Elderflower Cordial 2024

by ericavanhorn

19 June Wednesday

The tortoise-shell farm cat has had kittens and they are living under the woodpile. Or in the bushes beside the lean-to, or in some section of the lean-to, but maybe not under the firewood. The kittens flee when I approach and the mother snarls and hisses at me. It is my lean-to full of my recycling buckets, paper piles and containers, as well as the firewood, but for now, this cat seems to think it is all hers.

20 June Thursday. Summer Solstice

Today is the Longest Day. The Shortest Night. There is a full moon promised.  The radio assures us all that we will not see another full moon on the Longest Day for seventy years.  I will miss this full moon because I will be asleep well before darkness falls. I will miss the next one too.

21 June Friday

Joe’s cows now wear collars. He told me that the cows have a chip embedded and that he can read all kinds of information about the cow and her health just by looking at his smartphone. He can measure how many kilometres the cow has walked, how much she is eating and if her tummy is giving her trouble. I am uncertain about the chip in the cow and about the function of the collar. Maybe I got it wrong. Maybe the collar contains the chip. Some of the older cows do not have a chip so they have been given a second yellow number tag in their ear as well as a collar. It is modern technology. A farmer needs only a smartphone and he can be fully informed about his herd without going out in bad weather.

22 June Saturday

Mam is what children call their mothers. Not Mum or Mom. Not Mummy or Mommy. Here it is always Mam, or Mammy. Or more formally: The Mother. Today, while in town, I saw a display of colourful plasticised messages on fake slates to put on a grave. Even after many years in Ireland, the word Mam surprises me.

23 June Sunday

The grass roof on the book storage and studio shed is in full bloom.  There is a tall blue wild flower growing up there among a variety of grasses.  The birds must have dropped the seeds there and every year there are more of these flowers.   I never see them anywhere else in the area, so I must assume that the eco-system on the roof is exactly right for this plant.

24 June Monday

My annual elderflower cordial has been prepared. Two batches. Immediately after I finished labeling my bottles,  I began to worry that I might not have enough cordial to last us through the winter. This obsession repeats itself every year. There are hundreds of the huge creamy white blossoms visible everywhere in the landscape.  I wake up in the morning in a panic wondering if I really do need to make a third batch.

25 June Tuesday

The building was built into a hill. There was a small café on the first floor with tiny tables scattered around outside, mostly along a narrow stone patio and on down the hill. The tables hugged the side of the building. We found a table out of the wind and right next to a window. After we ordered our food from the waitress, we looked into the window and saw that the room we were seeing was not the interior of the café, but the kitchen. It was downstairs from the café. The kitchen was further down the hill, as we were. We watched as our waitress walked down some steps into the kitchen. She put on a net hat and a long apron. She prepared our toasted sandwiches and a pot of tea. When everything was arranged on a tray, she removed her apron and her hat and walked up the stairs from the kitchen and came out the front door of the cafe and down the hill to serve us.

26 June Wednesday

If he sees something—an open padlock on a gate or a faded hat on a car seat—he has to take it. He is well known in the village for his pilfering. He has to take a thing because he can, not because he wants or needs the thing. Anyone leaving their motor car close to where he lives is always careful to lock it. Anyone who keeps a jar for the small brown coins has come home at least one time to find the jar empty.  He is known to step into a kitchen through the back door and to pour the coins into his pocket, then leave the jar to be refilled. No one, except his brother, ever enters the house where he lives. I imagine the rooms piled high with the things he brings home, but for which he has no use.


27 June Thursday

The fields and roads are full of tractors and combines and large machinery that I cannot name. Silage is being cut and bundled into plastic-wrapped bales. Usually the bales are black but today I saw some bright white ones. The bales are piled in the middle of fields or on the edges of fields near to a road waiting for collection. Some of the bales are piled beside a shed, or inside a shed. There are bales everywhere.

28 June Friday

I feel sad each year when the Cow Parsley passes. The white froth of the blossoms lines the roads and makes every journey feel thrilling. Now we are left with a dry, skeletal look to the verges. The Giant Hogweed grows taller by the minute. It is an invasive and horrible weed and if the sap from the stems gets on skin in the sunlight, it causes a painful blistering and weeping rash that takes many months to go away. The wide white flowers have none of the delicacy of Cow Parsley. People call it The Russian Weed because it is understood to have moved across Europe from Russia. It is tall. It looms on thick sturdy stems. It is threatening. Russia is blamed for this invasion.

Bog Cotton is another name always used in place of a proper name. While Russian Weed is mentioned with distaste, Bog Cotton is said with delight. It looks like a small tuft of sheep’s wool caught on a stem. I am told people used to collect the Bog Cotton to stuff their pillows. I can see that it would take a lot of Bog Cotton to fill up a pillow, even a small pillow. Cotton Sedge or Cotton Grass is the actual name and the name is not so different, but because Bog Cotton grows in the dampness of a peaty bog, it is always called Bog Cotton.

29 June Saturday

There was a busload of German tourists at the Farmers Market today. At first I thought they were Dutch but when I heard them talking I knew they were German. Their bus was a small bus. A mini-bus. But it was a full bus and the Germans had already been to the castle and for thirty or forty minutes before they all got back on their bus, they walked around the market admiring, discussing and photographing things. They called to one another and pointed out things not to be missed.  They all spent a long time looking at Ned Lonergan’s carved wooden bowls and egg cups.  Then one woman shouted and they all ran over to where she was. They were photographing the two nettles growing out of each side of the back of my car.  One is small but the other one has grown long and leggy. Every single person was checked before they got back on the bus.  If they did not yet have a photograph of my nettles they were sent back to get one. It had become a requirement that they each have this same souvenir photo.

30 June Sunday

I heard Simon shouting.  He was shouting at the cattle in the yard.  There were seven of them.  We thought that they had broken in from the adjoining field, but we were wrong. They had jumped over a fence from Joe’s upper field and through a space that had been opened up by yesterday’s enormous messy clearing of the ditches. They hopped down a steep banking onto the track. From there, they went with gravity, running downhill and into our garden.  The drop from their field was more than a meter.  I do not know why they did not break legs on the jump down, but they were young, frisky and nimble. We chased them up the boreen and I left Simon with a stick to guard the break-out place with orders not to let any more of the cattle jump.  They were mooing and moaning and shrieking at one another from the herd  in the field of one Joe across to the herd in the field of the other Joe. I reached the farm with the seven rushing ahead of me. They took off toward the road.  I was dialing numbers and trying to reach someone anyone on several phones, leaving messages and quickly dialing another number.  I ran in and knocked the door and went shouting into the open doors of the barns. There was no one anywhere.  I rushed back to try to distract the cattle from running to the road where they might be hit by a car.  They had already come back, perhaps to find me. As a group, they jumped up on a shelf of mowed grass about a metre off the ground and huddled there waiting to see what we might do next. I opened one gate into a field and closed off two other gates to try to contain and direct them. Cows do not come when called.  It is better to be behind them than in front of them. I knew this much. I hid off to the side in some bushes to encourage them to go through the open gate.  After about thirty minutes of this game, Joe appeared and he directed me and together we drove them through the open gate.  I walked him down and showed him where they had broken out and left him to sort out his fencing problem.

1 July Monday

Twice a day, the local radio station, Tipp FM, reads out the Public Service Announcements. These announcements are the reporting of deaths in the county. Each name and place of residence is read out, followed by the time and location of the wake and then the location of the funeral and burial on the following day. Married women are always listed first by their married name, and then by the name they were born with. This is done using the French word Née: Lily Crosse Née Tully, but the word Née is never pronounced like the French Née. It is pronounced strongly like KNEE, as if the word is capitalised and must be said loud: Lily Crosse KNEE Tully.

2 July Tuesday

Bernadette and Noel love toast. They do not eat bread unless it is toasted. Even bread that has been baked fresh in the morning and that is still warm and fragrant from the oven is toasted. So great is their dislike of eating untoasted bread that they own two toasters. The two toasters sit side by side on the counter top. They are terrified that if their toaster breaks they will have no toast. By owning two toasters, they can rest assured that they will not be caught short.

3 July Wednesday

The mother cat and her three, four or five kittens may have decamped. Up until now, each time I went under the lean-to to put things into bins or to deposit newspapers, cardboard, bottles, or plastics for recycling, the mother has bared her teeth and snarled at me. This is the same mother who comes whining and screeching at the kitchen door looking for food two or three times a day. This is the mother who have I resisted giving a name because I just do not like her enough to name her. I call her Mother, but I do not use the name in a friendly nor encouraging way.

5 July Friday

The weather continues to be unsettled. It is grey and overcast. It is not cold but it is certainly not hot. It does not feel like July. I took a bowl outside this morning and filled it with raspberries. I was wearing my pyjamas, determined to pretend to myself that this was a lovely early summer morning. Reaching deep into the leafy canes to get the ripest berries, I touched the back of both hands with nettles. All day I have been miserable with the tingling of nettle stings. The raspberries were gone by the end of breakfast, but the stinging lasted all day.