Springtime pleasures revisited

It’s the time of year when the blooms on the elder bushes are out in profusion and I thought I would share this post with you again – it’s been six years since I wrote it, but the recipes are still as good as they were then!!


One of the many pleasures of spring can be found growing all over the countryside – in hedgerows, along streams, sometimes in a garden, but more often growing wild.  It is a large shrub, which bears many heads (panicles) of creamy white flowers, followed by black berries in late summer.  The flowers have a delicate perfume, reminiscent of muscat grapes.  The name of this plant is Sambucus – have you guessed yet what the common name of this plant may be?

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It’s Elder – often overlooked and neglected, and rarely used these days.  But elderflowers can be used to make a number of delicious comestibles, and I am going to tell you about two of them today. The flower heads are made up of many tiny flowers in a complex branching structure, which is fascinating to examine at close range.  The season for the flowers is relatively short; in the South of France it starts in late April/early May and lasts about three weeks at the most.  In more temperate climes you may find elderflowers as late as June.

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The first recipe is for elderflower cordial, which captures the wonderful flavour of the flowers, and allows me to enjoy it whenever I want to throughout the year.  Using elderflowers is something of a tradition in my family – when I grew up there was the most enormous elder bush – well more of a tree, really – in our garden.  Making the syrup is very simple, you just need sugar, lemon, citric acid, and elderflowers.  As so often, timing is everything as the elderflowers should be at their peak when you make this.

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Elderflower Cordial

  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

900g sugar
30 heads of elderflower
2 lemons, sliced
80g citric acid
1 litre boiling water

Shake the elderflowers to remove any stray bugs and dust, then set aside.  Put the sugar, citric acid and lemon slices into a heatproof bowl (I used a large stainless-steel casserole) and pour the boiling water over them.  Stir until the sugar is dissolved.  With a pair of scissors snip the flowers off the stalks.  The aim is to include as little as possible of the green stalks. Stir the flowers into the syrup.  Cover the bowl and put it in a cool place to macerate for four days, stirring at least once a day.

After four days strain the syrup through a fine sieve or a colander lined with cheesecloth, then bottle and cork.  Because of the high sugar content, the cordial will keep for some time if stored in a cool and dark place.  It is ready to be used immediately – mix it with sparkling water for a delicious elderflower lemonade.

Note: For a tangier taste you could squeeze the lemons and use the juice, instead of the lemon slices.

Elderflowers also make wonderful fritters, and I try to make them at least once each year, while the flowers are about.

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The following recipe requires a minimum of effort for a great result.  It is best to harvest the elderflowers just before you make the fritters;  if you need to keep them for a few hours, put them into a plastic bag and keep them in the fridge.

Elderflower Fritters

  • Servings: 2
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

100g flour
1 egg, separated
pinch of salt
pinch of baking powder
125ml white wine (I use half muscat wine and half water)
6 – 8 heads of elderflower, depending on size
Oil for frying
1 tbsp icing sugar

Shake the elderflowers, inspect for bugs and set aside.  In a bowl mix the flour, salt and baking powder.  Add the egg yolk and wine and stir to just combine – stirring the batter too much will result in tough fritters. In another bowl beat the egg whites until stiff, then fold into the batter.  The batter should be the consistency of heavy cream.  If necessary, add a tablespoon or more of water to thin it to the right consistency.

Heat some oil in a frying pan (I prefer to use peanut oil) over medium heat, until hot but not smoking.  Holding the elderflowers by the long stalk dip them into the batter until all the flowers are well covered, and then place them in the frying pan.  The number of fritters you are able to cook at the same time will depend on the size of your frying pan and the size of the flowers.  Once the fritters are cooking, snip off the thick stalks with scissors.

Turn the fritters over when bubbles begin to show around the edges.  You may need to add some more oil after turning them.   Cook until golden brown on both sides, remove, and put on a piece of kitchen paper to drain.  Continue with the remaining flowers.  Dust with icing sugar and serve warm.

Apologies for the green-ish cast on some of the pictures!!  The fritter recipe is very easy to multiply; I doubled it, but feel free to multiply it even more and invite all your friends over for this springtime treat!

The Shrew – untamed!!

Over the past few months I’ve been spending a lot of time working in my garden.  I was there pretty much every afternoon, except on rainy days!! 🙂 During my time in the garden I’ve been able to observe the wildlife that calls my garden home.  Very early in spring, I found a very large toad hiding among the weeds by the rose bushes.  It sauntered off slowly, and it is probably still hiding in the tangle of weeds which I’ve not gotten round to clearing yet!

When the pear trees bloomed this spring they where abuzz with bees  – the promise of fruit later in the year!!

Bumble bees loved the comfrey flowers:

I left a fair number of borage plants to flower this year – they provided lots of bee food!

This tiny green spider was a little cross at being disturbed, I think.  It waved its front legs at me in a fairly threatening manner! 🙂

Many years ago, when I first took over the garden there were many small lizards darting in an out of the gaps in the stone walls.  They were fun to watch as they jumped and dashed about.  I managed to photograph the one in the picture below many years ago – it was sunning itself in an old ceramic sink!

At some point the geckos started moving in – I don’t remember when, but it’s been a good many years.  Somehow the geckos took over and I haven’t seen a lizard in the garden for a few years – they got crowded out.  I have one bruiser of a gecko living in one of the compost bins – it is feeding on the little flies and other insects that buzz around in there.  Doesn’t it look well fed??

Over the years I have spotted many other animals in the garden!  Once I came across a large bright green lizard (no I had not had a drink!).  Another time there was fairly large snake slithering away into the bushes.  The snake had me spooked – for quite a while I was very weary of reaching with my hands where I could not see!

All kinds of birds visit the garden and it’s always a pleasure to sit and watch them once I’ve turned over a patch of ground!!  And of course there are cats – a succession of them, some better behaved than others!

This year, I discovered an animal in the garden that I had never encountered before.  In February I became aware of something scurrying about – I thought it was probably a mouse and gave it no more thought.  At the beginning of April I took my camera with me to the garden, to take pictures of some of the flowers, and that’s when I saw this little animal in one of the flower beds:

Its fur was a kind of grey-ish brown colour and its body was probably the length of my ring finger.  It was rummaging around in the mulch, totally oblivious to my presence.  I first imagined it to be a mouse.

I couldn’t quite see its face as it was buried in the mulch most of the time!  As it rummaged it came closer to where I was crouched, and finally I managed to get a good picture!

I’d never seen an animal like it – a mouse with a pointed nose!!  A bit of research on the internet showed this to be a garden shrew.  I did a bit of reading and found out that this was not a rodent – what a relief!!  Shrews have a very high metabolic rate and eat insect larvae, slugs & snails and worms.  Because of their high metabolism they have to eat a lot!  Perhaps this shrew was very hungry and therefore ignored me??  In any case, it would seem to be a very beneficial animal to have in the garden!!

Here is a brief video of the shrew:

Do you have any interesting animals living in your garden??

Virtual reality

Please join me on a virtual visit of Saint-Chinian and some of the surrounding area!  I’ve found a number of videos on youtube, which I think will give you a great taste of Saint-Chinian and its surroundings!

To start with, a walk that takes in the countryside surrounding the village:

Next, a couple of videos which show Saint-Chinian from the air:

I found several videos about virtual wine tastings of AOC Saint-Chinian wines.  The following video is about the wines of Chateau Pech Menel, whose wines I have enjoyed a great deal!

Fréderic Revilla of Restaurant Le Faitout in Berlou participated in a programme about wine and food pairing.  The video is in French only, but you’ll get the idea – just don’t watch it when you are hungry, the food looks delicious!

Here is another aerial video showing the landscape around Saint-Chinian – it will give you a good idea of the vast and varied terrain of the area.

Domaine des Pradels is in a little hamlet just outside Saint-Chinian, nestled in a little valley. The wines are very good, so add it to your list of wineries to visit next time you are in the area!

And to end our virtual visit, here is a video of the Saint-Chinian jazz festival 2019!

I hope you have enjoyed our virtual visit!!

From here to you

You might have planned a visit to France and to Saint-Chinian which may have had to be cancelled because of the Covid-19 pandemic and the restrictions placed on travel.  If you can’t come to Saint-Chinian in the immediate future, then perhaps Saint-Chinian can come to you??  There are a number of ways to bring some of the essentials from this part of southern France to your home, wherever you may be right now.

With the music festival in July having had to be postponed until next year, the organisers are planning a virtual festival.  In the meantime, you can watch some clip of past concerts on the youtube channel – please subscribe to the channel and comment/like on the individual videos!!

If your local wine merchant does not stock your favourite Saint-Chinian wine, they may be able to order it in for you.  If they are not able to order it for you then don’t despair, help may be at hand!!  Espace Vin and Maison des Vins in Saint-Chinian both offer shipping and all the wines are sold at producer’s prices.  Espace Vin is set up for a variety of different overseas destination in their online shop, for the Maison des Vins you may have to ask.

Veronique Etienne at Chateau La Dournie has set up her own online shop – you can visit it here.

If you are interested in the wines of Saint-Chinian but don’t need to re-stock your cellar right now, you might enjoy this book:

It is available from the Maison des Vins and it is a great read.  Written in French and English, it presents a wealth of information about the Saint-Chinian wine region, its wines, and its winemakers! The book is beautifully illustrated with photographs taken by the Maison des Vins’ Gaylord Burguiere!!

Paul Lappin is a very talented artist who has spent lots of time in Saint-Chinian.  His drawings are available as prints in a variety of formats.  You could also commission Paul to draw your favourite view for you!  More information can be found on Paul’s Instagram feed or on his own website.  Below are a few of Paul’s pictures:

The olive cooperative L’Oulibo in Bize Minervois has an on-line shop, and they will ship abroad.  If your country of residence is not showing in the delivery options, just send them an e-mail with your requirements.

Fabrics are something that’s very easy to ship!  I stopped at the shop of Les Toiles de la Montagne Noire in Mazamet back in February.  It’s a bit of an Aladdin’s cave, piled high with all kinds of wonderful goodies, all of them made locally!  I bought some linen material to make napkins with.  I fell in love with their fabrics when I saw their stand at the Fete du Fil in Labastide Rouairoux a good many years ago.  You can read my post about that fete here.

So there you have it – a bit of retail therapy or something to add to your “to do” list for your next visit!  Feel free to share your favourite Saint-Chinian shopping experience in the comments section!

Close to you

This past week has been somewhat mixed – our confinement will be ending soon, since Saint-Chinian is in one of France’s green zones where there have been few cases of the virus.  However, this does not mean that our lives will go back to normal – far from it!  Many restrictions will remain in place, and we’re a long way from being out of the woods!

So, since I cannot be close to any of you I went for another walk with my camera, to be close to nature instead!  Below is a map of my walk – it started by the cooperative winery in Saint-Chinian. I wore my sturdy shoes since a part of it was on slightly uneven terrain!  Only a short length of it was somewhat challenging, where the path went uphill, but for the rest it was pretty easy and very enjoyable!

I started the walk by going along the Chemin des Gazels, passing the cemetery and then took a right turn, just past the former distillery, to join up with the Chemin de Sorteilho.  After about 750m on the Chemin de Sorteilho, I turned right onto a somewhat overgrown track.  This track is not marked on any of the maps, but the hut it goes past is marked with a little black speck on the map!  At the top of the track I turned right once again and followed the path back towards the cooperative winery.  The walk was about 2.5 km in length – easy!!

We’ve had wonderful weather over the past weeks, plenty of sunshine, but enough rain to keep nature happy! The wildflowers I saw along my walk were beautiful and here are a few of the pictures I took:

The hut I walked past during the uphill part of my walk had been abandoned some years ago.  The door was missing, and the inside was strewn with all kinds of rubbish.  The roof was still intact and from one of the beams hung an enormous wasps nest!!  It was very well preserved, so might have been built only last year?  I would never have been able to go anywhere near it if it had still been occupied!!

Just before I reached the first of the ponds which are by the side of the path, I noticed the mushrooms in the pictures below.  They were incredibly well camouflaged amongst the rocks!  What a shame that they were not truffles!! 🙂

I hope you enjoyed this walk – you’ll be able to follow it yourself on your next visit to Saint-Chinian!!

I leave you with a video of Karen Carpenter singing Close to you…