26 May 2009

Elderflower or Sambuco Syrup

It's elderflower season again.
The valley is flush with monstrous lacy white whorls of flowers, weighting down the branches of this sometimes maligned understory tree. Considered by some to be just a bothersome weed of a tree, as it has a lot of tiny blue seedy berries, that will stain your car and driveway and if the little darling birds leave you pressies, well... you get the picture, but I am rather fond of them myself. It's such a fragrant flower too. The flowers remind me of a plant, Queens Anne's Lace, that was abundant where I grew up in southern Illinois.
I think it is a wonderful tree, as there are quite a variety of things you can do with the abundance of flowers and fruit. We make fruit jam in the autumn that is reminiscent of blackberry jam and syrup from the flowers in the spring. I must say that I didn't really get introduced to the wonders of this plant until I started working in Slovenia and Austria and was introduced to the wonderful world of cordials that make a refreshing drink from a combination of sparkling water and various fruit and flowery syrups. There were so many varieties. In the mountain houses you could always count on some type of flavor to make the already tasty mountain water just that much more exciting.
So when I found we had quite a few trees here in our neighborhood, I went in search of a recipe. This was a few years back and I couldn't find much on the Internet, except for a simple recipe with out too many instructions. I mad a few critical mistakes the first few times i tried it, but each time I keep refining the process along the way. It really is quite easy to make, just a bit difficult to know exactly the proportions of flowers to use for a batch, but it is pretty forgiving. I did find a blog post with step by step photo instructions here, a year or so back that is pretty helpful. I hadn't tried the sterilizing of the bottles until this year when one of my guests left me his resealable beer bottles with the comment that his mother uses them for here elderflower syrup. Ah hah, a seemingly good alternative to my clear bottles that I have had trouble getting sterile and thereby losing some of the precious liquid due to a film of mold forming on the surface. I think this year I will have better success with this method, as the dark bottles are very good at discouraging the little bothersome mold issue.
I love to use the syrup as a nice addition to our fruit compote that we make in the mornings for breakfast or other times. It gives a nice little extra something that is usually appreciated. I have a feeling you'll find all kinds of other uses for it as well. It is purported to be good for coughs and sore throats as well. We usually go through the stuff pretty quickly as we continue to find all sorts of uses. I think you will too.
The photos of our trees are from last year, as our trees have still yet to flower. Our mountain trees are some of the last to bloom. I thought that most of you out there may have already had the season come and go, but there still might be time to put a little away. Make sure you don't deplete your supply too much as you will want to make jam in the late summer and leave some for the birds as well.

Elderflower and immature elderberries

Elderflower/ Sambuco Syrup

2.5 kg sugar
1.5 liters water

Bring the sugar and water just to a boil to dissolve the sugar.
Remove from heat. I let it cool slightly before I added the flowers and peel

25 elder flowers, cleaned* ( I counted them as the whorl on the stem and used very large ones)
6 lemon peels, grated into the syrup.
Let stand for 2-3 days before straining into sterilized** bottles.
I strained the syrup through a cheese cloth lined strainer and then decant into sterilized bottles.

Store in a cool dark place.
I usually try to use it all before next years crop comes in.

This reipce can easily be doubled, but I find the smaller batch easier to manage.
*Clean the flowers by plunging them into cool water. You will lose a lot of pollen, but also dust and bugs. I cut the large stem and most of the stem as I could off as I felt like it added a strong stemy taste to it final product.
**I used his method of sterilizing them by heating them in an oven at 150*C/300* F for 10 minutes. I was a bit skeptical at first, but with these heavy duty bottles and the metal and stopper parts removed, I tried it and it seems to have worked just fine, no breakage.
I let them cool before filling.

This years yield

21 May 2009

Giro d'Italia races through Val Chisone

Tuesday saw the 100th anniversary edition of the Giro d' Italia stage come hurtling down Val Chisone, at the bottom of our road, past Bella Baita's perch up in the hills, on it's way to the Pinerolo finish line. Like the racers the race continues on for me as well. After the finish of one stage then it's on to the next. We've had a very active May and this years race brought us mostly cycling enthusiasts here to see the race up close and personal.
For those of you not familiar with the Giro d'Italia bike race, or more affectionately known as the "Giro", is Italy's version of the Tour de France, a grueling long distance series of stages, over 3,00o km long, that will test the mettle of even the fittest. The Giro has often been a warm up race for many Tour de France racers, although, many have shied away from it as being too testing and not enough recovery time between the end of this race and the French race. That was always the reason given for Lance Armstrong not competing in this race. So, this year we find Lance in the line up, working to support his team, in spite of a nasty fall just a few weeks back. I have to wonder if our enquiries for this time period have something to do with Lance's presence bringing the race to a broader audience.

We enjoyed the day at the finish in Pinerolo with some of our guests and friends. There was a variety of activities going on, the sun was shining, and so a good time was had by all. The big screen TV was great to be able to follow along the route, when there were so many great places to watch the competition and of course, we couldn't be in all of them.
Later on that evening it was entertaining to hear everyone's stories of the day and their various vantage points of the race. The Giro is almost half over, but you can still follow along or have a look at the different stages on Wandering Italy's 2009 map of the Giro. If you want to see what one of our guests had to say about staying with us during the Giro, or if you enjoy learning more about what all there is to do and see in Italy, Go Italy is a great place to start, or Go Europe for a broader view.

I have a lot of posts piling up with some recipes coming shortly, I promise.

14 May 2009

Funky Sneakers

When I saw these at the market the other day, they stopped me dead in my tracks as gave them a good look and whipped out my camera.

Yes, these look like your average fashionably colorful converse style sneakers, but then when you get a closer look, you see they take on a new angle on an old favorite.

High heeled sneakers, tennis shoes, trainers, or what every you call them.
I call them funky and fun
with lots of Attitude!

Probably won't be buying a pair as I am not much of a high heeled girl. They get stuck in the dirt or between the stone path to our house, let alone my penchant for twisting an ankle, but I must say they hold a certain allure. Would you make room in your closet for these?

12 May 2009

Garden Angels at the Mercato

If you were looking for those wooden angels to put in your garden or maybe some people dressed up to hover around picking off potato bugs or slugs from your garden, then I must say this post will disappoint.

If you are like me and have a small garden plot or limited seed starting area and you find yourself wanting to put in a garden now, or perhaps you don't have the inclination to start all those seeds inside, watering, tending, fussing; then head straight to our Pinerolo market in the spring and you'll find what I have come to think of as garden angels. These folks have just about every variety of seedlings you might need to get your garden going, pronto. Yes, you can usually find hardy little seedlings in their pots for 10 to 20 cents a piece, but then you have all of those black pots to deal with. Fortunately, some of the people I buy flowers from will readily take them back, but my experience in the states was that they would not reuse them as they didn't want to or couldn't sterilize them for another season. Then you will have all those containers to haul to the recycle center. Happily, I have found several people at the market that are happy to reuse them. I also have them entertained because I always bring along my canvas bag or two full of the plastic bags you collect along the way with your purchases and I try to not collect new ones if at all possible. Not always possible, but it's a good start. Apparently, I am a bit of an oddity,(but you already knew that, didn't you?) as I recycle my way through the market every week with my ample supply of used plastic bags. I'm sure I'm getting the enviable name as a "bag lady", but at least I bring a chuckle, smile or a perplexed look to their face, if my style of purchasing is new to them. I do get a fair share of, "Brava" as well, and it keeps the plastic bags at bay.
But I digress, yet again.

The real beauty of this style of seedlings is that they are all bare rooted and fairly large, so you get a good jump on your "insta garden" including flowers all for pennies. They range in prices from 5 cents to 15 cents each and can fill in nicely, especially if you have a small little plot. I find that I am not always able to use up a full packet of seeds if I want to have a variety of plants in my little plot. I fill in my empty spots, as our season is always a few weeks behind everyone else in the valley and it gives me a quick jump to the season as I wait for my seedlings to grow up and take over. It's a nice balance and I have come to enjoy my help from my market garden angels. Do you have any helpful garden tips from your part of the world?
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