Today I went foraging and came home with elderflowers for “champagne” and basswood a.k.a. linden blossoms that Ellen will make into wine. I also collected mulberries, juneberries, and nettles.
I also have a fridge stocked with the current wealth of the farmers’ markets, including some green, or spring, garlic. I used that up on some tostadas I made with Hot Bread Kitchen’s tortillas made with locally grown corn and Cayuga Pure Organics local beans. Some of the nettles got cooked up and added along with lettuce, cheese, and hot sauce. Yum!
I made the hot sauce with the last of last year’s pickled hot peppers. Simplest pickle recipe in the world: seed and chop large hot peppers, or leave small ones whole and prick with the tip of a knife. Loosely pack into a glass jar. Cover with vinegar. Use in any recipe calling for jalapenos or other hot peppers. Since the hot pepper plants I overwintered indoors are already bearing fruit, I have no need of the preserved ones any more. I threw them into the blender along with their vinegar, and voila, hot sauce.
The elderflower “champagne” recipe is a variation on the one in Ellen’s excellent book Down & Dirty Gardening. The original calls for (non-local, where I live) sugar and lemons. I’ve worked out a variation using local honey and homemade vinegar (see recipe below).
I collected lots of the elderflower umbels, but was careful to leave plenty on the shrubs (no flower=no fruit later in the summer). Then I realized I had a problem: the batches of elderflower champagne I’ve made in the past required plastic bottles because the liquid gets really bubbly and can explode glass bottles.
I no longer drink anything that comes in a plastic bottle. Last year Ellen saved me some bottles from her recycling, but I didn’t want to wait to start this batch (yes, you can make it with dried elderflowers, but I like it better when made with fresh). I considered going through my building’s recycling.
But some of the recipes I looked at predate plastic bottles. There must be a way to do it. I’m going to try using some thick ceramic jugs with wire flip-down tops that I’ve saved over the years (from some very non-local Belgian beers). To hedge my bet, I did mooch one plastic bottle from my neighbor, and I plan to divide the batch.
I know it’s not officially summer yet, but harvesting wild fruit and making elderflower champagne makes me feel like it is.
P.S.–Ms. Ella Fitzgerald says hello:
Makes approximately 4 quarts
4-6 large elderberry flowerheads
6 pints cold filtered or non-chlorinated water
2 pints boiling filtered or non-chlorinated water
1 lb honey OR 1 1/2 lbs sugar
1/4 cup cider vinegar OR 2 large lemons (juice & rind) plus 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1. Do not wash the flowers–it’s their natural yeast that will cause fermentation. Just shake off any insects and remove the thick stalks.
2. Place the honey in a very large bowl and cover with 2 pints of boiling water. Stir to liquefy.
3. Add 6 pints cold water. Stir in the vinegar and the flowers.
4. Cover and leave, for 48 hours, stirring occasionally.
5. Strain out the flowers (and lemon rind, if using). Pour into clean plastic bottles with screw tops (or, we hope, thick ceramic or beer bottles with flip tops), leaving at least an inch of headspace.
6. Leave at room temperature for a week, “burping” (opening briefly) the bottles occasionally. After that, move them to the refrigerator, but keep “burping” the bottles for another week. Store for an additional 1-4 weeks before serving cold. The earlier you drink it, the yeastier it will taste. Wait the full six weeks from bottling if you want it at its best. (Note: the honey version takes longer to ferment out than the sugar version. The final drink should be fizzy and sweet, but not cloyingly so).
Botany, Ballet, & Dinner from Scratch: A Memoir with Recipes by Leda Meredith