Shady Ladies and Elderflower Cordial

A small herd of new cattle appeared along my running path a few weeks ago, several cows and a single bull. All of them have thick, dark red hair that tufts up in waves like a field of wheat in the wind. And within a short time, there were small calves.

They graze in a triangular field not far from where my running loop begins, and are separate from the black-and-white herds in the surrounding meadows.

Taking the shade - some new faces on the running loop. All photos: PK Read

Taking the shade – some new faces on the running loop.
All photos: PK Read

There are several red, massive breeds that look a bit like them on a site that describes dozens of cow breeds, but the breed that comes closest is in description is the Salers – a very old breed of southern France, with a history that stretches back 7000-10,000 years to prehistoric times.

They’re bred for climates at low mountain altitudes where the winters can get cold, and they are known for being excellent milk producers – which makes them good for cheese 1

This group was escaping the sunshine in the one sliver of shade available on the entire meadow, and they didn’t take very kindly to my approach. There was a fence between us, but I wasn’t taking any chances.

The one taking up all the shady space in the middle is, of course, the bull.

The one taking up all the shady space in the middle is, of course, the bull.

After the run was accomplished, I decided to make some elderflower cordial. The word ‘cordial’ is one that is falling out of fashion these days, at least in its meaning of ‘strongly felt’ or ‘warm and friendly’.

When it comes to its meaning as a sweet-flavored fruit drink, the word always carries with it a scent of Victorian gentility for me.

Elderflower trees are considered little more than giant weeds here in our corner of France, growing rampant in the hedgerows between the fields. The wild one in our garden is no different.

It bursts up through a yew bush recklessly as if it has every right to be there. Up until a couple of years ago, I would cut it back to the ground during the spring and winter chops.

The stray elderflower tree.

The stray elderflower tree.

Here’s a recipe for non-alcoholic elderflower cordial, should you feel inclined and have the opportunity.

Like many things, making elderflower cordial is dead easy, it just takes a bit of patience.

With all the development of new houses in our area and the rapid disappearance of meadows and hedgerows, I’ve come to look on our little elderflower with some sympathy. I’ve started to treat it with a bit more…cordiality.

The bees like it, it smells nice, the flowers are pretty – and I can make a cordial that will bring fragrance and flavor to hot summer days in the months to come.

Hidden Treasure

Wild blackberries, the kind that stain my fingers for days after a long picking session, that leave me with scratches on my legs and arms from wading through large hidden patches, the ones that allow for long, lazy conversations with fellow seekers and which reward effort with the nirvana of a fresh blackberry pie and later, much later when summer is gone and tans are faded, fill my mouth with the sweet purple ink memories written on those days  in the form of blackberry jam – wild blackberries rank among my favorite of all fruits.

A hidden blackberry patch. Photo: PK Read

A hidden blackberry patch
Photo: PK Read

This hasn’t been a year for stone fruits, but I have hope for the blackberries. I went and checked on a couple of patches yesterday. I was relieved to find that this one, which hasn’t really brought forth much of interest over the past couple of seasons, is in bloom and is doing well. It’s nestled between two fields – one a cow pasture, the other a neglected orchard – a triangular bit of forgotten hedgerow that’s invisible from the small country road that passes it, and uninviting to those who do notice it. Perfect for picking. Fingers crossed, this place will be a treasure trove in about 4-5 weeks.

Hedgerow flowers Photo: PK Read

Hedgerow flowers
Photo: PK Read

Two of my best hedgerow patches – long, rangy stands of trees, brambles and bushes that stood between fallow fields – have been lost to housing developments over the past two years, and I fear that will be the fate of most of them. The fields and the hedgerows are all under tidy suburban lawns and charmingly names streets now.

Blackberry blossoms Photo: PK Read

Blackberry blossoms
Photo: PK Read

Another patch, one that looks inviting and proffers all its goods openly, as if it’s some free market stand, is actually a place I never use. I run by it every day, watch the berries ripen, watch them get fat, then watch as the bushes get picked clean by passers-by and birds. It’s a nice hedgerow, right out there in the open, but I wouldn’t pick from it. Why?

Golf course hedgerow. Buckets of berries here, but the trees along the golf course don't look very healthy. Photo: PK Read

Golf course hedgerow. Buckets of berries here, but the trees along the golf course don’t look very healthy.
Photo: PK Read

It’s in the rough of a golf course, and I also see how they regularly spray pesticides all along the perimeter.

Photo: PK Read

Photo: PK Read

Still, the bench on the other side of this hedgerow offers a good place to stretch, and sometimes to sit, to look out over Lake Geneva, and to dream of pies and jams to come.

Blackberry jam fixings from a couple of years ago Photo: PK Read

Blackberry jam fixings from a couple of years ago
Photo: PK Read

Another favorite is a Blackberry Bellini – fresh wild blackberry sludge with champagne or sparkling wine. Not bad, not bad at all.

Blackberry Bellini
4 cups fresh blackberries
sprig of mint
1 tablespoon lemon juice
½ tablespoon sugar (optional)
1 bottle champagne, prosecco, or a bubbly, non-sweet cider for the non-alcoholic version
Mash the blackberries, mint, lemon juice, and sugar until the mixture is sludgy and juicy. Strain the pulp through a sieve (I like a bit of actual pulp in my drink, so I don’t use a fine sieve – just enough to keep out the seeds). Divide blackberry mixture evenly among serving glasses. Add the bubbly and stir just a bit – the juice will color the sparkling wine, the pulp will sink down to the bottom to be enjoyed at the very end. Spear or float a blackberry for garnish.

Kitschy hedgerow pinwheels Photo: PK Read

Kitschy hedgerow pinwheels
Photo: PK Read