Monday, 13 July 2009
Champagne and roses
For various reasons we won’t be going away on holiday this year, but yesterday evening it struck me that I had no cause to feel deprived. I have all the ingredients to conjure up that holiday feeling at home. It is warm and sunny – and I don’t like it too hot, anyway, because I just come up in a heat rash (possibly something to do with my age!). For me, that sense of holiday is evoked by lying back on something comfortable, shutting my eyes, feeling a warm sea breeze waft over me, and hearing the chink, chink of those bits and pieces at the top of boat masts (possibly lanyards: I am not quite sure of that one, but lanyard sounds suitably nautical). The taste of an ice-cold fizzy drink completes the sensation.
Step one is a step outside the back door, where we have a little patch of paving with a nifty structure, which I won't grace with the name of pergola, but involves a corrugated plastic roof, and open sides. Just enough to shelter one from the wind, sun and rain, but not so much that it doesn’t feel truly outdoors. And there I have a sofa, laden with cushions, just right to lie back on – in a fit of inspiration, a week ago I summoned the troops and commanded them to haul the sofa outside. I had visions of knitting comfortably by the doorstep, but lying back is even more relaxing. So then I can shut my eyes, feel the breeze, and listen to the chink of the wind chimes – quite close enough to the sound of lanyards for me to be convinced that I am only a short stroll from a beach or marina (and in fact, I am probably only a couple of miles from the sea as the crow flies, so quite a credible dream, really).
And for the ice-cold fizzy drink there is a glass of homemade elderflower champagne – nectar of the gods, indeed! Elderflower champagne, when it works, is the most heavenly drink, and made even more heavenly by the seeming randomness of success. Sometimes it ferments and fizzes and is just delicious, sometimes it fizzes but is not quite so delicious, sometimes the bottles explode in a shower of glass and stickiness, and sometimes they just remain resolutely still and sweet.
The recipe is even easier than elderflower cordial – just take around 30 heads of elderflower, put in a preserving pan or other large saucepan with about 1.5kg of golden granulated sugar, the juice and zest of 4 lemons, and fill with boiling water. Stir it all up, leave for 24 hours, and strain through muslin into bottles. We leave it for 2 or 3 weeks, then start tasting – if it is not fizzy, you can drink it as elderflower squash, which I don’t think is alcoholic, but if it has fizzed then, in spite of what some books say, I am sure it is! To maximize your chances of success, pick the flowers in the middle of a dry, sunny day so that there will be plenty of wild yeasts around to ensure fermentation – the flowers should be open (some buds are fine, but not too many) and in mid-flowering (ie not too many have died). Use bottles with firm screw tops, and glass strong enough to withstand a bit of pressure from the fizz. And store them somewhere where there is no risk of injury from flying glass if they explode. One year we used some slightly ornamental bottles with thin glass and wired stoppers – I heard a sound like gunshot in the scullery, and went in to find bits of glass and sugariness all over the floor, so be warned!
And on that jolly note I shall leave you – I am headed for a holiday on the sofa by the back door, bottle of champagne in hand, with roses and bunting to add to the sense of festivity. Happy holidays!