I must admit I have failed you, my dear blog readers. I’m still getting used to time-sensitive blogging, which is a necessity for a foraging almanac. In any case, lilacs came and went so quickly this year, and we had gone mad with picking them, drying them, reading online accounts of euphoria from drinking lilac tea. Indeed, we were in a state of intoxication ourselves from the heavy scent that took over our kitchen in the first week of May. And in the ensuing May madness of work, art shows and other commitments, I did not manage to tell you about lilacs so that you too could go and gather them and make beautiful things with them. There’s always next year, so do remember this post!
Lilac’s latin name is Syringa, which sounds beautiful but also makes me think of opiates and intoxication. And considering (scientifically unbacked!) claims that lilac tea can cause light euphoria, perhaps this is an appropriate association. In any case, we are eager to test this theory out. Lilacs are strongly associated with Easter-time, because that’s when they bloom, and perhaps also because of their cross-like petals. So think of lilacs when you think of the Easter Bunny, and head out for a big ol forage after you’ve scavenged all the chocolate eggs. Also, the Wikipedia entry informs me that lilacs are part of the olive family, which I think is just wonderful, and makes me want to visit the Mediterranean all the more.
Credit goes to Tai for discovering lilac’s foraging possibilities. His love of flowers warms my heart. So Tai decided, as lilac season sprung into a frenzy, that we must make lilac wine. The only challenge was where to get enough flower heads. All the lilac gardens in public parks in Brighton are accompanied by signs specifically saying not to pick them. While cycling through Lewes, I had discovered that many cottages on the western part of the town featured lovely lilac bushes. So my plan was to “canvass” the neighbourhood and ask residents if we could pick a head or two. It took Tai some convincing that bothering strangers in this case was justified. I eagerly knocked on doors (years of Census and political campaigning work has come in handy!) and everyone we spoke to was fine to part with a few heads. In the end, we had a canvass bag-full and headed home, our hands and clothing and hair full of that sweet and heady scent.
At home, we proceeded to get the flowers ready for making wine. We pulled the flowers off the stems, our fingers getting stickier and stickier with nectar. Once done, we licked the sweetness off our fingertips and felt giddy from the wonders of our everyday lives and from the anticipation of lilac wine. We boiled water and slowly poured it into the two bowls containing the flowers, placed big plates to act as lids, and carried the bowls into the livingroom, where they would steep and ferment over the next two days.
For lilac wine, you should use this recipe. It’s not special in any way, in fact it’s the same recipe you’ll find in most places. But I say use this one because it’s so inspiring and exciting to hear the woman’s account of discovering a vintage bottle of lilac wine. Indeed, Tai and I will be leaving a bottle’s-worth from our batch to age for a few years ~ if we can stand it!
Later that evening, I had picked a few more lilacs at a graveyard (I hope the ghosts didn’t mind) and we hung those to dry in our boiler room, a.k.a. the Magnificent Drying Closet, for making lilac tea. I would pop my head in every day for the next week, mostly to smell the wonderful scent that had collected in the air.
After 2 days’ fermentation, we strained the liquid, squeezed the excess from the lilac must (which was so fun to shape and mold), and mixed in the sugar, lemon juice, and wine yeast. For the next week the mixture did its thing, making our livingroom smell like cider. Finally, it was transferred into a demi-john and fitted with an airlock. The wine has been bubbling away in our cupboard ever since. Now we wait until all bubble-expelling activity ceases, which is when we get to try a bit and bottle up the rest to age and mature in peace. Updates forthcoming, for sure!