Sunday, 30 September 2012

Poitiers, City of Churches

Yesterday we had a treat.

One of our neighbours has lived here all of her life, and in fact her family has lived in the same house for generations.  She works for the city giving guided tours to all age groups.

What she doesn't know about Poitiers, is not worth knowing....

She very kindly offered to take a few of the neighbours on a guided tour in the afternoon. Something that we all jumped at!

We walked around a small section of the city for over two and a half hours and she had us captivated for the whole time.  Incredible stories and fascinating "extra" information that is not usually found in the books about Poitiers.  It was fabulous! 

In fact it was soo good that I forgot to take photos most of the time.....ooops.

The top picture is from Notre Dame la Grande.  The sculpture is fabulous, and having been restored fairly recently, it is in great condition. 

Poitiers is known as the city of churches as it has so many of them.  Below is a detail from another cathedral we visited.  It is undergoing restoration, and looking beautiful in the late evening sunshine.

Jeanne d'Arc is one of the patrons of this area of France, and statues commemorating her life and deeds can be found everywhere.  She is also a popular subject for stained glass windows.  This one dates from more modern times, but is still very beautiful.

As it was late in the day and the sun was low in the sky, we had beautiful views of the stained glass in the churches.  An added bonus was the wash of colour across the floors from the windows, and the somber interiors and darkened aspect.  Very atmospheric!

Sunday, 16 September 2012


How I love this tree.  It is attractive all year round in itself, has beautiful blossom in spring, and gorgeous dark purple berries in late summer/autumn.

Perhaps one of the best things is that the beautiful creamy coloured blossoms smell divine, and can be used in many ways.  Some people pick the blossom and dip them in a tempura batter and fry to make elderflower fritters.  Others sprinkle the flowers on desserts as decoration.  Myself, I prefer elderflower cordial.  Refreshing and aromatic, it is perfect in fizzy water on a hot day.  We won't talk about elderflower champagne.....

The part of the annual cycle that really gets me interested however is the berries.  Dark, glossy and deep deep purple, they are reminiscent of polished jet beads, or maybe tiny black pearls.  Absolutely gorgeous to look at, and even better to eat.

Unfortunately the stems and leaves of elder are poisonous, so it is vitally important to prepare the flowers or berries properly.  Also, all berries must be completely ripe - no green ones!  They are poisonous too.

Each berry contains a rather large seed (for the size of the fruit), which is rather unpalateable.  It is best to prepare them in such a way that the seeds are excluded from the finished product.  Yes, this means straining I am afraid.... the most time consuming part of playing in the kitchen.

There are four ways in which I like to prepare the berries.  A jelly, cordial, syrup and a booze.  Recipes for the drinks to follow.  Jelly recipe saved for another time.  Sorry.  I cannot tell you where these recipes come from.  Really they are a melange of recipes and ideas that I have read in various sources and tinkered with till they suit my taste.  Apologies to those that I have read and now cannot remember to give credit to.

Elderberry Cordial (medicinal)
1kg ripe berries, destemmed carefully
1 cup water
6 cloves
good piece of ginger, peeled, sliced and bruised
500g sugar

Boil the berries and water for 30mins.  If you think it is not enough water to start with, add half a cup more before boiling.
Mash the berries and seive to capture all the seeds and skins.
Return liquid to pan and add rest of ingredients
Simmer for 1 hour
Strain ginger and cloves from liquid
Store in a cool dark place

Take 1 teaspoon of liquid every 2 hours for a cough.  Alternatively, mix a tablespoon of liquid with boiling water and sip for a cold or sinus relief.

Depending on sweetness of berries, you may not need the whole amount of sugar.  Taste liquid before adding.
I usually strain out the ginger pieces, but leave in the cloves.
The amount of ginger depends on the strength of it.  I usually add a thumb sized piece of reasonably strong ginger.

Elder Syrup
1kg berries
4 cups water
500g sugar
juice of half a lemon

boil berries and water for 20mins
mash and sieve well
return liquid to pan and add sugar and boil 15mins
add lemon juice and stir well
bottle and store in fridge

Elder Liquer
In a clean glass jar (I use a massive le parfait jar) place destemmed berries to 2/3 of way up sides.
Add vodka or another flavourless clear alcohol to within a cm or so of top of jar
Shake gently and place in a cool dark cupboard
Gently shake every week or so for up to 6 weeks
Filter out the berries and replace the liquid in the jar
Let rest for 2 months before drinking

Thank you to Sheila over at the blog love and wild honey for prompting me to post these recipes.