General Recipes

Elderflower Champagne Recipe

Don’t you just love the smell of elderflowers? Did you know that next to elderflower cordial you could also make a delicious elderflower champagne? And that it is extremely easy to do?

Elderflowers ready for champagne making

So now you know, and I bet you would like the recipe. So here it goes;

River Cottage Elderflower Champagne

(makes about 6 litres)

What do you need;

  • 4 litres hot water
  • 700g sugar
  • Juice and zest of four lemons
  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • About 15 elderflower heads, in full bloom
  • A pinch of dried yeast (you may not need this)


Put the hot water and sugar in a large container, I used a cleaned bucket, and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Top up with cold water until you have 6 litres. Then add the lemon juice and zest, the vinegar and the flower heads and stir gently.

Elderflowers in bucket

Cover with a muslin (or a tea towel) and leave to ferment for 4 days. Check after 4 days and see if the brew is becoming a little foamy, if not then add some yeast to the mixture. This is the second time I have made this and both times I have added the yeast. Leave the brew to ferment a little more for another 4 days or so.

Strain the liquid into a sieve into sterilised strong glass bottles with champagne stoppers or Grolsch-style stoppers. I placed an emphasis on strong because the first time I made Elderflower Champagne I bought cheap bottles and one of them exploded quite spectacularly. We had to resort to taking of the pressure from the other bottles which didn’t do any good to the fizz in the champagne.

Elderflower champagne bottled

Seal the bottles, put them in a cool, dark space, and leave to ferment some more for at least a week before serving chilled. The bottles should keep for a few months but I am sure they will not last that long!

General Recipes Vegetables and Herbs

Stuffed Vine Leaves Recipe

What to do with all those copious leaves keeping the precious sun off the developing bunches of grapes on your vines? Yes, you could compost them (I have done in previous years) but how about using them in the kitchen ...and stuffing them!

Stuffed vine leaves (1)


First, cook your favourite savoury rice filling – I used brown rice, chopped onion, chopped mushroom, pine nuts, red peppers, sea salt, paprika, cumin and black pepper. I guess you could equally use couscous or burghul instead of rice although I haven’t tried …yet. Whilst researching the subject, I noticed some recipes refer to using uncooked rice. However, when I used uncooked rice, it swelled as it absorbed the stock whilst cooking and several of the vine leaf parcels that I’d so carefully made, split and spilled their contents.

Now, go out and pick about fifty largish vine leaves – not too late in the season when the leaves tend to get a bit leathery. Blanch them by plunging them into boiling water for a minute or two then into cold water to quickly cool. I left them in the cold water until I was ready to start rolling and then removed  them one at a time. Doing it this way prevents the leaves clinging together which sometimes causes them to tear as you peel them apart.

Stuffed vine leaves  (2)


Now for the fun (if a bit fiddly) bit – start stuffing…

1  Spread the vine leaf (rough side up) on a chopping board, add a spoonful of filling to the centre, fold the bottom part on top of the filling, then fold the sides on top of the filling and gently (yet firmly) roll it upwards to seal it.
2  Continue with the rest of the vine leaves and as you make them, tightly pack them in a casserole dish lined with vine leaves.
Sprinkle with some olive oil and pour over approximately 250ml stock (it should go about a quarter of the way up the vine leaf parcels) and top with three or four left-over  leaves to seal.
4  Place the lid on top of the casserole dish and bake in a low to medium oven for about 30 minutes.

Delicious served hot with fresh lemon juice and chopped parsley.


Stuffed vine leaves  (3)


Recipes Vegetables and Herbs

Globe Artichokes – how to cook AND how to eat …in ten steps

Because they’re not widely grown in England I think people are generally nervous about trying them in the kitchen – perhaps admiring them at the supermarket or glancing at their preserved hearts in tins or dainty little jars at the deli, but that’s often as far as it goes.

Cooking Globe Artichioke 1

However, just over the English Channel and beyond they’re common place. My brother remembers eating them in France as a child whilst on an school exchange trip and I’ve eaten them ad infinitum whilst living in Algeria many years ago, where they were generally served as a hors d’oeuvre before, say, couscous or a lamb tagine.

Well, in case you’re curious and would like to have a go, here’s how, in ten steps, I prepare …and eat them:

1. Washing…

Carefully clean the artichoke heads (I run the cold tap down into the petals (leaves, sepals, scales – I’m never sure what to call them, but you know what I mean), plunge them in water and then give them a couple of really good shakes out of the back door!) and boil in a pan of water for 20 to 40 minutes depending on their size. You know when they’re done when the petals pull away from the base without much resistance.

Cooking Globe Artichioke 2

2. Draining…

Remove from the water and place upside down in a colander on the draining board to allow the scalding steam to evaporate and the very hot water to drain out safely.

Cooking Globe Artichioke 3

3. Choosing your dip…

I prefer a vinaigrette – I use a blend of extra virgin olive oil, vinegar and a pinch of sea salt (some people prefer melted butter or mayonnaise) and take to the table with the artichokes and a large empty bowl for the inevitable mountain of waste that you are going to create…

Cooking Globe Artichioke 5

4. Edible ends…

The picture below clearly shows the edible part of the petal  – it’s the paler part on the right hand side – the bit that was attached to the base of the artichoke head, otherwise known as the heart.

Cooking Globe Artichioke 6

5. Dipping and drawing…

Remove the petals one by one, dip the base into your chosen dressing and gently scrape off the tender bit at the bottom by putting it in your mouth, closing your teeth on it and drawing it outwards.

Cooking Globe Artichioke 86. Discarding the remainder…Cooking Globe Artichioke 12

7. The inner petals…

Continue until you get to the inner petals at the core that don’t have much fleshiness on them. They look a bit different to the rest and have a translucent quality, often tinged with purple.

Cooking Globe Artichioke 9

8. Nibble with care…

You can remove this part in one go, then delicately nibble the ends taking care to avoid the sharp tips. These inner petals cover the choke – the stamens – which are very fibrous and inedible (see below):

Cooking Globe Artichioke 10

9. Remove and discard…

With a sharp pointed paring knife, remove and discard the choke (some people prefer to scoop it out with a tea spoon)…

Cooking Globe Artichioke 11

leaving the tender, delicious heart – the base of the flower that joins the flower to the stringy stem – for your delectation.

10. Dunk …and eat your heart out!

Share your experience(s) with Globe Artichokes.



Tropical Friday; Caribbean Tiramisu

The tradition for Tropical Friday was started two years ago. It was the first Friday of December and it was raining ice water. I was remembering the intense heat which I experienced in India earlier that year and wished I could be back there right at that moment. Unfortunately the transporter has not been invented yet so there was only one thing left to do.

I declared the first Friday in December as Tropical Friday. A day to eat spicy food, drink fruity cocktails, turn up the heating in the house a few notches and buy yourself some flowers to remember those summer days.


Last year, my friend Lotte drew this amazing drawing of the Cashew nut, she explained as well how this mysterious tropical plant actually grows and I added some special recipes using cashews.

This year I turn to food again, using two ingredients that scream The Tropics; Bananas and coconut and of course the recipe is included.

So to all of you I say, join us in celebrating Tropical Friday and share your favourite recipes, tropical plants you like to grow or which fruity cocktails you like to make. You can leave them as a comment here or go to our Facebook page and post it there (including photos!).

Caribbean Tiramisu


What you need:

  • 100g fresh cream cheese
  • 40g white caster sugar
  • 4 tablespoons of coconut liqueur (Malibu)
  • 75ml whipped cream
  • half a pack of ladyfingers (of 175gr)
  • 2 bananas (cut in half, lengthwise)
  • cacao powder
  • a bag of shredded coconut
  • 2 cake moulds of approximately 400ml (or something similar)
It's about layers
It’s about layers

What you do:

  1. Put the cream cheese and and caster sugar in a bowl and stir into a whole. In another bowl, whip the cream stiff and spoon this in with the cream cheese/sugar mixture. Then stir it all together.
  2. Poor the liqueur in a deep plate together with 100ml of water. Dip the ladyfingers in and put them on the bottom of the mould, with the sugary side facing the bottom.
  3. Spread 1/3 of the cream/sugar mixture over the ladyfingers and cover this with 2 halves of the banana.
  4. Sprinkle a layer of shredded cocos on the banana (as much as you fancy), and cover this with another layer of (dipped) ladyfingers.
  5. Put the other two halves of banana on this, then spread the remaining (2/3) of the cream/sugar mixture over the banana.
  6. Cover the cake with cling film and place in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours.
  7. Put the cake(s) on a plate or something suitable. If the cake is difficult to release, place a towel, soaked in warm water, around it for a couple of minutes. The cake should come out then.
  8. Sprinkle the cake with cacao powder and serve…

Disclosure: Because of Laila being busy, it was I, Rogier Noort (yes, the husband 🙂 ), who made this cake. Although I’m quite content with the end result, I’m sure Laila would have made it a bit more.., good looking.

Fruit General Recipes

Recipe; Quince Jelly

Neighbour’s Back Garden

My mother’s next door neighbour has a large quince tree in her back garden. In fact I can remember her planting it as a young sapling back in the 1980s. Then, in the 1990s I recall my young son scaling the garden wall and scrumping a big, beautiful quince; taking a bite, me catching him in the act and the look of disappointment on his little face because it didn’t taste anything like he’d hoped… so stolen fruit isn’t always sweeter!



Quinces, related to apples and pears, are rather unusual because although they look a bit like a large pear, in their raw state they are very unyielding and in spite of their delightful smell, they are not at all sweet. However, something magical happens when you cook them. Before your very eyes a bright yellow fruit produces amber coloured liquor, which then with the addition of sugar, changes again to a beautiful rich, claret coloured gel.

So not only does quince jelly look pretty, it also tastes pretty and is simply sublime spread on toast or scones. Also, I’m reliably informed (although I have yet to try) that it’s very good with roast and cold meats as well as cheeses …which, with Christmas just around the corner, all sounds very appealing.


Recipe for Quince Jelly;

Anyway, don’t take my word for it. If you’re fortunate enough to know anyone with a quince tree or indeed if you happen to have one yourself, it would be a crime not to make some. So here’s the recipe, tried and tested – believe me, it’s simplicity itself:

  • First of all wash your fruit and cut roughly into chunks into a large pan – skin, pips and all.
  • Cover with enough water so that the quinces just begin to float and then boil until the fruit is tender.
  • Strain the liquid through a sieve – because the fruit holds its shape and doesn’t go mushy, the liquid remains crystal clear.
  • Measure how much liquid you’ve got.
  • Return it to the pan and add 1lb (450g) sugar for every pint (570 ml) of juice.
  • Bring slowly to the boil, stirring to help the sugar dissolve and then continue boiling for about ¾ hour until a little of the  liquid poured onto a cold saucer reaches the wrinkle stage. I find placing a couple of saucers in the freezer beforehand makes testing for setting point much easier…
  • Finally, decant the liquid into warm sterile jars and seal.

Quince jelly

Quince Convert

I’m now a quince convert and if we had room at the Villas for another tree then quince, which is a small ornamental tree grown for it’s attractive blossom as well as it’s fruit, would definitely be my first choice. I find it charmingly old fashioned, and the fruit is something a bit different that you won’t find at any supermarket.



General Plants Recipes

How to Make Capers from Nasturtium Seed Pods


One of the most versatile flowers to grow in your garden is the Nasturtium for a few simple reasons: Everything is edible, pollinators love them and it attracts black fly and aphids keeping them away from your veggies.

Nasturtium yellow flower

Tropaeolum, common name Nasturtium, was named so because the plant produces an oil similar to watercress (Nasturtium officinale). The flowers come in a raft of colours ranging from creams and yellows to orange to scarlet. They thrive in poor soil and dry conditions so this summer was a good year for Nasturtiums. There are bush varieties and scrambling ones that spread out and can tangle themselves around other plants, so bear that in mind if your space is limited.

Companion plant

Nasturtiums are perfect companion plants for your vegetables for two main reasons – they attract lots of pollinators and can be grown for sacrificial purposes if you have an aphid or black fly problem.

Nasturtium seed pod 2


The  petals liven up any salad with their bright colours and the leaves add a nice peppery taste.  The leaves can also be used to make a lovely garden pesto. This year however I was focusing on their seed pods to make the poor man’s capers. True capers come from the caper plant but the nasturtium seed pods make a delicious substitute that anyone can grow.

Nasturtium Seed Pods

Recipe for Nasturtium ‘Poor Man’s’ Capers

This is what you need:

100 g nasturtium seed pods (still firm and green)

15 g salt

200 ml white wine vinegar

A few peppercorns and herbs such as dill or bay leaves

This is how you do it:

Dissolve the salt in 300 ml of water and place the nasturtium seed pods into a bowl and add the salty water. Leave for 24 hours.

Drain the seedpods and dry well. Pack into small sterilised jars with the peppercorns and herbs of your choice. Leave room for 1 cm of vinegar on top.

Cover the pods with the vinegar and seal the jars with vinegar proof lids. Store in a cool, dark place and leave for a few weeks before eating.

Use within a year.

Nasturtium capers