Elderflower champagne

Elderflower ‘champagne’ is basically prison hooch for people who read Country Life. Oh sure, it’s got this noble, rustic pedigree. But at bottom you’re fermenting sugar water in a bucket and flavouring it with something you nicked from a hedge. Foraged. Whatever.

Classy or no, it’s delicious.

Elderflower Champagne ingredients

Elderflowers are wonderfully pungent, and this time of year the Cambridge river banks are full of their scent. I can’t resist making buckets of this stuff – bottling away a little of that summer for later in the year. Also, did I mention the prison hooch? You can get utterly wankered for a tenner, and feel like Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall while you do it.

This is the recipe for Elderflower Fizz I’ve been making for the last few years. It works, and it probably won’t explode.

Update: I’ve had some issues with the latest batch of this recipe coming out far too dry, so it may need a little work. 

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Kung pao chicken of the woods

This is about two things I’d not really tried before – a book and a fungus.

The fungus is chicken of the woods (or Laetiporus, or “sulphur shelf”). It’s a beautiful furled beast of a mushroom. It clings to the sides of trees, and delights a colleague of mine, Mark, who enjoys a spot of foraging. Very kindly, he brought me a stout lobe of the stuff, all earthy smell and vibrant colour. Thanks Mark!

“Butter, onion, garlic, white wine – don’t muck about!” he said. I never listen…

The book is Fuchsia Dunlop’s Every Grain of Rice – one of the tour de force cookbooks of 2012. The kind that everyone buys, raves about, but then actually cooks stuff from. Yotam Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem was probably the biggest one of those for me, but for some reason I never got around to picking up Dunlop’s blockbuster. Since my partner moved in, I’ve been meaning to cook more stuff from his copy, so this seemed like a good time.



In Every Grain of Rice, Fuchsia Dunlop gives two recipes for Gong Bao, the Chengdu precursor of that British takeout staple kung pao chicken. There’s a chicken and a mushroom version, and chickeny mushroom is what I had to hand. What follows is basically a simplified crash together of the two.

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