I love this time of year. It’s a complete sensual overload. Visually – a riot of colour with poppies in obscene red competing with the bright yellows of gorse and buttercup and a variety of blues, pinks and purples all on a background of every shade of green. The sounds – the air is full of birdsong, most I don’t recognise, except for the chattering of the swallows (the quintessential Italian bird, competing with the early news exchange of the neighbours), the cuckoo of the … what bird did that again… and the hammering of the woodpeckers; and down by the river the frogs are giving an open-air concert. The smells – Everything is bursting into flower and the fragrant smells of the elderflower and the gorse mingle with the marjoram, lemon balm, thyme and mint crushed under foot; around the corner the warm spicy waft of some curry plant (unfortunately virtually useless as a culinary herb), and all this almost drowned out by the persistent perfume of jasmine. And finally the tastes – Everything tastes so fresh and new. We have today harvested our first new season peas and broad beans. And then the much-ignored elderflower. We’ve been eating elderflower fritters for dessert the last few days and have a couple of batches of simple elderflower Champagne (or more like elderflower Prosecco) on the go.
On that I’ll share my elderflower recipes with you:
About 6 heads of elderflower
2 tbsp flour
1 tbsp sugar
35 ml cold water
Olive oil for frying
Heat the oil in a frying pan. Mix the egg, flour, sugar and water into a batter. Dip the flowers into the batter, then upside down into the hot oil. While one side is cooking cut off the worst of the stalks with scissors. Turn and finish cooking the other side. Lovely, light, easy and cheap dessert.
Simple Elderflower Prosecco:
Makes about 1 gallon / 4.5 litres
About 15 heads of Elderflower
Grated zest and juice of one large lemon
4.5 litres of warm water
Use the flowers as fresh as possible mix together with all the other ingredients in a large bowl. Cover and leave in a warm place for 24 hours. Drain and bottle in plastic pet bottles (glass may explode), closing them securely with srewcaps. No yeast needs to be added, as they are present on the flowers. Leave in a warm place for another 2 weeks, then drink within 3 weeks. It is light in alcohol, sparkling and very refreshing.
The other great thing about this time of year is, it’s the beginning of the festa season. Last weekend we went to the Sagra dei Muscolo Ripieno (the festival of the stuffed mussel) in Marolo, just outside La Spezia. The season for mussels is said to be only on months without an ‘r’ in it, so we are just at the start of it and Marolo is right next to the sea, so couldn’t be any fresher. From now on until September / October there is some village fest or another on virtually every weekend. We’d love to give them all a go, but we wouldn’t get around doing any real work and we probably would end up big fat blobs!
The weather as you may have gathered from my spring anthems has been glorious. Yesterday was new moon, so today it was sowing time again. I’ve sown sweet corn, courgettes, various lettuces, radishes, climbing beans and dwarf runner beans at Arcola today. Most other things are doing well.
Incidentally, anyone know what is wrong with my recently planted peaches and what I can do to save them? The leaves go all red and curl up. There is no evidence of insects. It’s not an isolated case, I’ve seen quite a few in the area suffering from the same problem. We have a couple of wild apricots, which seem to be more resistant to the problem, although they are also affected.