Imagine if we could bottle or preserve the spirit of summer and then return to it in the depths of winter, when we yearn for its presence.
It’s not just about the taste and flavour of summer raised ingredients, though that in itself will lift your spirits. There is also the flavour of fragrance. A huge element of taste is also linked with our ability to smell and the two together, blend to create that rich experience when we savour a morsel of something rich in flavour.
There are certain plant fragrances that can be captured, bottled, preserved or transferred into extracts, tinctures and distillates. Their unique flavours really do capture the essence of summer and there are so many carriers you can use to impart their essence and savour its wonder.
There is something very sublime about pelargonium ice-cream, partly because it is flavoured by soaking the leaves of smellie pellies in rich cream before making the ice-cream itself. The flavour is a perfumed effect that combines perfectly with warm fruity tarts, crumbles and more. But in fact, the leaves of scented pelargoniums, which you can grow and overwinter in your greenhouse, are excellent for flavouring cakes, teas and jellies too. Once you grow them and taste their perfumed perfection, you will be experimenting with summer recipes to make the most of your treasured plants. Granted you may not store these culinary creations for long, but you could.
My grandmother always kept a vanilla pod in the caster sugar, which imparted its rich flavour into anything she cooked and baked with it. It was wonderful. Vanilla is an expensive spice, but you’ve probably got lavender growing in your garden, and this is another floral fragrance that imparts its flavour when added to a jar of sugar. You can use the sugar to make shortbread or cakes, or even add some to lavender ice-cream for a summery taste all year round. Decorate with fresh lavender flowers to add to the floral essence.
Rose petal jam
The petals from richly scented roses make the most sublime jam, it’s so good it’s sold at Fortnum & Mason and used in their afternoon teas. But it’s so very easy to make and the rich aroma and essence of rose is wonderful, plus if you can resist eating it all it can persist into the winter for you to enjoy when the weather is dull and dreary. Rose petals can also be used to make a rich rose scented cordial, perfect for a gin and tonic, or a non-alcoholic drink at any time of the year.
Herbs are the flavour power houses and we use them for all sorts of dishes throughout the year. But you can bottle their essence and preserve their perfume by creating herb infused cordials. These make lovely gifts, but also bottle the essence of summer so that you can relive it a little in the depths of winter. Perfect herbs to make into summer cordials are lemon verbena, add a dash to your favourite drink, or rosemary, especially ginger rosemary, that imparts its gingery zest, but even mint, or thyme make a good alternative. It’s a good idea to choose herbs that you love and then make richly flavoured syrups from their leaves. You can also use flowers, such as elderflower and of course fruits and berries. In autumn I always make elderberry cordial to stave off winter colds and flu, I load it with spices like cloves, ginger, cardamon and chilli and it tastes delicious. You can add it to summer drinks or make a hot drink from the cordial in winter.
A quick way to preserve the taste of summer is to add freshly picked fruit like raspberries to some alcohol. It’s a bit like making sloe gin, but I think it’s even better because you jazz up some plain alcohol, preserve the fruit, transfer the flavour to the alcohol which is a delicious winter treat and then you can use the fruit in trifle, cakes and puddings. Choose a fragrant fruit like raspberries, add them to some white rum. Add some sugar and let them steep for a few months. Decant into small bottles for the perfect gift. You can even dip the preserved fruit in molten chocolate for the most decadent treat ever!