I am not the only one to appreciate the cowslip blooming in May in its natural habitat. Now that spring has arrived at The Cottage Farm, work begins in earnest. However, the author still has time to appreciate the meadow flowers:
Harrowing and rolling take place this year right upon blossoming time, for the grass is still short. Late harrowing enables us to distribute more wormcasts and molehills, and leading the horse round the borders of the meadow, primroses, dog-violets, cowslips, and what Snowey calls “barnicated winkle” (which is his name for the variegated periwinkle) greet us in full blossom.
As promised in last month’s blog post on primroses, here is some information on the making of cowslip balls, as mentioned in Alison Uttley’s Little Grey Rabbit books.
Also as described in our previous blog post on primroses, Little Grey Rabbit was a busy brewer and made a lot of wine, including cowslip wine. Still, she could claim that she made it for the medicinal benefits as cowslips are noted as helpful for rheumatism, palsy and nervous troubles, as well as being a sedative and therefore good for insomnia. Little Grey Rabbit might also have used the cowslips as a cosmetic treatment for spots, wrinkles, sunburn and freckles (though I am not sure grey rabbits suffer from wrinkles and freckles!).
Our book, Mrs Beeton’s Jam-making and Preserves includes a recipe for Cowslip Wine, as follows:
Procure 4 quarts of cowslip flowers, 4 quarts of water, 3 lb. of loaf sugar, the finely-grated rind and juice of 1 orange and 1 lemon, 2 tablespoonfuls of brewers’ yeast, or ¼ of an oz. of compressed yeast moistened with water and ¼ of a pint of brandy, if liked.
Boil the sugar and water together for about ½ an hour, skimming when necessary, and pour, quite boiling, over the rinds and strained juice of the orange and lemon. Let it cool, then stir in the yeast and cowslip flowers, cover with a cloth, and allow it to remain undisturbed for 48 hours. Turn the whole into a clean dry cask, add the brandy, bung closely, let it remain thus for 8 weeks, then draw it off into bottles. Cork securely, store in a cool, dry place for 3 or 4 weeks, and it will then be ready for use.
Cowslip wine is pretty potent on its own (it supposedly has narcotic properties) so Mrs Beeton’s habit of slipping in a ¼ of a pint of brandy to many of her wine recipes will make this a powerful brew!
Add a peck of cowslip pips (the pips or peeps are the yellow flower petals) to a ‘kinterkin’ of ordinary ale after it has finished working. Stop it up and leave for 2 or 3 weeks.
A peck is the equivalent of 16 ‘dry’ pints and a kinterkin is a cask of ale (16-18 gallons) like the one in the Beatrix Potter illustration. So a peck is an awful lot of cowslip flowers. Sadly, cowslips are increasingly rare (hardly surprising given the making of cowslip balls, cowslip wine and cowslip ale, but also due to a loss of habitat). Therefore, I do not advise picking a peck of cowslips from the wild. On the other hand, there are lots of reasons to plant native cowslips in your garden. The internet abounds with information on the medicinal and culinary uses of cowslips and, of course, they are beautiful, as this lovely photograph shows.