Our resident foodie columnist Jan Fullwood explores the delights of foraging and our local Hertfordshire zerowaste shops
You may have noticed, I have a fondness for foraging and finding free food and with wild garlic season drawing to a close, I am turning my attention to elderflowers with my annual batch of cordial in mind, in readiness for summer entertaining (and general guzzling). This time last year I had already made a batch or two, but this year’s odd, unpredictable weather has delayed the appearance of the frothy white blooms.
Even a recent walk to Panshanger park yielded no joy, but another find made up for it. The arrival of a new coffee van, set above the lake and serving all manner of beverages and cakes; resident all summer, once it finally decides to show. New paths have opened up a larger area, so a coffee on the bench taking in the view was very welcome. As much as I like free food, I’m always happy to support a coffee truck and some homemade treats.
Foraging for elderflowers…
So elderflower watch continues. The uninitiated may be confused – there are so many lacy white flowers adorning the hedgerows? As with wild garlic, the smell is the giveaway, its fragrance so distinctive. But please, only pick if you are sure. If you do, you will be rewarded with the taste of summer – transform the heady scented flower into fresh cordial or elderflower fizz, steep in vinegar for summery salad dressings, or drizzle over a loaf cake for a variation on lemon syrup sponge. Or even flavour gin, at a fraction of the cost (now I know I’ve got your attention).
My go to recipe can be found at www.deliciousmagazine.co.uk. I’ve tried many, with differing amounts of sugar and flower heads (the more the merrier I say), and slightly different methods, but all give the desired results, some sweeter, some sharper. Select heads with fully open flowers and trim at the fork in the stem below the head as the stalks can be bitter. Pick on dry sunny mornings from trees away from the road, and use them within a few hours. As with any foraging, don’t go too mad or the trees won’t produce the elderberries later in the year (for elderberry wine enthusiasts). Just make sure you shake out any unsuspecting insects first, and use a fine muslin to strain the liquid once infused.
You’ll also need lots of fresh lemons to provide acidity (and I like to add lime to mine too). This not only balances the flavour, but provides the all important means of preservation. Finally, the secret ingredient for food safe cordial is citric acid. This stops it fermenting – you don’t want your lovingly made cordial to explode in the fridge.
This once difficult to find ingredient can be bought from one of the many fantastic ecologically friendly refill stores that have popped up around the county. For those that are unfamiliar with this style of shopping it couldn’t be more straightforward. First repurpose a container – tub, tin, bottle, bag or jar – and weigh it. Take it to the shop and fill with as much or as little of your chosen product as you like, weigh again, subtract the weight of the container and pay. Use it up, wash up your container and repeat. From cereals, pasta, rice, grains or spices to detergent, shampoo and other household cleaners, the list is endless and it’s the perfect way to buy what you want, when you want and without waste.
Hertfordshire’s fantastic zerowaste shops
I generally buy food grade citric acid from the aptly named BGreen Store in Birch Green village. Carly and Victoria opened the doors of their village shop with the aim to create a community hub, and to help reduce rural social isolation in the villages between Welwyn and Hertford. It provides essentials for locals including bakery, dairy, quality seasonal veg, championing local suppliers, with a focus on environmentally friendly products.
The business has metamorphosed and adapted throughout the pandemic, but continues to fill a gap in the village, with sustainability and sociability at its core. It’s also a welcome pit stop for walkers and cyclists; the original cafe may be gone but they still serve coffee and cake. Throughout Lockdown they provided a veg box service, and for those not keen on foraging, they have even been known to stock wild garlic, but I suspect elderflowers may be a step too far, and along with me, you will have to find your own.
If Birch Green is a little out of your way try Sugar & Scoop in Ware. The Zero Waste Refill and Eco Lifestyle shop was set up by local resident, Kirsty Taylor-Moran as part of a crowdfunder campaign. You can buy their plastic-free, planet-friendly goods from the shop in the high street, or order online. They provide the dried goods for our own Happeninginherts grocery boxes; check out the online shop here. The Happeninginherts shop is closed for a break this week but business resumes next week. Any orders made this week will be fulfilled next week.
Emma Riddle has a similar crowdfunding story for her shop in Hertford, Replenish Refill Store. Following positive feedback from local residents, she opened the business as a Community Interest Company, which means the business has pledged to make 50% of their profits available for local environmental projects, sustainability projects and relevant educational workshops within the community, including schools and colleges. Sadly, at the time of writing Emma is still actively looking for new premises, having moved out of the old Mudlarks Cafe due to redevelopment. So watch this space, and please do get in touch with Emma if you can help.
It’s wonderful to see so many enterprising business women opening stores in these difficult times, and making a real change for good. Buntingford, St Albans, Berkhamstead and Letchworth also have similar stores, and let’s hope they continue to thrive and flourish, and this way of shopping becomes the norm.
And finally, back to the business of cordial. Once you have collected your ingredients, by whatever means, and the elderflowers have finally shown their pretty heads and reached their full glory, steep, infuse, bottle and enjoy. I, for one, will enjoy the sun and raise a long chilled glass of sparkling elderflower, or even better, a cheeky elderflower cocktail, to the joys of foraging. Cheers!