wildflowers in field corner

Nature printing with summer plants

My daily walk usually takes me down the track that runs through the middle of the farm through Little Forest field and Great Forest field into Grove Field and down to The Ley. The hedgerow next to the track is filled with many different species as well as trees such as oak, ash and field maple. A ditch runs beside the hedge and a margin of native wildflowers and grasses separate it from the crop. This green corridor links up with others, providing a network through the fields for insects and animals and also acts as a wildlife larder with nectar supporting butterflies and other insects while berries and seeds providing food for birds and small mammals.

This green space is also a great resource for humans too. Throughout the year, I look for flowers and berries that we can eat from the early spring violets to the sloes picked in the winter, there’s usually something I have my eye on. We make wreaths from the willow trees that line the ditch and use some of the plants for natural dyeing.

My attempts at natural dyeing have been mixed, with rather too much beige, but as I like the idea of extracting colour from plants, I decided to see if it was possible to get any colour from them onto paper by trying some nature printing.

Mayweed leaves printed with no ink, just natural colour from the plant

Mayweed leaves printed with no ink, just natural colour from the plant

We started by laying our leaves and flowers on an old drypoint plastic plate over which we laid a piece of damp paper and then ran them through the press. There were some successes but several were a bit disappointing and you may not be surprised to learn that there was quite a lot of beige. Lavender heads, marjoram leaves, ladies’ bedstraw and mayweed flowers all printed a dingy brown.

fat hen leaves nature print

Fat hen leaves printed with no ink, just natural colour from plant

Soft leaves like fat hen squished out colour in all directions though walnut and sweet chestnut leaves yielded no colour but left a beautiful imprint. Flag iris flowers and buttercups printed yellow while rose petals and red poppies printed purple. Raspberries, even in miniscule quantities, squirted juice in all directions and the pips made deep imprints in the paper.

Mayweed leaves nature print

Mayweed leaves printed with ink, though the natural colour still comes through

It was all a bit hit and miss, so we decided to ink the leaves to see what effects we could get. I tried inking with a roller and dabbing on with a sponge but didn’t find it very satisfactory so resorted to my good old jelly plate. I found the easiest way was to roll out the ink on the jelly plate, lay the plant material on top and then smooth over a piece of newsprint. The inked plant could then be lifted from the jelly plate and laid ink side up on the plastic plate before running through the press using dry paper.  It turns out that if you put it ink side down then you don’t get much of a print. But at least I only did that once.

vetch leaf nature print

Vetch leaf printed with ink with a little natural colour showing

Inking the leaves is far more reliable and of course you can use a variety of vibrant colours (no beige). Using  fresh leaves means the plants still release a little colour when they go through the press and anything too delicate can’t be re-inked because it just falls to pieces.

Inked vetch leaf printed on old book page

Inked vetch leaf printed on old book page

It was good to play around with the leaves but the uninked prints are a little insipid and the press rather flattens the plants, even if does add depth when the stems and veins leave an imprint so I think I shall probably carry on making my nature prints with my jelly plate.

Whichever technique you use, the good thing about nature printing is that you don’t need any great skills. There’s no drawing or painting, you don’t need to cut out lino or a stencil. At its most basic, you just need to grab a leaf, add some ink with a bit of sponge or press it into a stamping ink pad and then lay it on a piece of paper and apply pressure. At this time of year, there’s so many leaves around that it seems a shame not to give it a go.

rose from English country garden

Roses in the garden and the kitchen

When I first planned my garden, top of my list were roses. Exuberant, scented roses. No formal standard roses. No apricot or yellow coloured roses. Just climbers, ramblers and bushy roses.

rose Pleine de Grace

Pleine de Grace

In my head, I envisaged them tumbling over arches with glimpses beyond of borders overflowing with roses, lavender, hollyhocks and catmint. The reality has been a little different. I’m not a good gardener. One of the climbing roses was planted in what amounted to little more than a bed of hoggin because I was too lazy to dig out a bigger hole and fill it lovingly with decent dirt, though surprisingly, the rose has thrived. My attitude to pruning is all or nothing, which means some bushes are tangled and overgrown while others seem a rather odd shape.

Rose The Generous Gardener

The Generous Gardener

The border (note the singular) does indeed contain a chaotic mix of roses and other plants and for one brief week each summer it looks wonderful. Best of all though is the smell. I can ignore the aphids and put up with prickles just for the joy of breathing in the heady fragrance of the roses.

Each year, I try to capture a little of that summer goodness. I pick the flowers in the morning before the sun blazes down on them, give them a shake to dislodge any insects lurking within and take them inside.

The flowering of the first roses coincides with the elder flowers, so the two are combined to make Rose and Elderflower cordial or Rose and Elderflower marshmallows. Later in summer, I add a few rose petals to my normal lemon cordial recipe to turn it a pretty pink colour with just a vague hint of rose flavour.

This year, following an exchange of emails and packages with Elizabeth, I’ve revived my interest in making bitters and developed a new enthusiasm for making tonic water. Before you harrumph and mutter about perfectly good tonic water being available to buy (this was the response of my family) just hang fire. Elizabeth suggested that I might like to experiment to “… devise tonic water to pair with particular flavoured gins for example a rose tonic with rose gin or blackcurrant leaf tonic, say, with blackcurrant or blackberry gin”. Now, where can you buy tonic water like that?

Before you attempt to make tonic water, you should first read about the potential dangers of homemade tonic water. There’s a good article here that gives the details. http://www.alcademics.com/2014/08/potential-dangers-of-homemade-tonic-water.html  From my limited knowledge, I would advise that you use cinchona bark rather than powder, measure carefully and strain properly.

Rose Petal Tonic Syrup

For home-made tonic water, you first infuse a mixture of flavourings including citrus peel, spices and cinchona bark in water. This is strained, filtered (which takes an age), mixed with a simple syrup and bottled. To drink, you dilute this tonic syrup with still or sparkling water. My first attempt at Rose tonic water was a bit too citrussy so I’m tinkering with the recipe. I suspect I may spend the rest of the summer doing this.

Before Beth picks all my roses for her gin, I shall make my favourite recipes with rose petals and use the rest for flavouring cakes and creamy desserts. If we have many more hot days like this week then the roses won’t be flowering for much longer, so I shall have to be quick.

 

six favourite rose petal recipes

 

 

 

roses and elderflowers

Elder Flower Power

elderflowers

It seems to be a bumper year for elderflowers this year. I don’t know if it’s because each shrub is particularly bountiful or if we have more bushes sprouting up around the farm but the creamy flowers are abundant.

Although best known for its flowers, all parts of the elder have a use. The bark, leaves and berries can be used for dyeing and apparently, if you rub the leaves onto your bare flesh then you’ll keep away the flies and midges. Certainly, the leaves don’t smell particularly nice so it could be true. In autumn, the berries can be used for syrups and wines, chutneys and pontack sauce.  So, don’t pick all the flowers or you won’t have any berries in the autumn.

If you have some elder growing near you, venture forth with a bowl and snip off a few of those saucer shaped blooms to turn into something delicious. Pick the flowers while they’re still creamy coloured and pollen laden and leave them if they’re turning brown. I snip off the heads with scissors and take them home to cut off the big stems, letting the small florets fall into a bowl.

making elderflower and rose cordial

The most obvious thing to do with elderflowers is to make Elderflower Cordial. As well as foraging for your elderflowers, you’ll have to go through the rigmarole of buying citric acid, which involves the pharmacist asking you exactly why you want to buy all those boxes of citric acid. I usually make Rose and Elderflower cordial as the roses are blooming at the same time as the elders and it makes a pretty pink drink. Not that I’m a pretty pink sort of person. But heigh ho, it’s summer so why not? You can find the recipe for Rose and Elderflower cordial here.

elderflower and rose cordial

The cordial can be diluted with still or sparkling water, added to fruit salad or pour it into a glass and top up with sparkling wine. Left forgotten in the bottle, the cordial will start to ferment and add its own sparkle. You can also use the cordial as a flavouring for jellies and sorbets and …

Elderflower and Rose Marshmallows

… marshmallows. I know marshmallows are achingly sweet and of little nutritional worth but home-made ones are a far cry from the plastic bag of marshmallows you buy in the supermarket. Just imagine a dish of these on the table at the end of a meal eaten outside in the sun.

If you want to give it a try, the recipe for these light, delicate puffs of sweetness is below.

You might also be interested in:

Elderflower Fizz

Elderflower Syrup

Elderflower Milk Jelly

Rose & Elderflower Cordial

Elderflower Creams

Rose and Elderflower Marshmallows

Rose and Elderflower Marshmallows

400g granulated sugar

14g powdered gelatine

90ml Rose & Elderflower Cordial

2 tablespoons icing sugar

2 tablespoons cornflour

Smidgeon vegetable oil

Put the powdered gelatine into your food mixer bowl and pour over 100ml of cold water. Give it a quick stir to amalgamate and set to one side to soften (it should look like gloopy wallpaper paste after a few minutes).

Add the granulated sugar to 175ml of cold water in a heavy based saucepan and bring to the boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Then, stop stirring, heat to 113C and take it off the heat.

Moving swiftly to your food mixer, whisk your gelatine mixture on a slow speed and gradually pour the hot sugar syrup into the bowl in a steady stream. When it’s all incorporated, add the rose & elderflower cordial, turn up the speed and whisk for ten to twenty minutes until you have a thick and shiny voluminous mixture that’s beginning to set.

While your mixer is whisking the mixture, lightly grease a baking tin (approx 28cm x 20cm) with vegetable oil, line with parchment paper and lightly oil again. Mix the icing sugar and cornflour together and sieve a teaspoonful over the base and sides of your baking tin.

Quickly pour and scrape the marshmallow mixture into your baking tin, spreading it evenly (a palette knife dipped in boiling water helps) and dust with a little more of the icing sugar and cornflour. If your marshmallow mixture doesn’t reach the top of the baking tin, cover with cling film. Otherwise, lay a piece of baking parchment over the top and be prepared for a slight crust where it dries out. Leave to set in a cool, dry place (not in the fridge) for about two hours.

When set, lay a piece of baking parchment on your work surface and dust with the sugar and cornflour mixture. Turn your baking tin upside down to tip out the marshmallow onto the dusted surface and then peel away the baking parchment. If you remembered to oil the parchment it will come away easily, if not it may be more difficult. Sieve over more sugar and cornflour.

The easiest way I find to divide the marshmallow is to cut a strip and roll it away from the main slab, coating each side with sugar and cornflour and then cut the strip into squares. Toss the squares in the bowl of sugar and cornflour so all the sides are well covered, pop them in an airtight container and keep in a cool, dry place. They’re best eaten within three weeks.