Elderflower champagne – hic!

20140617_213935This was my first attempt at making wine. We don’t have any special equipment at the moment, so I cleaned up a household bucket, asked Geoff to switch his beer-drinking habits to Grolsch for a couple of weeks (for the swing-top bottles), and bought some balloons (bear with me…).

I basically used this recipe from Channel 4, which is in turn taken from Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s River Cottage Spring series. However, the reader comments on the Channel 4 page worried me so much that they almost put me off trying – it seemed nearly everyone who had tried the recipe had suffered explosions.

Ours has been going for nearly two weeks now, with no explosions so far, so below I’ll also explain how I did it safely. (Now if that’s not asking for an explosion I don’t know what is!)

4 litres of hot water
2 litres of cold water
juice and zest of four lemons
2 tbsp white wine vinegar
15 elderflower heads – picked before noon on a sunny day
1tsp champagne yeast (may not be needed)

Plus: 18x330ml Grolsch bottles or 12x450ml Grolsch bottles or equivalent plastic carbonated drink bottles. These must be sterilised – I used sterilising tablets made for babies’ bottles, 80p from Asda.

1. Put the hot water and sugar in a clean bucket and stir until the sugar dissolves, then add the cold water.
2. Add the lemon juice, zest, vinegar and elderflower heads.
3. Weight down the elderflowers with a plate, so they don’t stick up out of the water and go mouldy.
4. Cover with a tea towel and leave in a cool place for two or three days.
5. Check the mixture, and if it’s not at all foamy on top, there may not be enough natural yeast in there – so add a teaspoon of champagne yeast and stir it in.
5. Leave for four or five more days, stirring each day.
6. Strain through a sieve draped in muslin and pour into bottles, leaving a 1-inch gap at the top.
20140614_0005077. Don’t seal the bottles – instead put a balloon over the neck of each one.
8. Put the bottles in a cool place, with a little space between them (in case the balloons blow up big and knock the surrounding bottles over) and revisit them every day. If the balloons are full, let out the gas. If they’ve blown off, put them back on.
9. When the mixture has calmed down (mine took about five days) and there seems to be little more gas coming out, add a pinch of sugar to each bottle and close the lid. This will re-start the fermentation process and give you bubbles, but in a more controlled manner!
10. There may still be a risk of the bottles exploding when you open them. To keep an eye on this, I dedicated one ‘test bottle’ to reopen a few days later. If it had erupted, I’d have gone around and let the gas out of the others – but it didn’t, just made a satisfying pop and fizz. Of course, then we had to drink it.

I’d love to say that it’s delicious, but to be honest “drinkable” is probably a more accurate word. Having said that, apparently it improves if you leave it a few weeks. It’s a lovely colour, it smells gorgeous and it’s nice and sparkly.

Alcohol content
I estimate that the alcohol content is about 5% abv (if you wanted a higher alcohol content, you could put in more sugar at the beginning).

Cost: £2.40 for six litres – or 40p for the equivalent of a 75cl bottle of wine
Lemons – £1
Champagne yeast if needed – 50p
Sugar – 70p
White wine vinegar – 20p


Jew’s ear and wild garlic pasta

P1070649 It’s that time of year when, walking through the woods – or even the local park, in this case, you’re periodically greeted by pungent breezes from crops of wild garlic. The Jew’s ear, or jelly ear, fungus is still out on the elder trees, so I thought it was time to combine the two flavours.

You’re not allowed to dig up the roots of the wild garlic, but that’s OK because the leaves are perfectly garlicky enough anyway.

P1070641This is a really quick, simple and cheap dish. Be prepared that no-one will want to kiss you for a couple of days afterwards, however.

Ingredients (serves two)
1-2 handfuls of wild garlic leaves
10-15 Jew’s/jelly ear fungi
200g spaghetti
olive oil, salt and pepper, knob of butter
handful of toasted pine nuts (optional – I added these for a bit of protein)

Put the spaghetti on to boil. Rinse, dry and slice the fungi. Rinse and roughly chop the garlic. Heat the olive oil, then add the fungi. Don’t let it get too hot, as the fungi can start ‘popping’ at high temperatures. Fry for about five minutes. Drain the spaghetti and add the knob of butter and stir. Then add the cooked fungi and raw garlic leaves, plus salt and pepper. If you’re adding pine nuts, toast them briefly in a hot frying pan until they’re slightly browned, then sprinkle on top.

Cost: 20p
Spaghetti: 20p
Pine nuts (optional): 80p

Wild mushroom and sweet chestnut pâté

sweet chestnutsI nearly left it too late for experimenting with sweet chestnuts – the squirrels have had most of them. But while there are still a few around, I decided to have a go at making a vegetarian pâté. I also used some lovely horse mushrooms that we found growing on a verge, and some winter chanterelles, which are still out in full force. The winter chanterelles can be quite hard to spot, until you get your eye in, because they blend in with the fallen leaves – see the photo below.

I couldn’t find any existing recipes that used both mushrooms and sweet chestnuts (though while searching I did find an awful lot made with chestnut mushrooms!), so I adapted a mushroom pâté recipe from BBC Food.

It makes a subtly flavoured but tasty pâté, and is lovely on wholemeal toast. The chestnuts give it a bit of sweetness and crunch. I’m giving myself a pat on the back for this one.

winter chanterellesIngredients
To make about four servings:
50g butter
300g mushrooms (I used 200g horse mushrooms and 100g winter chanterelles)
75g sweet chestnuts
1 small onion
1 clove garlic
juice of half a lemon
100g ricotta
1 tsp nutmeg

Use a knife to score an ‘x’ into each sweet chestnut, then roast them in the oven at 200C for 30 mins. Fry up the onion, garlic and mushrooms until soft. Add the lemon juice, then strain the mixture in the colander. (Keep the juices for using in something else, such as gravy.) Shell the chestnuts and add to the mushrooms. Roughly blend the mixture, then mix in the ricotta and nutmeg, plus salt and pepper if you like. Chill before serving.

mushroom and sweet chestnut pate

Cost = 95p
50g butter – 20p
1 small onion – 10p
half a lemon – 15p
100g ricotta – 50p
That’s 95p if you already had the ingredients, or £3 if you had to go out and shop from scratch.

Damson and apple jam

damsons and apples

If you’re going to have a go at jam-making, first can I recommend you get this song in your head. Where it will stay all day. No need to thank me.

On our way back from a walk, we passed a wild damson* tree laden down with fruit, so we stopped and picked some. The cooking apples are from a tree that hangs over into our garden.

I followed this recipe from Gransnet.


1kg damsons
500g apples
1/4 litre water
granulated sugar (weight to be determined later)

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Wash and destalk the damsons, chop the apples (no need to peel), and boil both gently until soft. Push through a colander to remove the seeds and skins. (I say ‘push through’ like it’s a serene thing, but it’s more like a jammy wrestling match.) Weigh the puree, and add the same weight of sugar. Mix it well, then boil for 15 minutes.


Two important jam-makin’ things to know before you start:
1) You need a cold plate, so put one in the freezer in preparation. To test if the jam is ready, you drip a bit onto the cold plate, leave it for a couple of seconds, then push it with your finger. If it wrinkles, it’s reached setting point. If it behaves like a liquid, it needs a bit longer.
2) You need warm, sterilised jars at the ready. Wash them in hot water, then put them in the oven at 140C for half an hour before the jam is ready.

Cost: 33p a jar
The only cost was 1.5kg sugar, at £1.30ish from Asda. For that, we filled four big 750g jars (courtesy of a lodger with a love for Dolmio pasta sauces).

*I’m saying ‘damson’ for simplicity. Here’s the Geoff version: “I think what we found might actually have been bullaces, but the whole group – blackthorn (sloes), bullaces, damsons, plums and cherry plums and wild cherries (cherries are just small plums) are all inter-fertile and it is not even clear what the true wild ancestors were, apart from that blackthorn was one of them.  So there are trees growing all over the UK, some of which were planted, others self-seeded which are basically sloe-bullace-damson-cherry-plums – they are a bit like mongrel dogs.  It’s where our concept of what is a “species” starts to break down.  They are all edible, and the taste ranges from sweet to sour to tasteless!”

Wild mushroom and leek tart

prep2This was a success, and I’d definitely make it again. I used a mixture of hedgehog mushrooms (pied de mouton), winter chanterelles and some rare wavy capped chanterelles.

The hedgehog mushrooms get their name from the thousands of tiny spines on their undersides. The spines are edible but slightly bitter, and they detach themselves during cooking and make your food look weird and speckly. So this time I scraped them off using a teaspoon.

The recipe takes a couple of hours if you make the pastry from scratch. But if you used a ready-made base, you could have it on the table in half an hour.



For the pastry:
240g plain flour
50g grana padano or other hard cheese
160g butter – chilled and cubed
2 egg yolks
fresh thyme

For the filling:
350g leeks
400g mushrooms (I used 250g hedgehogs, 100g winter chanterelles, 50g wavy-capped chanterelles)
2 cloves garlic
4 eggs
100ml double cream
50g grana padano or other cheese
olive oil



For the pastry:
Mix the flour, thyme and cheese together, then rub in the butter until it looks like breadcrumbs. Add the egg yolks and bring together. Chill for 30 minutes then roll out and place in 30cm tin. Chill for another 20 minutes. Bake blind for 20 minutes at 180C then bake open for a further 20 minutes.

For the filling:
Fry the leeks in olive oil, then set aside. Fry the mushrooms in olive oil (I put the hedgehogs in first because they have a sturdier texture, then added the others) then add the butter and garlic. Combine the leeks, mushrooms, cream, cheese, parsley and eggs. Mix well and add seasoning. Pour into the pastry base and bake for 20 minutes at 180C.

Penny bun soup

Today we found four lovely penny buns (or porcini, or ceps), and decided to be decadent and try out a pure fresh penny bun soup. The results were delicious, but a bit too rich and thick.

In future, I’d probably go for a maximum of half penny buns and half some other, milder mushroom. And more water/stock/wine than I used below. I might also replace the double cream with single cream or milk.

penny bun soup


500g chopped penny buns 
5 shallots
1 clove garlic
500ml chicken stock 
50ml white wine
100ml double cream
butter for frying
salt, pepper, dried thyme


Chop the garlic and shallots and fry in butter for four minutes. Chop the penny buns and add them to the pot, frying for a further six or seven minutes. Add the stock, wine, salt, pepper and thyme, and simmer for 15 minutes. Add cream, blend, reheat to hot and then serve.

Hedgehog soup


Not real hedgehogs, I promise. This soup was made from hedgehog mushrooms and field mushrooms – and very nice it was too. I would definitely make this again.

The bread in the picture is from a sourdough loaf I made after attending a class with Nick Beddows of Slow Food Brighton.


200g field mushrooms
300g hedgehog mushrooms
1 clove garlic
1 leek
400ml vegetable stock
100ml milk
salt, pepper, mixed herbs

Fry garlic and leek for five minutes until soft, then add chopped mushrooms and cook for another 5-7 minutes. Add the stock, milk and herbs and simmer for 20 minutes. Blend until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste.