Fuchsia fairy cocktails for lovers

As if we needed another sign that everything that is old is new again (see also, the return of 90s fashion, sexual harrassment, the gender pay gap), learning the ‘secret’ meanings of flowers is apparently in vogue. Yes, just like our Victorian forebears (and generations before them), we are all supposed to be fascinated by the symbolism of floral tributes. This could be for real, or it could be a spurious story cooked up to promote Valentine’s Day flower sales. I’m not convinced either way. That said, I do have to share a floral fact I’ve recently learned: fuchsia flowers and berries are edible. True story.

I’ve long admired fuschias – there was a large, lovely fuschia overhanging the front door at the house I grew up in, and the house I live in now has a dainty miniature bush at the front gate. But it wasn’t until I read this post about foraging by the always-excellent Jane Wrigglesworth that I realised they were edible. While Jane suggests dipping them in tempura batter, I prefer dipping them in something far more refreshing.

Fuchsia fairy cocktails
You can make this with any kind of edible flower, but it’s hard to go past the elegance of a fuchsia. Tiny rosebuds would also be sweet.

The base syrup is useful to have in the fridge and can be used in any kind of drink – use prosecco or sparkling wine, or soda water.

1 cup caster sugar
1/2 cup hot water
3 tsp rosewater

Fuchsia flowers
Gin or vodka
Prosecco or sparkling water

Put the sugar and water in a small pot set over medium heat. Stir until the sugar has dissolved, then let bubble away for a couple of minutes until thick and syrupy. Remove from the heat and let cool completely. Transfer to a glass jar and stir in the rosewater (add more if you like, but it’s best to start with a light hand). Store in the fridge until ready to use.

To make a proper fairy cocktail, put three tiny fuchsia flowers in a champagne glass. Add a tablespoon of syrup and one to two tablespoons gin/vodka. Stir well, then top up with very chilled prosecco, sparkling wine or soda water. Stir gently and serve immediately.

Happy Valentine’s Day x

homemade ginger beer + panaché

If you are lucky enough to live in a hot climate, or at least one where hot summers are guaranteed, you can’t begin to imagine how incredible it is to suddenly be blessed with blazing sunshine and balmy temperatures. After Wellington’s dismal effort last summer (grey skies, rain, wind, occasional flooding), which was so miserable I started seriously considering moving to Auckland or even Hamilton, everything has changed. It’s seriously hot (I’m writing this in a bikini, while eating an ice cream sundae) and I love it all over again. I don’t think I’m the only one. Just before Christmas I bumped into a former Wellingtonian who now lives in Sydney. He was laughing at how relaxed the city and its inhabitants were as a result of the better weather. “Everyone is so happy,” he said, “it’s like we’ve come somewhere completely different!”

There are downsides to this weather – there’s a water ban, so my garden is slowly dying (while my naughty neighbours keep their lawns lush with irrigation systems in a flagrant display of privilege), it’s been too hot to sleep at night and my sourdough making is taking a hit – but I’m not complaining. Instead, I’m off to the beach with a bottle of my icy-cold homemade ginger beer. Here’s how to make it (it will ferment and be ready in super-quick time if you’re similarly blessed with good weather). Happy holidays!

Homemade ginger beer

Makes 1.5 litres

For the syrup:

2/3 cup caster sugar

3cm fresh ginger, finely grated

1 tbsp ground ginger

Finely grated zest and juice of two lemons

1 cup boiling water

For the yeast:

¼ tsp dried yeast

½ tsp sugar

2 tbsp lukewarm water

Make the syrup first by putting the caster sugar, fresh and ground ginger and lemon zest in a bowl. Stir in the boiling water and leave to steep for 10 minutes.

Put the yeast, ½ tsp sugar and warm water in a cup and set aside until it is bubbly.

Set a sieve over a funnel into a clean 1.5 litre plastic soft drink bottle. Pour in the syrup, followed by the lemon juice, pressing down to extract all the syrup from the grated zest and ginger. Fill the bottle with cold tap water until about 5cm from the top. Shake to mix, then add the yeast mixture. Cover tightly with the lid. Leave in a warm place (the kitchen will be warm enough in summer) until the bottle feels hard when you squeeze it. This will take about 24-36 hours. Chill in the fridge before opening.

Once you’ve got the ginger beer made, you can either drink it straight, add it to gin or vodka-based cocktails or use it in this classy shandy…

Ginger panaché

Ginger beer + crisp lager = instantly refreshing pick-me-up. If you’re too cool to be seen drinking a shandy, tell everyone it’s a panaché (that’s what you call a shandy in France).

1 x 375ml bottle lager, very chilled

1 ½ cups (375ml) homemade ginger beer, very chilled

1 lemon, sliced

Ice

Half-fill two tall glasses with ice. Half-fill each one with ginger beer, then top with an equal amount of lager. Stir to mix, garnish with lemon slices and serve immediately. Repeat as necessary with remaining lager and ginger beer. Santé!

Lemon verbena syrup + an elegant fruit salad

Four years ago, not long after my mother died, someone I didn’t know very well left a lemon verbena tree on our doorstep. I found this gesture incredibly touching and kind, not least because my parents’ garden had a huge lemon verbena tree and Mum often made tea from the leaves. I’m not sure if I ever properly thanked her – but Kate, if you’re reading this, I often think of that kindness when I walk past the tree.

The tree has thrived, despite my neglect, but I seldom do anything with the leaves except for the occasional cup of tea. Then, while pottering around in the kitchen a week or so ago, I made this syrup and the whole house smelled like lemon verbena. It was gorgeous.

If you’ve got a lemon verbena tree, make this syrup now to get a dose of that intense lemony sherbet flavour in the depths of winter (or scent your house with it in summer). You can use it in drinks (nice with soda, or with very cold vodka as a kind of martini-ish number), or pour it over vanilla ice cream, or use it in this simple and elegant fruit salad (recipe follows). I’m thinking a lemon verbena sorbet could be next…

Lemon Verbena Syrup

1/2 cup boiling water
1/2 cup caster sugar
1 packed cup lemon verbena leaves

Put the water and sugar in a small pot and set over medium heat. Stir until the sugar has dissolved, then lower the heat and add the lemon verbena. Let bubble gently for five minutes, then remove from the heat and leave to cool.
When the syrup has cooled completely, strain it through a fine sieve into a sterilised bottle or jar. Discard the lemon verbena leaves or use them as a garnish (they will be almost candied). Makes about 1/2 cup.

Simple fruit salad with lemon verbena syrup
2 white-flesh peaches
2 apricots
2 dark-fleshed plums
1 1/2 cups blueberries (or boysenberries)
1/4 cup lemon verbena syrup

Cut all the stonefruit into slim wedges – about eight slices – and put in a bowl. Pour over the syrup and stir gently, then add the berries. This can be done in advance, but I think it’s nicest at room temperature rather than fridge-cold. Serves 4-6.

Kombucha 101: Fermented drinks for beginners

Kombucha – a kind of slightly fizzy fermented tea – is having a moment. 

The drink, which is made from sugar, tea, bacteria and yeast, has been around for centuries, but a resurgence in all things fermented means it’s especially hot right now. There are Facebook groups devoted to sharing ‘scobies’ (the culture needed to make the drink), commercially made versions that sell for up to NZ$20 for a 750ml bottle and loads of forums where devoteees discuss the best kinds of tea and sugar to use. A kombucha bar, with six different kinds of kombucha available on tap, even opened in the hip Sydney neighbourhood of Leichhardt last week. 

Devotees believe kombucha has all sorts of health benefits thanks to its probiotic properties. I’m not in a position to make any claims as to kombucha’s efficacy – it hasn’t cured me of anything or driven me to Instagram my abs on a daily basis – but I do think it’s good for digestion. More importantly, I like the way it tastes, which is my main consideration.

Berry kombucha, brewed in November 2014

I’ve been making my own kombucha since late last year, after receiving a scoby from someone I met via the ‘Fermenting Freaks Forever’ Facebook group. I know it might sound strange to invite a perfect stranger to send you a gelatinous-looking yeast culture in the post, but it’s worked out well. So far I’ve shared the scobies I’ve grown with lots of other strangers – as well as any advice I can give them about brewing the perfect batch. 

If you’re in New Zealand and you’d like a scoby, don’t buy one. Look on Freecycle or Facebook – there is bound to be someone in your community who has some to give away. If you’re in Wellington, feel free to contact me – I have more than I know what to do with.

There’s loads of information available online about how to get started, but a lot of people find it extremely confusing to navigate. Here’s the advice I give to my kombucha recipients – and they’ve all been successful so far.

Continuous brew kombucha (that’s the scoby floating in the tea). Image:Catherine Adam

Kombucha 101

As well as a scoby (which stands for Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast), you’ll need a large glass vessel. I recommend scouring your local op shop for a large jar – like a two-litre gherkin jar, or similar – to see if you like it, before rushing off to invest in a big vessel with a spigot. The latter can be found in most homewares stores – the one in the picture came from The Warehouse. Make sure the spigot is plastic (most of them are). You’ll also need a supply of glass bottles with lids in which to bottle the brew. I use clean screwtop wine bottles – for some reason we always have plenty of those to hand.

This is how you make what they call ‘continuous brew’ kombucha – because it’s always on the go. If you want to have a rest from it at any stage, then put it in the fridge and bring it back to life on your return.

What you need:

13 cups boiling water

2/3 cup sugar

8 plain black or green teabags (or 2 Tbsp looseleaf tea)

1 scoby and 1 cup kombucha (this is often referred to as ‘starter tea’ – anyone who gives you a scoby will give you some starter tea as well)

What you need to do:

1. Put the boiling water and sugar in a large pot and stir well. Let cool for a bit, then add the teabags and let them steep for 10-15 minutes. Carefully pull them out and let the hot tea cool to room temperature.

2. Carefully pour the cooled tea into your nice, clean glass vessel (strain it through a fine sieve if you have used teabags). Gently pour in the kombucha liquid and scoby. 

3. Cover the top of the glass vessel with a piece of muslin or fabric and secure with a rubber band or piece of string. This allows the kombucha to breathe, but keeps out flies and other bugs. Leave in an open spot, out of direct sunlight. 

4. After a week, taste the kombucha – it should be ‘dry’, but not too vinegar-y, with that distinctive flavour. If you think it’s ready, then drain it into bottles and add flavouring to them, eg fruit, ginger, lemon or orange zest and 1 tsp sugar. The kombucha will eat up all the sugar, so don’t worry about adding it. 

5. Seal the bottles tightly and set aside until you are ready to drink them. They will keep fermenting – if you want to stop the process, put them in the fridge. 

Important things to remember:

1. Make sure you leave at least one cup of kombucha with your scoby at all times or it will find it hard to make more. As it grows, it will form new layers in your jar. This is perfectly normal and a good sign. If, however, it looks like it is growing furry mould, then this is NOT good and you may have to start again. 

2. Make sure you keep everything super clean – clean the bottles and lids with hot soapy water and rinse well with boiling water.

3. Plain white sugar is best – do NOT use honey as it can affect how the scoby grows. Avoid brown sugar too – it makes the kombucha quite yeasty and seems quite sweet.

4. Save any flavouring to the ‘second ferment’ eg when the kombucha is bottled. The scoby doesn’t like any flavoured or herbal teas – just ordinary gumboot tea is perfectly fine. It’s like a tradesman – it likes hot, sweet, ordinary tea and regular praise!

5. However, if you want to be fancy, green tea or white tea is also good. You can use decaffeinated black tea, but I’d advise throwing in a normal teabag or two for flavour reasons. Decaff’ tea by itself is a bit tasteless. White tea gives the kombucha a delicate, floral flavour.

6. When it comes to flavouring the second ferment, anything goes. I most often use frozen berries (say, six frozen blueberries and a teaspoon of sugar to 750ml kombucha), or slices of fresh ginger. Elderflower and ginger is another gorgeous combination. My all-time favourite is using my sister’s homemade crystallised orange peel and a few slices of fresh ginger for a kind of Cointreau-ish kombucha.

7. The kombucha will ferment a lot faster in warmer weather – you may need to check it earlier. If you have left it too long for it to be pleasant to drink, you can always bottle it as vinegar. I’ve successfully made fridge pickles using kombucha vinegar and my sister-in-law has made raspberry kombucha vinegar. 

Are you a kombucha fan?

Sparkling berry brandy cocktails

Someone asked me the other day what has been my greatest achievement of 2014. In the absence of anything else, I’ve finally decided that keeping going this year has been achievement enough.  Thank you dear readers for your continued support. May 2015 be full of ‘great achievements’ (whatever you think they are) for all of us.

In the meantime, here’s a small, recent achievement – summer in a glass. Think of this as the Kiwi Pimm’s…

Easy Recipe For Berry Brandy Champagne Cocktails Recipe And Photo By Lucy Corry/The Kitchenmaid 2014

Sparkling berry brandy cocktails
This is a good way to turn a bottle of Lindauer into something more special. The first person I served it to commented that ‘the strawberries hide the taste of the alcohol’. I didn’t have the heart to tell him about the brandy…

2 Tbsp brandy
1 Tbsp icing sugar
2/3 cup sliced strawberries
1 bottle of your best sparkling wine

Put the brandy and icing sugar in a small bowl and mix well. Add the strawberries and stir. Set aside (this can be done several hours in advance if you like). To serve, divide this mixture between six champagne flutes and top with sparkling wine.

Happy New Year, everyone. See you in 2015.