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Elder Flower Champagne

1 Jul

Elder flower is strongly connected to Irish legend and medicine. The elder tree is often connected with bad luck and is host to the mischievous tricks of the fairies. The elder flower and leaves are thought to have a mild narcotic effect, Irish folklore warns of sleeping under the elder, for fear you may never wake again.  Legend also claims that if an old maiden is to wash her face in the dew of elderflowers, she will retrieve her youthful beauty.

Making champagne out of elder flowers is so simple! All you need is a large sauce pan and some bottles. Elder flower is light with only 1.5% alcohol. The elder flower gives this sparkling drink a  beautiful lemon scent and taste. I also added some rhubarb cordial to some of my brew to make a pink champagne.

Recipe 

For 4.5 litres of champagne you will need-

6 freshly picked elder flower heads

Two Lemons

One Orange

750 grams of sugar

Equipment 

You will need several bottles before you begin. I got special home brew bottles that have two layers of plastic in them. It is better to use plastic bottles instead of glass as plastic bottles won’t explode from too much pressure. You will also need some muslin cloth for straining the champagne, the muslin will remove all the petals from the elder flower.

Method

  1. Take a large sauce pan, add the 4.5 litres of water, the elder flower heads and sliced orange and lemons. Cover, and leave over night.
  2. The next day, strain the water through muslin cloth.
  3. Place the water into a large clean bucket or back into the sauce pan. Add the 750g of sugar and stir until it dissolves.
  4. Bottle the champagne. Over the next few days it will begin to ferment as the wild yeast from the flower feeds on the sugar. Wait for one month before drinking the champagne.

 

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Eating the Stinging Nettle

1 Jul

The aggressive but humble nettle has been used since the Bronze Age for food, medicine, fibre and dyes.  Nettles have countless nutritional benefits due to the high levels of vitamins, minerals and protein along with aiding hay fever, asthma, colds and blood clotting.

Nettles always grow in the same places each year and should be gathered in spring before they flower and can also be gathered in autumn as fresh ones appear.

Some expert foragers have discovered ways of grasping nettles without being stung.  However for the less fearless, the best method is to use the rubber gloves or a plastic bag and scissors. 

The younger leaves are the best part of the plant. They come off most easily if stripped from the top down.  Ideally pick a large quantity of nettles and freeze some for use during the winter.

Nettles should be picked from areas away from roads and animals to prevent any contamination.  Clean and chop nettles using rubber gloves, once the nettles have been cooked slightly the stingers are deactivated. The needles will be destroyed by cooking, steeping, or drying, but not by freeze-drying or juicing.

If over cooked, nettles may develop a bitter taste.  Nettles are often boiled which is the worst way to cook the leaves.  If making a nettle soup the leaves are to only be simmered for 5-10 minutes, any other method is better suited such as frying or using in a baked dish. Any recipe involving spinach can be replaced with nettles.

Nettle and Walnut Pest

A large bunch of nettles/spinach

1 tablespoon of olive oil

75g Walnuts

1 Garlic clove

150ml Extra virgin olive oil

50g Mature Balllintubber chedder with chives

Juice of ½ a lemon

Pinch of sea salt

Freshly ground pepper

  1. Place a tablespoon of oil into a frying pans, add the nettles and fry until reduced in size.  This will destroy the stinging hairs.
  2. Place the nettles, walnut and garlic into a food processor or blender and pulse into coarse grains.
  3. Gradually add the extra virgin olive oil in a steady stream until a thick grainy paste has been created.
  4. Scrape the mixture into a bowl.  Add the cheese and lemon and adjust the seasoning to taste.

Nettle and Potato Gratin

A large bunch of nettles/spinach

8 Medium sized potatoes

A knob of butter

1 tablespoon Olive oil

2 Onions finely chopped

2 Garlic cloves

250ml Cream

100ml Vegetable stock

Sea salt

Freshly ground pepper

For the topping:

4 Slices stale bread

50g Walnuts, hazel nuts or pine nuts

25g Melted butter

50g Mature cheddar

  1. Peel and boil potatoes for ten minutes until half cooked, strain, allow to cool and cut into thin slices.
  2. Heat the oil and butter in a frying pan.  Add the chopped garlic and onions and cook until soft.  Poor the cream and vegetable stock into the frying pan and simmer gently until reduced to half its size.  Add the nettles and cook until the nettles have reduced in volume.
  3. Layer the potatoes into an oven dish and pour the cream sauce and nettles over each layer of potatoes.

For the topping:

  1. Break up the four slices of bread and gradually add to a food processor.
  2. Add the walnuts, cheese and melted butter to the food processor.
  3. Place the breadcrumbs evenly over the gratin and place into a preheated oven of 190o C/ Gas mark 5 and bake for 30 minutes.

…..ends

Fried Garlic Nettles

A large bunch of nettles/ spinach

3 Garlic cloves

2 rashers

A knob of butter

1 tablespoon of olive oil

Sea salt

Freshly ground butter

  1. Place butter and oil into frying pan.
  2. Cut rashers into small pieces and add to frying pan along with slices of garlic.
  3. Add sea salt and pepper.
  4. Add nettles and fry until reduced in size.
  1. Serve immediately as a side or allow to cool for a salad.