Saturday, December 18, 2010

Elderflower Fizz

At this time of year our elder trees are awash with soft white blooms.

As our lemon trees are laden all year round, it's a perfect opportunity to make Elderflower Fizz. It's light and refreshing, and a lovely summer drink.

Here's how I make it:

2 litres (8 cups) boiling water
2/3 cup sugar
1 tbsp honey
4-8 heads (depending on size) of elderflower
1 lemon, sliced
1 tbsp white wine vinegar or cider vinegar

Dissolve sugar and honey in water. Allow to cool, then add remaining ingredients. Cover loosely to keep out unwanted visitors, and leave in a cool, dark place for about a day. Strain into sterilised bottles, and leave for two weeks before drinking. Be prepared when opening, as this gets very fizzy.

Note: leave lots of room in the bottles. One memorable summer I had a batch explode, leaving broken glass and a sticky mess over walls and floor.

This keeps quite well - I once found a forgotten bottle the following summer, and it tasted just fine.

If you have some elderberries (I sometimes freeze a batch), steep them with the other ingredients to make Pink Elderflower Fizz.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Celebrating Jane Austen

Today (it's currently the 16th December in England, as well as in New Zealand) marks 235 years since Jane Austen was born. She died tragically young, especially since she came from a generally long-lived family, but what a legacy she left. Her works seem to be more popular than ever, making frequent appearances on lists of favourite books.

They're certainly high on my personal best-loved list. They're among those few books that I never tire of re-reading, often discovering some clever detail that I've never noticed before. Jane may be 235, but for me she never gets old.

Back in the 1980s when we lived in England, a visit to Chawton Cottage was one of our first journeys. To walk among the rooms where Jane composed so much of her work was a real privilege. Our photographs of that visit don't seem to have survived the multiple moves since, but the memories are precious.

A virtual tour can be taken here.

Monday, December 13, 2010


With so many wonderfully ornate Victorian buildings crammed into this small town, it's only natural that steampunk has found a warm welcome in Oamaru. Here's the nicely spooky Steampunk HQ.

Steampunk was even more active than usual during our recent visit, with a special exhibition in the Forrester Gallery.

The building, designed in 1883, was originally a branch of the Bank of New South Wales. It's been an art gallery since 1983.

Note the "Dark Engine from the centre of the Earth" outside.

We returned to see it lit up at night (as shown in the "Dark Engine" link above), when it's quite a sight (and sound).

Inside the gallery were rooms filled with a dizzying variety of steampunk artifacts.

More pictures from the exhibition here.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Clark's Mill

The land near Oamaru was recognised by early European settlers as being well-suited to raising wheat. Flour was an essential crop, and in this North Otago region (these days about an hour's drive from top to bottom) there were by the end of the 19th century thirteen flour mills. Of those thirteen one still operates, and still uses locally-grown wheat: the Ngapara Mill, built in 1898.

Clark's Mill was one of the earliest (1866) of the North Otago mills to be built, and it's the only one where traces of the original water-powered equipment survive. It's an attractive limestone building, built of stone quarried from the cliffs behind it. The mill began operating with a wooden water wheel driving millstones. While the equipment became more sophisticated, with the wheel being replaced by a water-turbine (and eventually electric motors) and the millstones by roller mills in the 1880s, the mill continued operating until 1976. Water came from a river several miles away; digging the mill race in the days of pick and shovel must have been quite a task.

Old photos show lines of horses and carts bringing in their loads of wheat, and bags of flour being carted to the mill's railway siding. It must have been a bustling place, and probably somewhere to catch up on the latest gossip while unloading the grain.

Today Clark's Mill is a peaceful spot a short drive from Oamaru, lovingly restored, and open on Sunday afternoons in the summer months.

More pictures here.