Monday 28 October 2013

Physic for Florentina

Some of my readers will be aware my mother has suffered from numerous small strokes and is now bedridden. She is practically blind and unable to communicate most of the time. Two carers visit my parents’ home four times a day to keep her comfortable. My father feeds her and is her constant companion.

Her main carer is Florentina,  who comes from Eastern Europe, as do most of her fellow workers. The majority are competent, kind and compassionate and have built up a good rapport with my father, who soon discovers their life story and special interests.

When Chris and I were staying at the farm a few weeks ago, Florentina had gone down with a nasty cold. The Saturday was a workshop day, so while others were busy digging roots and making willow wands, I picked a bowlful of elderberries to make Florentina a cordial.

The fruits were simmering on the cooker when the carers came at five o’clock. They are used to me cooking when they come into the kitchen to log in and log out on the telephone. Sometimes they ask what I’m preparing and once how I made the cheese sauce for macaroni cheese. They usually say it smells good and I know their access to home cooked meals of any kind is rare as they are on the road from 6am to 10pm travelling the length and breadth of the North Cotswolds dealing with clients.

By their final visit at 7.30pm, the cordial was bottled and labelled. Both carers tasted it and were pleasantly surprised, especially Lucas, the young 6’2” Slovakian who was very unsure about tasting anything homemade labelled medicine! They took a bottle for Florentina and thought they might be able to get it to her the following day via a new worker who lived in her house and who would be observing with one of them.

The next morning Lucas told me Florentina was surprised and delighted with her gift. He said he had “taken five minutes” to drive to Florentina’s house and deliver it personally so she could have it straight away – a kindness which really touched me.

Thanks to the cordial, Florentina was able to return to work the next day and was full of praise for the cordial. Apparently everyone in her shared house had tried it and she had told all her clients about it. One of the clients asked for the recipe, so when we were down at the farm last Thursday I took the recipe with me.

It’s strange how you make something and when you look at the recipes you possess, you realise they bare little relation to the ingredients and methods you used. I’ve posted several recipes for elderberry cordial in the past but here is another one.

Elderberry Syrup
Gather a large bowl full of ripe elderberries and remove the small berries from the stems with a fork. Place the berries in a large, heavy bottomed saucepan with a large handful of ripe rosehips and some blackberries if you have them. Add one inch of root ginger (grated), half a nutmeg (grated), sliced orange or lemon peel and one cinnamon quill broken up or some cassia bark. Cover with three pints of water (1.5 litres) and simmer for thirty minutes with a lid on the saucepan. (If the rosehips are not cooked, simmer for longer until they are soft.)

Mash everything in the saucepan with a potato mashed then strain the liquid into a large bowl or jug, using a wooden spoon to get as much of the pulp of the fruit as you can. Alternatively you can strain through a piece of muslin and squeeze the muslin firmly.

Wash the saucepan. Measure the liquid you have strained and then put it back in the saucepan.  Find the glass bottles you are going to store the cordial in and sterilise them in the oven for ten minutes on 100 degrees Centigrade. Sterilise the bottle caps by boiling in water for 10 minutes if they are metal. For every pint (0.5L) of liquid, add 1 lb (0.45Kg) of sugar to the saucepan. Bring to the boil, stirring continuously until all the sugar has dissolved. If you want a thick syrup, evaporate the liquid until it reaches a syrupy consistency. (This is not essential.)  Pour into sterilised bottles and cap immediately. Label and date. This should keep unopened in a cool dark place for over a year. Store in the fridge once opened.

Dose: 1 tablespoon three times a day for an adult. I dessertspoon three times a day for a child. Use for any kind of virus, especially influenza. Alternatively, take 1tsp every day during the cold season to build immunity.

As a cordial: Use 1-2 tablespoons in a mug of boiling water with freshly squeezed lemon juice and enjoy.

The fruit harvest this year has been bountiful; a welcome change from the dearth last year. I’ve made redcurrant and apple jelly, raspberry jam, plum jam, damson jam, damson, apple and blackberry jelly and jam, crabapple jelly and a plethora of quince jelly. The freezer is full of various berries and apple sauce yet the tree is still laden with huge red cooking apples. I’ve never seen them quite so large or so red.

Today I have turned a basketful of windfalls into sugarless applesauce to make muffins and several bottles of spiced apple cordial. I’ve used the same method as for apple jelly and it produces a very pleasant hot drink or could be poured over ice cream.

Spiced apple cordial
Enough windfalls to fill a 5pt saucepan ¾ full once washed and quartered (Don’t peel or core)
Diced fresh orange peel from 1 orange
A small handful of cassia bark or 1 cinnamon quill
1/5 a nutmeg grated
8-10 cloves
3 pints of water
1” root ginger either diced or grated (I meant to add this but forgot!)
Place everything in the saucepan and simmer for about half an hour until the apples are completely soft. Strain through a jelly bag or muslin, squeezing to release as much apple as you feel like adding to the juice. (You might want to leave everything to cool before you start squeezing the bag otherwise you could burn yourself!) Clean the saucepan. Measure the liquid and add 1lb of sugar for every pint of liquid. Bring to the boil then pour into sterilised bottles. Seal when hot, label and date.