset of autumn and winter:

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1) You need to pick the flowers on a dry day, either in the morning or in the evening, not in the heat of the day, and only pick the blossoms fully open. You need to use the blossoms immediately (they will wilt and start to turn brown within hours otherwise) so make sure you have a sterilised jar (I fill the jar with boiling water direct from the kettle and leave it to stand for at least 5 minutes before using) and the honey with you.

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2) Place your blossoms directly into your sterilised jar, enough to fill the jar, pour in the honey, seal and rotate the jar a good couple of times to make sure all of the blossoms are covered in a coating of honey.

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3) Leave to infuse at room temperature for about 2 weeks. At the end of the infusing, strain the honey into a clean, sterilised jar for storage and/or immediate use either directly as a teaspoonful of honey medicine for ailing children, or to sweeten herbal teas.

Elderflowers and Strawberries

One of the most summery flavour combinations there is!

And one of the simplest ways to enjoy this combination throughout the summer months is to make yourself some Elderflower-Infused Honey

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now, while the elderflowers are in blossom –

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and drizzle it over your strawberries at will.

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Do it, you will be glad you did!

P.S. Works well with all summer berries 🙂

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Quince and Honey Sorbet

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As an Elizabeth David devotee and a quince fanatic, this was one I simply had to try this year, a recipe apparently first brought to light in 2011 by the UK’s Independent on Sunday newspaper with the then claim that it had never been published before:

http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/secrets-in-preserve-1234115.html

Elizabeth David’s QUINCE AND HONEY SORBET

This is quite a trouble to make, but worth it to addicts of the strange flavour and wonderful perfume of quinces.

First bake six fine, ripe unpeeled quinces in a covered pot in a low oven until they are soft. Add no water. This preliminary cooking will take about one hour to one hour and a half.

Peel, slice and core the fruit, putting the parings and cores into a saucepan but discarding any bruised or damaged parts of the fruit.

Cover the cores and peel with cold water – about 1.2 litres (2 pints). Boil hard for a few minutes, until the water is well-flavoured and coloured with the quince parings. Strain through a fine sieve into a large bowl or jug. Return this quince water – there will be 750ml (114 pints) – to the saucepan. Add the sliced fruit – there should be approximately 1lb/450g – and let it boil for about 10 minutes until quite soft. Now add eight tablespoons of honey and boil until the juice has turned to a light syrup which just drops from the spoon.

Puree the whole mixture in the blender and chill in refrigerator. Immediately before freezing give the puree another quick whirl in the blender adding a good 300ml (12 pint) of whipping or double cream.

The quantities given will yield about 1.2 litres (2 pints) of mixture, too much for freezing all at once in a small-scale sorbetiere, but since it is hardly worth cooking fewer than six quinces at a time, the best course is to divide the prepared puree into two parts, adding cream only to the amount to be frozen. The rest of the puree will keep for a few days in the refrigerator. Again, add the cream only immediately before freezing.

Note: Instead of double cream try using buttermilk, or half and half fresh home-made yogurt and cream. The flavour of quince is powerful enough to stand up to the acidity of buttermilk and yoghurt.

My verdict: I did not find it “quite a trouble to make” at all, but then I will go a long way with a harvest of quinces! A wonderfully creamy autumn sorbet that found favour with Hermann the German and Mini-Kraut too.

Meadowsweet Gingerade

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Known as meadwort in the 14th century,

meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria)

has been used since Chaucer’s day for flavouring wine and beer…

and it makes a fine gingerade in this day and age too.

In my recipe for Meadowsweet Syrup,

just replace the lemons with as much fresh ginger as your taste dicates to make a really refreshing gingerade awash with meadowsweet’s honey, hay and almond aromas

(approx. 2 cm of root ginger, finely chopped, will give you a gentle gingerade, add more fresh ginger if you want more of a gingery kick).

Meadowsweet Syrup