Thursday, May 21, 2015

Brewing tasty May beverages

So, I went out for a long stomp yesterday afternoon in the Marcite, and was specifically looking for more cleavers. I usually collect up a bunch of it about this time every year, dry it and use it for a tea that's supposed to be anti-cancer and helpful to the lymphatic system. It's quite nice with nettle and chamomile and I'm nearly out.

Well, as usually happens when you go shopping, I ended up coming home with everything but. It turns out that sambucca, that the English call Elder and Linnaeus (and Pliny) called Sambucus nigra, is extremely abundant here. I mean, forests of the stuff, and it's all in bloom right now. I had no idea how lovely it smells! And there are cartloads of it out there.

The Elder, with its flat-topped masses of creamy-white, fragrant blossoms, followed by large drooping bunches of purplish-black, juicy berries, is a familiar object in English countryside and gardens. It has been said, with some truth, that our English summer is not here until the Elder is fully in flower, and that it ends when the berries are ripe.

The word 'Elder' comes from the Anglo-Saxon word aeld. In Anglo-Saxon days we find the tree called Eldrun, which becomes Hyldor and Hyllantree in the fourteenth century. One of its names in modern German - Hollunder - is clearly derived from the same origin. In Low-Saxon, the name appears as Ellhorn. Æld meant 'fire,' the hollow stems of the young branches having been used for blowing up a fire: the soft pith pushes out easily and the tubes thus formed were used as pipes - hence it was often called Pipe-Tree, or Bore-tree and Bour-tree, the latter name remaining in Scotland and being traceable to the Anglo-Saxon form, Burtre.

The generic name Sambucus occurs in the writings of Pliny and other ancient writers and is evidently adapted from the Greek word Sambuca, the Sackbut, an ancient musical instrument in much use among the Romans, in the construction of which, it is surmised, the wood of this tree, on account of its hardness, was used. The difficulty, however, of accepting this is that the Sambuca was a stringed instrument, while anything made from the Elder would doubtless be a wind instrument, something of the nature of a Pan-pipe or flute. Pliny records the belief held by country folk that the shrillest pipes and the most sonorous horns were made of Elder trees which were grown out of reach of the sound of cock-crow. At the present day, Italian peasants construct a simple pipe, which they call sampogna, from the branches of this plant.

Well, what do you do, if you're English, with lots and lots of elderflower?

You make elderflower champagne... durrr...

I could have brought home a houseful, and I think it's finally time to go down to the garden centre and buy me some a them really huge galvanized buckets. I'm gonna need a bale of cheesecloth too. Maybe I'll see how my mosquito nets work. And I'm going to get some of the bottles with the lever-caps too.

The monks gave me a little packet of leftover yeast from their last brew. 200 g will do me for a whole season's worth of brews. I'm looking at mead ("idromele") recipes and of course, the sambuca will produce a huge crop of berries in the late summer/early autumn, so there's going to be loads of elderberry cordial and maybe I'll try my hand at elderberry wine.

I might also have to buy another big metal shelving unit and put it in the workroom/spare room to store all this stuff.



Gerald said...

I was at a medieval festival in Norfolk last weekend, and in between watching cobblers, dressmakers, potters, embroiderers, glassmakers, illuminators and others go about their work, a lovely young lady gave sold me some of her scrumptious wild blueberry tart and a cordial made with elderflowers and rose petals.

Mmm, I felt like I was drinking Ent-draught! I also listened to plenty of medieval music and picked up a couple of pewter replicas of pilgrim's badges from an artisan (I got those holy blissful martyrs St Thomas Becket and St Edmund).

The festival was not only a delight, it was wholesome and it was human. It was Real. Get closer to the land and to lore, and you get closer to the Lord.

Wendy in VA said...

Oh my. I'm hoping to plant some elder this fall -- we love elderberry tea, and use elderberry syrup to help boost the immune system and fight off the flu. I hadn't thought of champagne...

Hilary Jane Margaret White said...

Don't ingest any other parts of the plant though, either leaves or stems. It's toxic. Not enough to kill you, but it's not good for you at all. Just the flowers and berries. and if you use the berries, make sure you cook them first. They're mildly toxic raw.

Jovan-Marya Weismiller, T.O.Carm. said...

Glad somebody mentioned elderflower tea! My Grandmother used to collect the flowers, dry them, and make tea when anyone had a cold. Excellent!