Cordials for Summer

August 5, 2009 § Leave a comment

Making elderflower cordial has become an annual event in our household with the arrival of the heady scented elderflower blooms in June heralding the beginning of summer.  I first tasted elderflower cordial at the smart London wedding of our friends Tim and Laura Davis some 17 years ago.  At last, a refreshing non alcoholic drink to suit an adult palate! I’ve been drinking it every summer since and have now settled on my favourite recipe which I discovered in Thane Prince’s slim but inspiring volume “Summer Cook”.

This year, inspired by the taste of the perfumed scarlet syrup remaining after making a summer pudding I tried out a new addition to the range – raspberry and redcurrant cordial.  Diluted with ice cold still or sparkling water they make lovely summer drinks and making your own is less expensive and more satisfying than buying a pricy branded bottle from the supermarket.

I am pleased to say I have been asked for the recipe for both cordials this year.  The recipes follow, as does a picture below.  You will see  that I recycle old wine and spirit bottles when bottling the cordial.  The Stolichnaya is not all it seems…

Recipe for elderflower cordial


1 kg (2.25 lb) sugar
1.8 litres (3 pints) water
2 well scrubbed lemons
2 well scrubbed oranges
about 20 large elderflower heads
60g (2 oz) citric acid

Note on citric acid:  this is becoming increasingly difficult to find but the more old-fashioned kind of chemist will usually have some in stock or be prepared to order it for you. Citric acid is used both as an aid to injecting heroin and also in the manufacture of the explosive HMTD so be prepared to answer the pharmacist’s questions when you go in to buy it!

Make a sugar syrup by dissolving the sugar in the water in a preserving pan and boiling for 5 minutes.

Chop the whole fruit into 2.5 cm (1 inch) chunks and add to the hot syrup along with the flowerheads.  Do not wash the flowerheads, just shake out any insects.  Stir in the citric acid, cover the pan and leave in a cool dark place for 4 days to infuse.  Strain off the syrup (I do this using a muslin lined sieve) pour into spotlessly clean bottles and cap.

I have found that the cordial has improved keeping qualities if pasteurised.  This is simple to do.  Place the uncapped bottles in a preserving pan filled with water.  Bring to boil then simmer for 15 minutes.  Cap bottles while still hot.

Recipe for raspberry and redcurrant cordial

This is my own invention which I put together after checking out a few recipes I found on the web for various fruit cordials.


5lb mixed redcurrants and raspberries
granulated sugar
2-3 lemons

Put whatever quantity of fruit is available to you into an appropriately sized pan.  I used approximately  5 lb fruit in total,  2/3 redcurrants and 1/3 raspberries.  Just cover with water and boil gently for 15 minutes.  Don’t boil for too long or too fiercely otherwise you will end up with a jelly rather than a cordial.  Allow to cool and strain off the liquid.  Measure the liquid back into a clean pan. Add 1/2 lb sugar and the juice of 1 lemon for each pint of liquid.  Bring the mixture to the boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar, then boil for 3 minutes. Pour into sterilised bottles.  Store in a cool dark place.  Pasteurise if you like by standing the filled uncapped bottles in a preserving pan filled with water then bringing the water to the boil, allowing it to simmer for 15 minutes and capping the bottles while still hot.

Breakfast in Afghanistan

July 28, 2009 § 1 Comment

Breakfast is a big event in our household but lately the house breakfast of bacon, fried egg, Mediterranean fried bread and baked beans has seemed a little staid and over familiar.  Earlier this summer we (me, husband Tim and sons George and Arthur) hit upon the idea of eating our way through breakfasts of the world beginning with A for Afghanistan and working our way through all 100 and odd countries on George’s flag poster right through to Z for Zambia.

What do Afghans eat for breakfast?  First stop Amazon whence Helen Saberi’s helpful and concise book “Afghan Food & Cookery” published by Hippocrene was swiftly despatched.

The national drink is tea, chai, and Ms Saberi says “it is consumed in great quantities and I must say both the green and black tea are excellent”.  I was tempted by the extraordinary sounding recipe for qymaq chai tea with clotted cream but in the end opted for a green tea flavoured with cardamon, with added sugar and milk.

NeverthelessI can’t resist quoting a paragraph on qymaq chai which is “a special tea prepared for formal occasions, such as engagements or weddings.  It is made with green tea and by the process of aeration and the addition of baking soda the tea turns dark red.  Milk is added (and sugar too) and it becomes a purply-pink colour.  It has a strong rich taste.  Qymaq, the luxury cream-like product is floated on the top.  My husband, who is very poetic and very homesick, likens the color of the tea to the rosy-hued glow of the mountains in Afghanistan as the sun rises or sets.  The qymaq represents the white snowcapped peaks.”

How’s that for a weird sounding brew and a great bit of purple prose!

With our standard Afghan tea we ate Roht, a round sweet flat bread which Ms Saberi says is often eaten for breakfast with tea or hot milk.  The recipe is given below.  Some apricots (Ms Saberi notes that the Panjshir valley is particularly noted for its apricot trees), pistachio nuts (for which the region of Herat is famous) and thick plain yoghurt completed the meal.

The end result was a fragrant and unusual breakfast and as a result I am tempted by many of the other recipes in Ms Saberi’s book, for example aush pasta with yogurt, chickpeas, kidney beans and minced meat on page 82 and the intriguing-sounding abrayshum or silk kebab on page 256.

Next stop for breakfast Albania – can’t wait!

Recipe for Roht – Afghan sweet flatbread

This recipe comes from Helen Saberi’s “Afghan Food & Cooking”.  Ms Saberi attributes the recipe in turn to her friend Aziza Ashraf.  I learned something new about the nigella seeds or sia dona which I quote: “These small black seeds, which can be bought under the name kalonji in an Asian grocery, are a confusing item because some people call them black onion seeds although they have nothing to do with onions.  They are also confused with caraway seeds.  Another mistake is to call them black cumin seeds, as true cumin seeds come from a different plant.  Sia dona come from the plant Nigella sativa and are sometimes called nigella seeds.”


1 and 1/2 pounds (5 and 1/4 cups) all purpose flour
2 level teaspoons of baking powder
1 pack quick rise yeast
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1 and 1/2 cups sugar
3/4 cup warm water
1 egg, beaten
1 level tablespoon yoghurt
sia dona (nigella seeds)
sesame seeds

Mix together the flour, baking powder, yeast and cardamom.  Warm the oil in a small pan, then add to the flour and rub together for a few minutes.  Add the sugar to the warm water and gradually add to the flour, mixing well.  Now add the egg (reserving a little for glazing) and the yogurt.  Mix well and knead into a quite soft dough for about 5 minutes.  Cover with a cloth and leave in a warm place for about an hour or so.

Meanwhile preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

Divide the dough into two and roll out each on a floured surface into a round of about 1/2-inch thickness.  Prick all over with a fork, glaze with the reserved egg and sprinkle the top with the sia dona and sesame seeds according to your fancy.

Place on a slightly oiled or greased baking tray and bake in the hot oven for about 15 minutes until risen, golden brown and cooked through.  (If the top is browning too quickly, turn down the heat and cook on the lower heat for a little longer.)

Remove from the oven and place in a warm tea towel or plastic bag to stop the bread drying out too much.

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