Two iced teas that don’t need sugar and a good idea from Beijing

Well, I risk you all laughing at me for just discovering something that the Southern states of the USA have known for years, but I really didn’t know you could make tea with cold water…but there’s a rose pouchong from Taiwan that you should only make with cold water. That, and a lovely tea from Japan called genmaicha (if you can’t find it or it’s too expensive, wikihow has a link making it from scratch here, it is green tea with toasted brown rice – known in Japan as the people’s tea) are both really mellow and non astringent chilled – with no sugar, which in this lovely weather is not only desirable but nigh on essential….

The other thing I find in hot weather is that when I go out, I have a dreadful habit of drinking my trusty bottle of water all in one go – so then I need to find a public loo, and get tempted to buy more…in Beijing (and I’m sure in other places too, it’s just I try to visit hot places in cooler months, so I’ve only seen it in Beijing), they sell bottles of water not chilled, but frozen….which means it can last you for hours in small chilly sips, and you have something cold to hold …if you’re freezing your own, don’t overfill the bottle and try and freeze it standing up. 

Sorry if I sound like an idiot 😉


Limeflower cordial – sirop de tilleul

linden 012My very favourite period of summer in London is just about to begin……when the lime trees (linden) come into flower and the perfume wafts down the street – you can see the bees going literally crazy, getting tipsy in a massive honey fest. Different trees come into bloom over a period of 2 or 3 weeks, mainly depending on how much sun they get, but there are different varieties. Some of the later flowering trees seem to have a muskier perfume, which I’ve never used for this syrup.

Continental Europeans have being using the flowers for tisanes and syrups for eons but it’s not quite so commonly used in the UK, so I originally got this recipe from
(which is a really good site for forage recipes – it’s in French, but the recipes are so simply written that even a web translation usually comes out reasonably understandable, if you’re not fluent) – over the past couple of years, I have changed the quantities a bit ( less water, more flowers), but I’ve used the same process, which is the same as I use for elderflower cordial. As ever, you want freshly picked, newly opened blossoms – if you live somewhere with lots of trees, there’s less need to be quite so responsible about foraging, because there are so many blossoms and mature trees are so, so big and tall, you’ll spend half your time finding a tree with low hanging flowers 🙂 As far as I know, there aren’t any of our fellow creatures that depend on the seeds for food.

Ingredients – for every litre of water
250-300 grams of limeflower clusters – this translates as half a carrier bag, loosely packed, when you’re out collecting
500g sugar
5-10 grams of citric acid

Lime flowers grow in clusters on a stalk with a pale green, paddle shaped bract. Remove the stalk and bract and put the flowers into a bowl big enough to take the amount of water you’re using. Boil the water, pour over the blossoms, cover with a teatowel and leave to infuse overnight or for at least 8 hours.
Strain through a sieve lined with muslin. Leave this to do it by itself, don’t try and squeeze the cloth to hurry it up.
Bring the infusion to a simmer with the sugar and 5g of the citric acid until the sugar has dissolved, then boil for 5 minutes. Taste and add more citric acid if desired. It keeps fine for a month in the fridge – I freeze mine in small containers – but if you’re going to bottle it to keep, use the hot water bath method and definitely use 10g of citric acid per litre of water.
The syrup has a flavour that most reminds me of honeyed pears, and it’s lovely as a drink, made into a sorbet or poured over icecream.
I also make a version which includes a sprig or two of lavender at the boiling stage, which was inspired by the ‘tranquility’ chocolate by the Belgian chocolatiers Newhouse.

London gets totally transformed in summer, at least on the side streets and in the parks, when it seems like the whole world has burst into bloom with cascades of sweetly scented roses, jasmine, lavender and honeysuckle.
On some roads, even the litter on the streets gets partially hidden by fallen petals, their colours sundried and scattered like the confetti of a thousand fairy weddings. I LOVE my city 🙂

Caffè alla Nonna

Translated, this means Grandma’s coffee. My lovely friend Stefania taught me how to make this when she came to live with us for a year from Italy. If you have one of those espresso pots that you put on the stove, they make very nice coffee, but it never looks the same as you get in an Italian café – this simple method will make your coffee look like a proper espresso from a Gaggia machine.
Ingredients – makes enough for 4 espressos
A pot of strong coffee
1 tablespoon of sugar – castor if you have it, but granulated is fine.
Put the coffee pot on to cook, and place the sugar in the bottom of a mug. Pay close attention to the coffee, and as the very first 4-5 drops (literally!) come through, pour this first dribble onto the sugar and return the pot to the stove. Beat the dribble of coffee vigorously into the sugar with a fork until it becomes a pale creamy foam – this takes 3 or 4 minutes. Put a teaspoon of this in the bottom of an espresso cup, top up with coffee and stir.

Elderflower Cordial

This is so easy to make. Because I haven’t got a reliable way to sterilize my bottles, I freeze mine – which also helps me stop myself from guzzling it all in a couple of months.
Pick the elderflowers on a sunny, dry day – you want perfect heads with flowers just opened, no brown blossoms. Before you pick a head, check it’s not too infested with greenfly, and don’t take all the heads off any one tree (please). Obviously, choose trees as far away from busy roads as possible.

25-30 elderflower heads
1.75 litres boiling water
1kg white sugar
4 unwaxed lemons
NB if you are bottling your cordial, you may want to add 20g of citric acid

Wash your flowerheads, drain, shake dry(ish)and then place them in a plastic bag in the fridge overnight or for several hours – this helps the flowers come off the stalks. Peel one lemon very finely – you don’t want any of the white pith. Shake as many flowers free as you can, then snip away as much of the remaining stalks as possible, and place flowers and zest from the lemon in a bowl large enough for them and the water. Pour over boiling water, cover with a teatowel, and leave overnight or for at least 8 hours. Strain liquid through a fine sieve or piece of muslin. In a non reactive pan, add the infused water, sugar, the juice of the lemons and the citric acid if you’re using it and over a gentle heat, bring up to a simmer until the sugar has dissolved.
If you’re bottling it in glass, decant while still hot into your sterilized bottles, leaving 2cm at the top (to allow a mini vacuum to form as it cools), and seal straight away. If you’re freezing it, allow to cool and then transfer to your containers, again allowing some free space as it will expand a little as it freezes.
Dilute to taste with still or fizzy water, 1 part cordial to 4-5 parts water.

Melon, Mint and Cucumber Cooler

The melon I bought last week was sweet and flavoursome, but it had rather a grainy texture, so ¾ of it has just sat in the fridge…until today. It must have been getting the whizzy machines out that sparked me off.

Flesh of ¾ honeydew melon, chopped up
½ cucumber, peeled and chopped
5-6 fresh mint leaves
50 ml water

In a liquidiser, whiz water, mint leaves and a few pieces of melon, then add the rest of the melon and cucumber, and whiz again.

Pale green, subtle, no sugar, no guilt and virtually no calories=heaven in a glass.

Rhubarb, banana and ginger smoothie

My friend Cathy used to make this flavour combination into a crumble, in an effort to cut down the refined sugar she was feeding her kids – ‘cos rhubarb does need quite a bit of sweetening…however, the pulp I used here was already pretty sugar heavy.

Ingredients for 2 big smoothies
Pulp left over from last recipe
2 bananas
1 level teaspoon of freshly grated ginger pulp
Water – about half a mugful, at first, then more to arrive at your desired consistancy
a few drops of beetroot juice – optional

blitz in a whizzy machine, serve straight away

the rhubarb thing

There are loads of really good rhubarb recipes out there – but you do need a) a copious quantity of rhubarb and b) the equipment to sterilise your preserving jars etc – as my cooker still isn’t piped in, I can’t even do that the old fashioned way…mustn’t grumble, but I can’t even make a crumble 😉
While the British are generally credited with being the first to turn rhubarb into pudding, it’s the rest of the world who have made imaginative pairings with other fruit.
Marks and Spencers, that bastion of British institutions, (a store most famous for quite posh food and supplying our ‘great’ nation with sensible knickers,) brought out a range of fizzy drinks last year based on the hard boiled sweets of our childhoods, with cute retro labels and lovely chunky glass bottles – the rhubarb and custard one was so delicious, I can’t begin to describe my potential addiction. Luckily, they cost £2 odd a bottle so that saved me from myself.
Anyway, I had 3 decent sticks of rhubarb and 2 small ones from the community garden down the road, not enough for anything major and I’ve been hankering after that drink – this is not a particularly healthy recipe, so it’s just as well to make it in small amounts.
I keep one pot of sugar with a vanilla pod in it – I don’t use it very often, but if you don’t split the pod when you’re making things, you can put the sugar and the pod into a syrup, then wipe the pod dry afterwards, and pop it back in the jar – lasts for ages, I think my current pod is about 3 years old and still working.

Ingredients – makes about 400ml, which you dilute 1:3 parts fizzy water
3-4 sticks of rhubarb, cut into 2-3 cm chunks
200g vanilla sugar + equal volume of water
1 vanilla pod – to be re-used
Few drops of beetroot juice for a nice lurid colour
A mean (one finger, one thumb) pinch of citric acid or to taste – but add by only tiny, tiny amounts – optional

Put the rhubarb, sugar, water and vanilla pod into a pan, and heat gently until the sugar has dissolved.
Bring to the boil for 5 minutes (until the rhubarb is softened) and remove from the heat.
Leave to cool and infuse, remove vanilla pod and wipe off, then strain into a jug through a sieve. Lots of recipes suggest you either leave this to happen really slowly for a really clear cordial, or push the rhubarb against the sieve to extract as much juice as possible – I didn’t bother, because I was planning on using the rhubarb pulp in a smoothie.
Add enough beetroot juice (I used the liquid from a vacuum packed pack of beetroot) to turn it quite a shocking pink – you are going to dilute it, and adjust acid/sugar balance to your taste.

I froze most of mine so I didn’t drink it all at once and make myself sick.