Tag Archives: summer

Farewell to Summer

It’s the last day of August. Forget the technicalities, I always think of this day as the last day of summer. The British weather has that odd habit at this time of year of offering tantalising glimpses of warmth (typically in the middle of the working week), only to dash those hopes with a sharp, fresh breeze and the first falling leaves drifting past your window (usually at the weekend). You fancy that you can still sit outside in the evening for dinner, but it’s just a little bit too nippy to manage that in complete comfort (although at such times, wine and deep-fried Camembert provide a rather good form of rapid insulation). Change is in the air.

However, to mark the passing of what has been an amazing summer in London, I thought I would post about the drink that we’ve been using to cheer ourselves through the Jubilee, the Olympics and now into the Paralympics. It’s called the Aperol Spritz.

In terms of appearance, this drink is not subtle. It really is that luminous orange colour. It is made with Aperol, an Italian aperitif infused with bitters and citrus, topped up with Prosecco, then served on ice with a wedge of orange. It it light, fizzy, perfectly chilled and the orange-and-bitter combination has a nice sweet yet bitter flavour to stimulate the appetite. That, and the bright orange colour makes it look just so, so cool.

I’ve actually had a bottle of Aperol in my drinks cabinet for a while. I first came across Aperol Spritz when I was visiting Milan a couple of years ago. I saw it in a bar during aperitivo time, and it really seemed like the perfect summer drink. The only downside was that it was rather too easy to drink, and in that lay hidden dangers when endeavouring to catch an early train to Switzerland the next day…although I did manage to swing by a wine shop and pick up a bottle to bring home with me.

I was also reminded of this drink again on a visit to the Gilbert Scott bar near work. We were not taken with anything on the menu (it was all lovely, but we were in the mood for something more celebratory). The idea of the Aperol Spritz popped back into my head, and yes, the waiter told us that they had Aperol behind the bar. Two of these, and we were enthusiastically toasting Team GB’s success that day at the Games. Any excuse…

I’ve also noticed that as I’ve been drinking the Aperol Spritz all summer long, it has also been popping up in magazines and on the web rather a lot. I’ve seen some discussion about what you should add to the liqueur to add the fizzy spritz element. Prosecco is the classic, but some people seem enamoured with the idea of using champagne. Surely better, yes? Well, I tend to disagree. While I would normally say each to their own, first off, this is a waste of good champagne. Second, I find Prosecco is lighter and lends itself to this cocktail rather well, and I am not sure the brioché or fleur d’amandier notes of Champagne come out as delicately when you mix them with an orange liqueur, add a slice of citrus and serve on the rocks. Just a hunch!

So do as the Italians do, and stick with Prosecco. Designer shades optional. And if you see it on holiday, pick up a bottle. You’ll be glad you did. Basta!

To make Aperol spritz:

• 1 part (50ml) Aperol
• 2 parts(100ml) Prosecco
• dash of soda water (optional)
• orange slice
• ice

Mix the Aperol and Prosecco plus soda water (if using), pour over lots of ice and serve with a wedge of orange.


Filed under Drinks

Eton Mess

I’ve become a total flag waving maniac over the last few weeks, which culminated in a flag-and-chocolate-gold-medal arrangement in my front window for the duration of the Olympics. I’m sure the sight of chocolate just out of reach annoyed many a passing child! Earlier in the week, the Paralympic flame was lit in Trafalgar Square and the overnight torch relay is underway, so the fun starts all over again from tomorrow – and yes, I’m lucky enough to have more tickets!

But while the venues were amazing, the sport so far has been amazing and the Tube has kept on tubing, I’m going to say it…the London Games managed to get something rather wrong. It was the food, and all I can really say is “oh dear”!

OK, it wasn’t a complete disaster, but where, oh where, was the Best of British? The proper tea shop, selling scones, clotted cream and jam? Summer desserts? Bowls of strawberries? I really think they missed a trick here – I suspect Japanese visitors would have loved the sight of miniature Battenberg cakes and Bakewell tarts, although just how popular that Scottish legend, the deep-fried Mars bar, would have been remains unclear.

To counter this, and to get into practice for the Paralympics, I’ve dug out my old recipe for Eton Mess, which is essentially whipped cream, fruit and meringue. This might sound like an odd name for a recipe, but it has the benefit of being a complete doddle to make and tastes great. The fact that it is all “messed up” means that you can make this recipe with zero creative skills, but I would imagine that in most cases, the urge to artfully swirl the mixture will take hold. Whether all that meringue and cream really suits a major sporting event is another matter…

There are two ways to make this dessert. Either you can buy the meringues, then just crush them, mix with some whipped cream and chopped strawberries, and that’s it.

However, you can opt to go posh (and I suspect that at Eton they do, rather). Make your own meringue according to preference, then mix with softly whipped cream infused with whatever flavours you like (vanilla or even a tiny dash of booze). Then the fruit – prepare it ahead if time and allow to macerate, and you end up with a gloriously rich, sweet, fragrant mush then combines seductively with the rest of the pudding.

Whichever option you take, I recommend assembling this pudding at the last possibly moment – that way, you get to enjoy the soft cream, crisp-and-chewy meringue and ripe fruit. However, if you leave it for more than a few minutes, the meringue will start to dissolve and you’ll lose all the contrasting textures and flavours.

Strawberries are traditional in this dessert, but you can make changes depending on what you have to hand and what is in season. Raspberries add some sharpness that balances the sugar, stewed rhubarb goes well with the strawberries, and brambles are great later in the year. And all this talk of fruit brings me to my final tip – make sure you have the fruit at room temperature when you are making up the pudding – you’ll get the best flavour that way.

So now…sit back…and let the Games begin…again!

To make Eton Mess (serves 8):

For the meringue:

• 2 egg whites
• 100g white caster sugar
• pinch of salt
• few drops vanilla extract

To finish the pudding:

• meringues
• 1 pint (450ml) double cream
• 1 pound (450g) strawberries

To make the meringue:

1. Preheat the oven to 130°C and line a baking sheet with greaseproof paper.

2. Whip the egg whites until foamy. Add the pinch of salt, then whisk until you get to the soft peak stage. Add the sugar, a quarter at a time, mixing well after each addition, then add the vanilla and whisk on full power until the mixture is smooth, white and stiff, and you can’t see any sugar crystals (allow a good five minutes for this).

3. Place tablespoons of the mixture on the baking sheet. Put the meringues in the oven and immediately turn down the heat to 110°C. Bake for 1 hour, then turn off the heat. Leave the meringues in the oven until cold (overnight is ideal).

To prepare the dessert:

1. Clean and trim the strawberries. Cut into quarters and put in a bowl with 3 tablespoons of sugar. Stir and leave to sit at room temperature for an hour (covered with cling film to keep insects away!).

2. Break the meringues into chunks (between 1 and 1/2 inches) and place in a bowl.

3. Whip the cold cream until you have soft peaks, then add to the meringue pieces. Add 2/3 of the fruit. Fold the mixture together gently – aim for the mixture to have a rippled look.

4. Divide the mixture between the serving bowls, and top with spoonfuls of the remaining strawberries. Serve straight away.


Filed under Les saveurs de l’été, Recipe, Sweet Things

Strawberry Jam

On a wet, gloomy summer day when you have a couple of hours to kill, what could be more fitting that taking that most ephemeral of summer joys, the ripe strawberry, and making jam? Then you can enjoy the flavour and colour throughout autumn and into the chilly days of winter.

Plus, the home-made stuff tends to knock the socks off anything you can buy.

So, should you find yourself tempted to engage in a bit of austerity fun, try to go for smaller fruit – I find they tend to have more flavour, and it also means you can leave some of the fruit whole during cooking. This means when you come to spread jam on a crumpet some time in October, you’ll get the occasional whole strawberry, which allows you to feel very pleased with yourself indeed. It’s a bit like striking gold. Some people like to have smooth jam, even going to far as to sieve it to remove the pips. I, on the other hand, like lumps and pips. It’s fibre, after all.

Now, when making jam, what texture are we after?

I’m not a prescriptive sort of person, so make what you prefer, but I like jam that is a little bit stiff, but not like glue. It all has to do with the pectin and the amount of sugar you use. Strawberries are low in pectin, so if you just boil them with sugar, it will eventually become a very thick syrup, and there is a danger that the sugar end up caramelising. The pectin changes that, so that it will set much earlier in the process (so less boiling, and probably a fresher fruit flavour).

To add more pectin, you can either add liquid or powdered pectin (which I think is a bit odd), or add a fruit that has more pectin. So with most jams, this means a good dash of lemon juice. I find this works particularly well with strawberries, leaving just a little bit of tartness that works very well with the sweet strawberries.

The issue of how long you boil also matters, as the longer you boil, the less “fresh” the fruit flavour will be. If you’ve got robust fruit like oranges, then that’s less of an issue, but with strawberries, you want to keep boiling time as short as possible. Some people like jam that has a very firm “set”, so lots of boiling or lots of pectin will get you there. However, if you like to add it to yoghurt (as I do) you will probably prefer something that is looser, so it’s thick but still soft. In that case, adding the lemon (rather than the fake pectin) seems to make it set quickly, but keep the softness.

Now, I realise that some people also like to add some extra flavours. As I mentioned, lemon adds a welcome kick. Other options are to add a vanilla pod (but you need to like vanilla) or a dash of port (which works very well indeed).

When it comes to eating the stuff, go wild. It’s perfect on warm buttered crumpets or scones.

If you want the proper English feeling, team the scones and jam with a little whipped cream, or if you can get hold of it, some Cornish clotted cream.

To make strawberry jam (makes 5-6 small jars):

• 1kg strawberries
• 750g white sugar
• juice of 1 lemon
• small knob unsalted butter

Remove the stalks from the strawberries and cut off any “bad bits”. Keep a quarter the smaller berries to one side, and lightly crush the rest.

Throw everything into a large saucepan, mix well and leave to stand for 10-15 minutes until the strawberries release their juice.

In the meantime, sterilise some jam jars(*), and put a plate into the freezer – you’ll need this to test when the jam is set.

Place the pan on a medium heat. Bring to the boil, then keep on a rolling boil for 15 minutes. Once the jam has boiled for 10 minutes, start to check for a set every minute or so(**). Remember – the thicker you want the jam, the longer you need to boil it.

Once the jam is ready, ladle into the prepared jars, seal, label and hide it somewhere to enjoy later.

(*) To sterilise jam jars: wash with hot, soapy water, then rinse well. Place upside-down in a cold oven, and heat to 90°C for 15 minutes. Leave in the oven to cool down while you are making the jam . To sterilise the lids, wash with hot, soapy water, then rinse well, place in a saucepan with boiling water for 5 minutes.

(**) To test for the setting point, put a spoonful of the mixture on the icy-cold saucer. Let it cool, then tilt the saucer – if the jam wrinkles, the setting point has been reached.

Worth making? Strawberry jam is super-easy to make, and you can go from a bowl of fruit to enjoying the stuff spread on toast within a couple of hours. The taste is rich and fruity, and if you’re unsure, I would really urge you to give it a try.


Filed under Recipe, Sweet Things

On Location: Royal Gardens at Clarence House

We thought summer had forsaken us, and then wham! summer is right back. Hot, sunny and lots of bright blue skies.

And what could be more fitting on a weekend summer day than to head into the centre of London and enjoy a rare opportunity for a snoop around the gardens of Clarence House, the official residence of Prince Charles?

HRH is known as a bit of a gardening buff and an enthusiastic advocate for organic gardening, so nice to have a wander round the grounds and check out the planting. Lots of traditional English garden flowers, as well as plenty of exotic specimen plants (snowbell tree or pineapple guava, anyone?).

The gardens aren’t huge, but when you’re living this centrally in London, this is something I am sure Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall are able to live with. One of the most charming features is a space created on the lawn under two large plane trees. This was apparently used as an outdoor reception space by the Queen Mother when she occupied Clarence House, and a tradition that Prince Charles continues today.

There were also a few stands in the garden – one by the Soil Association (who were handing out baby lettuce and rocket plants if you pledge to grow organic at home) and others with everything from new gardening techniques to projects to build sustainable gazebos in your own back garden (I have a window box – so not really relevant for me!). All that, and of course the obligatory visit to the gift shop. I now have a plant pot with the royal coat of arms on it!

I also loved the planting in the raised beds along one side of the House. While probably not the best thing to do with a historic building (damp?), there were a fascinating range of exotic plants, vegetables and fruit. Are those who are invited to stay at Clarence House fed with wonderful dishes using produce fresh from the garden? I hope so – there were some interesting-looking things in there.

And finally…I loved the little slate plant markers dotted around the place. Some were just descriptive, others a little more informative. Quite charming.


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Summer Pudding

Summer in Britain means an abundance of soft fruit, and this year has been a bit of a bumper crop. I just spent the weekend back at the family ranch (note: not an actual ranch) up in Scotland, and the garden was positively groaning with raspberries, strawberries, blackcurrants, redcurrants and blackberries. Things don’t get much more local – or tasty – than this.

Often one of the best ways to eat summer’s bounty is “as is”, possibly with cream or ice cream. However, there are times when you want something a bit fancier, but which still shows off these fruits to their best. If this is the case, then you might want to think about a summer pudding.

The origins of summer pudding seem to be a bit vague, but to me it has the air of something that probably comes from the Victoria period. Nothing that I can put my finger on, but I just have a feeling. Origins aside, it’s a real star – light but bursting with flavour.

This dessert is actually quite cunning in its simplicity – cook the fruit for a moment to that the juices are released, then put in a bowl that has been lined with bread. The bread absorbs the juices, and becomes sweet and velvety-soft. And the fruit, as it has had only a minimum of cooking, retains all of its fresh flavours and aromas. It also has a real visual “wow-factor” – it’s a deep purple, and surrounded by fresh fruit straight from the garden, it really does capture the essence of a summer’s day.

Given how simple it is, you might think it should just fall apart. However, as the bread absorbs the juice, the pudding does magically stay together.

To serve, I recommend a dollop of softly whipped cream. I’m normally not a fan of cream on desserts, but in this case, I think it really helps to highlight the flavours and bring them to life, so you can enjoy the “fruits” or your labour in the garden. Or, like me, to take advantage of all the hard work that a family member put in. Thanks!

If you like to experiment, you can try adding a dash of vanilla, a pinch of spices such as cinnamon or cloves, or some citrus zest. If that’s what you like, then go for it, but I like it with just the fruit. Then finish it off by arranging lots and lots of fruit around the pudding in an artful-yet-rustic way. I think you’ll agree, it looks stunning!

To make a large summer pudding:

• 750g soft fruits (raspberries, blackberries, redcurrants, blackcurrants, strawberries…)
• 1 loaf of slightly stale white bread, thinly sliced and crusts removed
• 150g caster sugar
• 2-3 tablespoons cassis (blackcurrant) liqueur

To prepare the fruit:

Put all the fruit (apart from any strawberries, if using) into a sieve and rinse. Shake dry. Put into a saucepan. Add the sugar and cook over a low heat until the fruit releases its juices but the berries still hold their shape. Leave to cool slightly, then add the chopped strawberries and cassis liqueur (if using).

To assemble the pudding:

Line a pudding bowl with cling film. Cut a circle of bread for the base. Dip one side in the fruit, then place juice-side down in the bowl. Cut more bread into triangles, dip one side in the juice, and use to line the inside of the bowl. At the end you should not have any gaps, and aim to have the bread coming up over the edge of the bowl.

Pour the fruit mixture into the bread-lined bowl. It should come to the rim of the bowl.

Use more bread to cover the fruit (this will form the base of the pudding). My tip is to rest the bread on top of the fruit for a moment, then flip over so that the base will also be properly coloured by the juice. Trim any extra bread from the edge of the bowl.

Place something flat (like a baking tray) on top of the bowl, then weigh down something heavy (stones, tin cans, weights…). Place in the fridge for 4-5 hours or overnight.

To serve:

Remove the pudding from the fridge about an hour before serving. Trim off any bits of excess bread. Put a plate on top of the pudding and with one swift movement, flip over. Remove the pudding bowl, and then carefully peel off the cling film. Garnish with fresh fruit.

Serve in slices with softly whipped cream.

Worth making? Yes yes yes! This is an easy but spectacular dessert – very worth trying, either as a large pudding or in individual portions. Can also be adapted depending on what is in season. In fact, to show how easy it is to make – we did this twice over one weekend. Simple!


Filed under Les saveurs de l’été, Recipe, Sweet Things

Lemon Sorbet

More frozen stuff? Can you tell that I am still excited about my new ice-cream machine? You’d be right.

Today, it’s lemon time. Everyone has that one flavour they love and almost always choose when given a choice (at least in the summer). You might flirt with other flavours from time to time, but you always come back to that favourite. For me, I adore lemon sorbet. I like it to be fresh and zingy, sour, tart and lip-smackingly lemony. I have tried lemon ice-cream, but I always find it a bit of a poor substitute for sorbet. Lemon juice lends itself to cleanness and freshness, which is dulled when you try to make it using cream or milk. I could see how you could make a frozen lemon yoghurt, but if you’re after something sharp, sorbet is so simple and ticks all the boxes. Any now I can make my own!

In this recipe, I wanted the flavour of the lemons to really come out. I got hold of some beautiful fresh lemons, and started off by zesting them into a saucepan – the idea was that this would get the zest as well as some of their essential oils. I infused the zest with the sugar syrup, allowed it to steep, then added the lemon juice at the end. I also tried to decrease the amount of sugar – this amount of liquid would usually take 500g sugar, but I managed to get it down successfully to 350g. Sweet, but not too sweet.

I think using the lemon zest made a real difference – the syrup took on a light yellow colour, and there was a definite additional sharpness rather than just the tartness of the lemon. In the end, the colour did not really impact on the final result – it was a snowy white colour, but the stong taste of lemon was clearly there. All in all, I was really happy with this.

I love this sorbet as it is, but if you are looking for ways to jazz it up, you can try adding a handful of another aromatic herb to the hot syrup – mint, verbena, rosemary…or take the boozy route and top off with a shot of ice-cold limoncello or vodka.

For 1 litre of lemon sorbet:

• 250ml lemon juice
• 300g white sugar
• 1 teaspoon liquid glucose
• 750ml water

Grate the zest of each lemon into a saucepan. Extract the juice and keep it in a separate bowl. Keep going until you have 250ml of lemon juice.

Add the sugar, water and glucose to the saucepan, and slowly bring to the boil. Cook for 30 seconds, then add the lemon juice, stir well, cover and allow to cool.

Strain the cooled mixture to remove the peel. Freeze the sorbet in an ice-cream machine.

Worth making? This sorbet is incredibly easy – if you are in a rush, or prefer a milder lemon flavour, you can omit the zest, and just combine sugar, water and lemon juice. I know this is getting repetitive, but I will also be making a lot more of this over the summer!

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Les saveurs de l’été – Pimm’s and Lemonade

What do you drink on a hot day? Wine, beer or soft drinks are all fine, but there is one little British tradition that everyone loves, either secretly or very openly. It is also something that all my friends from outside the UK love to drink when they are here. I’m talking about Pimm’s, which is right up there as one of the best things about hot days in the sunshine.

Above, exhibit A, is a jug of the stuff we had last night, infused with lemon, orange, mint, cucumber, mint and mixed with lemonade. Fruity and summery, perfect over ice on a warm evening.

First, the history lesson. What is Pimm’s? Well, it started life as a tonic, based on gin and infused with various herbs and spices. This was served in an oyster bar run by Mr Pimm, with the spices intended to soften the hard edge of the gin. Before long, the house concoction was famous in its own right. So successful was this that Mr Pimm expended to six different drinks, based on gin, vodka, scotch, brandy, rye whiskey and rum. Today, only the gin and rum versions are produced, with the famous gin-based Pimm’s No. 1 Cup being the “Pimm’s” that we all know and love to cool us down on a hot day. For for information, see the website for Pimm’s here.

Everyone seems to have their own recipe, and you basically need to accept that every batch will be different – either subtly different, or wildly so. More mint or less lemon will affect the taste in quite an obvious way. However, you can get some pleasantly unexpected tastes. Last summer, I was staying in Luxembourg and we used mint from the garden. Unknown to us, it was some variety of rose-scented mint, which imparted a pleasant floral quality to the Pimm’s. Accept these things as happy accidents.

So, how do you make it? In my version, just take thin slices of cucumber, lemon and orange, add chopped ripe strawberries and some bruised mint leaves. Thin slices help the flavours come out into the drink, and the bruised leaves will impart a stronger mint flavour. Pour the neat Pimm’s over the fruit, leave to sit for at least 30 minutes if you can, then top up with sparkling lemonade and serve over lots of ice. I work with the classic measures of 1 part Pimm’s to 3 parts lemonade works well, but you can adjust to taste.

So pick up a bottle, and enjoy the sunshine!


Filed under Les saveurs de l’été, Sweet Things

Les saveurs de l’été – Strawberry Sorbet

For many years, I have coveted an ice-cream machine. I could have settled for one of those things you stick in the freezer, then remove and churn manually or get a little clip-on motor. But no, I wanted the serious thing, one that has a built-in freezer and makes lots of noise. Then, last week, I finally got one. Agonisingly, I had a few things to do and had to wait three long days to try it out. I think part of the fun of a new gadget is getting it home and using it right away. Anyway, my to-do list cleared, I spent all of Sunday trying it out.

To start with, I made a champagne sorbet. Rather unusually, I had half a bottle in the fridge (I can assure you that “left-over champagne” is a rare occurrence in this house). The result was lovely. Smooth, light and quite boozy. In fact, I think I ate too much of it without thinking how much alcohol it contained.

Satisfied that the machine worked, I got a little more serious and made a proper fruit sorbet using fresh English strawberries. I looked for small, bright red fruit, as the little berries are sweeter and more flavoursome than the giant varieties that are all talk and no action. Indeed, with strawberries, the smaller, the better. Think about wild strawberries – tiny, a lot of work to pick, but they have an amazing flavour.

I made a sorbet as I actually prefer them to ice-cream. The flavour is fresher and lighter, and more suited to summer. Strawberry is, in my view, one of the classics and really does bring a little of the summer sun with it.

The recipe I used is really simple – make a sugar syrup, puree the strawberries, combine, chill in the fridge, then pop into ice-cream maker. After the machine did its thing (I left it in another room due to the noise), I got to try an utterly sublime result. The sorbet is silky-smooth, with little bursts of intense strawberry flavour. The flavour was fantastic and the colour was stunning – a vivid, natural pink colour.

It’s going to be a good summer. I just wonder how many frozen treats we can all take? We’ll find out.

To make just under 2 litres of sorbet:

• 720ml strawberry puree (around 800g of whole strawberries)
• 200g white sugar (or less, to taste)
• 120ml water
• juice of 1 lemon
• teaspoon of liquid glucose

Put the sugar, water, lemon juice and glucose into a saucepan. Bring to the boil, then allow to cool.

In the meantime, rinse the strawberries. Remove the stalks and hulls (if necessary), then puree. You can strain if you want to remove the seeds, but I didn’t and the result was great. Combine the puree and the syrup, and allow to chill in the fridge.

Place the mixture into your ice-cream maker and process until frozen.

Worth making? Yes! This is one of the best sorbets I have ever had. The flavour is fresh, bright and intense. This is really worth trying, as it knocks a lot of commercial sorbets out of the water. I think I’ll be making this a lot over the summer months.


Filed under Recipe, Sweet Things

Les saveurs de l’été – Cloudy Lemonade

Hot weather means cool drinks. Beer, white or rosé wine or the British favourite, Pimm’s.

Something I like a lot is traditional cloudy lemonade. When I was growing up, lemonade was the colourless, transparent fizzy drink that was sweet but didn’t seem to have a whole lot to do with lemons. Today’s recipe, however, really is a zesty, fresh, citrus drink, and given the simple ingredients, also doesn’t contain some of the nasties in commercial drinks.

What’s more, it’s quick and easy (much as I love being in the kitchen, you want to be outside when it’s sunny). You take a few fresh, unwaxed lemons, take the lemon zest and juice, and leave this to steep overnight with some hot water and sugar. Doing this with the zest means that you also get all the wonderful aromas from the lemon peel for a bit of extra zing. The next day, you just top up to taste with water (still or sparking) and allow to cool in the fridge. If you want to, you can add a sprig of mint or rosemary to the steeping infusion if you want to other aromas in there too. Enjoy in the sunshine!

For almost 2 litres:

• 5 unwaxed lemons
• 100g sugar
• water, plus more to dilute the concentrate

Wash the lemons. Using a zester, get all the yellow peel into a heatproof bowl. Zesting the peel directly into this bowl means you will get more of the lemon’s essential oils, boosting the flavour. Try to keep the amount of white pith in the zest to a minimum.

Juice the lemons, and add to the lemon zest. 5 lemons should yield 250ml of juice, but if you don’t have enough, feel free to use more lemons to top up.

Add the sugar and pour over the boiling water. Stir well, cover, and allow to sit overnight.

The next morning, strain the mixture (a kitchen sieve is fine). Dilute the mixture down according to taste – I used about 1.5 litres (almost 6 cups). Also taste the lemonade – if the lemon flavour seems too strong, you may prefer to add more sugar, or a natural sweetner such as agave syrup.

Worth making? Yes! This is a great summer drink, really easy to make, and tastes sensational compared to commercial lemonade. Be careful with the sugar, as it’s easy to add more but you can’t remove it if you go too far. Bottle it up, allow it to chill, and enjoy in the park or on your terrace.

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Les saveurs de l’été – Elderflower Fritters

Yes! The weather in London in good again! I realise that I am just confirming to British stereotype, going on about how nice/cold/wet/warm it is outside. It’s just that when the sun shines, London is glorious, so we all feel the need to go crazy in the sunshine whenever we get the chance. When you don’t have it all the time, you appreciate if so much more.

Anyway…this sun means it is time to dust down the picnic basket and revisit all of our summer favourites. I’ve started a series called les saveurs de l’été (the flavours of summer) as the umbrella term for all of these dishes. It’s either cute or pretentious. I’m going with cute. Summery, out-doorsy, warm weather foods.

The first feature is elderflower fritters. I agree that this does sound a little strange and, I have to confess, I had never had them before. I therefore come before you with no preconceived ideas of whether this dish is actually any good, or whether my attempt to make them qualifies as good or bad.

As I don’t have a garden, I had to go out and look for elderflowers. They are quite common at the side of roads, but I don’t like to eat things that I find at lying on the side of the street (a rule to live by, I think you would agree). No, for the best flowers, you need to head off into a forest or some other wild sport to find pretty, fresh blossoms. I picked a few in a local park (see below), far away from traffic. Perfect.

With elders sourced, I carried them home in a plastic container. They have a lot of pollen, so I didn’t want this all over my bag. When I opened the tub at home  – wow, the aroma was quite something. The scent of summer. I was convinced that these fritters might work very well indeed.

Next issue: the batter. I would go so far as to say I have a fear of frying, so I needed to be sure that the recipe I used would be dependable. I also don’t want to be that person who set fire to their kitchen by over-heating the oil. Anyway, I feel that this recipe should be light as a feather, and just barely cling to the flowers, so that the result is lacy and delicate and ephemeral. I did a bit of hunting for a recipe, and came upon one from Nigel Slater. He writes a column in the Observer, which I read with great enthusiasm each weekend. His recipes are inventive, fresh, dependable and delicious. He writes well and cooks well. I placed my faith in Nigel and followed this recipe.

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