Asparagus, elderflowers and the first Joe Blake..

It’s the trinity of spring in our productive garden, in our cool highlands climate where the traditional seasons really mean something. By the time eagerly-awaited spring rolls in, we’re all heartily tired of eating those hardy winter stalwarts, leeks, ‘a toutes les sauces’ , as my mother would say. The frostbitten look of the winter garden too, in that spare, gaunt New England landscape, is enough to give you the willies–though mind you, I quite enjoy winter, at least for a while–Fires! Soup! Stews! Long evenings where you can read long books or watch heaps of movies! But then comes the first sign of spring: the first asparagus, popping its neat paintbrush head up through winter mulching..

That first taste of asparagus is simply extraordinary–it tastes of greenness, of fertile, awakening spring. Very soon, there are so many asparagus that the four of us are eating whole platefuls–each!–and the boys are beginning to complain of asparagus ‘a toutes les sauces’. I never do, though; I can never get enough of this divine vegetable, which satisfies many senses at once. How elegant they look, lightly-steamed, doused with vinaigrette and sprinkled with fresh chopped chives! How nice they smell! What a wonderful texture they have! And how fantastic they taste! Though vinaigrette asparagus wins the prize hands down, we do try to ring in the changes–asparagus in butter and garlic, asparagus soup, salmon and asparagus tart..
By the time we’re eating platefuls of asparagus, the second sign of full-on spring has arrived–elderflower blossoms bursting out all over the elder tree. And it’s time to make elderflower pop (what a wonderful Enid Blytonsish word, ‘pop’!), which to my mind is the nicest fizzy drink you could ever hope to taste. I learnt how to do it from my Worcestershire lad of a husband, David, and now every year, the fragrant blossoms steep in water and sugar and lemon juice, bringing the delicate taste and scent of an English spring to our bush kitchen. It’s a very easy thing to make–you just pick four heads of elderflower blossoms in the full sun(this activates the natural yeast on the flowers), and put them into a bowl with the juice and rind of 1 lemon, 700 grams white sugar, 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar, and 5 litres of water. Stir, and then leave for 24 hours. Strain into fizzy drink (PET) bottles, making sure you screw the cap on tight. (It’s best to use plastic rather than glass as very occasionally the bottles might explode!) Leave for two weeks, then drink.
The elder tree is an amazing thing. You can make ‘pop’ and also a lovely, fragrant light wine out of its blossoms, and a rich dark, rather cough-mixtury wine out of its berries. Despite its riches, in English folklore, this tree of the forest understory has a rather ambivalent place, being connected with fairies, and with witchcraft. It’s bad luck to use elder logs in your fire, and if you have to cut branches of an elder tree, you’re supposed to say, ‘Forgive me, Old Gal’, (Old Gal being the folk name for the elder).
It was while the second batch of elderflower pop was steeping in its bowl that the third sign of spring arrived–the first Joe Blake, or snake. We tend to get rather more snakes weaving their way across our land in the late springtime than the summer, for some reason. Perhaps they head more towards the creek when it gets hotter, and we’re quite a distance from there(though we have found dead snakes caught in the mesh of the net over the strawberry patch, several times over several summers). Whatever, this one–olive-green, elegant, perhaps either a young brown or even a tiger–was certainly out and about its business. We’re going to have to watch out, in the rampant spring fertility of the garden–Joe Blake may well be paying us a visit again.

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jen
jen
2022 years ago

Asparagus picking. The first seasonal work I ever did. Uggggh – hot dusty central NSW in November. In love, absolutely oblivious to severe sunburn, hoping for some money from the boss, getting it, riding back to town in the truck and relishing a Tooheys old in a Cowra Pub.

Link
2022 years ago

I was warned about the season’s first Joe Blake by a family of agitated wrens a few weeks ago. He/she was a large skinny tiger snake, lying across the track and looking a bit like a deflated bike tyre. We had a Mexican standoff and I being the lazier with the opposing thumbs, won. He/she took these facts in and slunk off. Elderflower ‘pop’ sounds delicious and good fer ye tu.

TimT
2022 years ago

Great to see you’re blogging, Sophie! I’ve been a fan ever since reading your material in Quadrant… you were one of the best essayists for that magazine. Plus, I’m a huge fan of The Hoax.
I see you’re not linked on the sidebar yet… hope this doesn’t mean you’re only a temporary blogger…

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

No, it just means I’ve been too slack. I’ll get around to it some time over the weekend.

sophie
sophie
2022 years ago

Yes, I must say I don’t like confronting Joe Blake directly! Live and let live is my motto, unless they decide to take up residence right near the house, as happened with one very dim tiger snake which despite the barking dog and various other hindrances, decided a recess in the stone wall near the house was a great place to have babies..We(or rather, David) had to dispose of it then-the kids were little then and prone to forgetting about their shoes and what have you. I am proud though of having seen off one reptilian visitor–a black sneaking around near the chooks’ yard. I saw it out of the window–I was alone at the time. Looked wildly around for a weapon–could only see a large, heavy dictionary. So yes, I opened the window and threw the dictionary at the snake, landing it by a fluke on its head. Well, it took off at a rate of knots into the paddock, never to be seen again. Just imagine the headlines in a Joe Blake newspaper–‘Mad writer attacks with heavy words’!
Glad you liked The Hoax, TT. It was one of the most difficult books I ever wrote–because of the structure and also to give the flavour of the music. My brother in law is a composer and Ravel buff, so I got a fair bit of help from him for that.

cathy
cathy
2022 years ago

have been making elderflower cordial but tops blowing oo is this due to natural yeast ? any way of stopping this e.g add vinegar???