Monday 13 December 2021

Drinking summer

Recipe instructions revised December 2022 :-)

Pohutakawa flowers are such an icon of New Zealand summer :-)

Over the past few weeks, more and more have come into flower around here.


I love the way they turn the footpaths red. 


But I had no idea they had culinary uses until I heard about pohutakawa cordial on National Radio the other week.

I make elderflower cordial most summers: I had to try this new flower cordial!

Most of the pohutakawa I'd been seeing were on busy roads, but I started keeping an eye out for ones that wouldn't be tainted with car exhaust.

I found a few in Harbutt Reserve.  This one had a tui singing away higher in the tree while I was picking flower heads :-)  It was fun seeing so many Kiwi classics close together, too, with the cabbage tree/tī kōuka and harakeke/flax next to the pohutakawa.

A bit further along, in Phyllis reserve, there were a bunch of trees absolutely covered in flowers.
I quickly filled this bag, which is roughly A4 size, just by taking a small portion of the easy-to-reach flowers on four trees total.

Every bright red stamen is topped with a little dot of yellow pollen.  My hands went a bit yellow during the picking!

Next to remove stamens from calyxes.  This turned out to be hugely time-consuming, but also necessary.  The man on the radio said the calyxes are bitter; I made a test batch with calyxes on in case he was exaggerating, but unfortunately he was right...  I did discover, however, that the stamens are much easier to remove if you leave the flowers in the fridge for two days before processing.  If you don't have time to do that, I'd recommend cutting them off with scissors.  You do lose nearly half of each stamen that way, but that doesn't feel to me like much of a problem when the flowers are very abundant!
The man on the radio was very vague with quantities.  He was also really trying to make more of a drink (to which you add a dash of gin) than a cordial (that you heavily dilute with water).  After various test batches, I settled on 6:4:3 packed stamens:water:sugar, plus 1 tsp citric acid per litre of water.  Boil the water, stir in the sugar and citric acid to dissolve, reboil, pour over the stamens and leave overnight.  If you don't have citric acid but do have a lemon tree, use 1/3 cup lemon juice instead, and reduce the water accordingly.

In the morning, strain off your gloriously red cordial :-)  The bottle on the right, below, is the cordial; the one on the left is pohutakawa flavoured water kefir (a fizzy drink, similar to ginger beer but made from bugs tolerant of a wide range of flavouring agents.  Water kefir is inherently yellow, hence the orange colour of the pohutakawa kefir).  It's really nice!

Here it is diluted simply with water. 

One of my test batches wasn't really strongly flavoured enough to make cordial - when I diluted it so it wasn't too sweet, it didn't taste of anything much.  What to do with something much too sweet?  Remembering how frozen sweet things always need to be way sweeter than room-temperature sweet things, I heated it, stirred in gelatine and made frozen jelly pops (at roughly the sugar/water/gelatine ratio I use for jelly tip slices).

They were nice!  I reckon pohutakawa cordial would form the base on an excellent sorbet.

I don't know why pohutakawa hasn't been 'discovered' as a native herb, as horopito and kawakawa have been.  They grow so abundantly, and it's amazingly yummy - rich and floral, with some of the tartness of the rosella hibiscus flowers found in so many herbal teas.  If I have time before the season ends, I'd like to look into making 'pohutakawa stamen water' - inspired by rose water and orange blossom water.  I think it'd be great anywhere those are used.  It'd be neat in gulab jamun or poured over a Middle Eastern cake - and it'd make really good Turkish Delight.  Not that I'm trying that last one - having looked at authentic Turkish Delight recipes off and on over the years, I'm pretty sure that's one thing I'll always be buying!

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