Picnic recipes: wild swimming

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(Me and the boy)

On Saturday morning, tempers in our cramped city terrace were rising along with with temperature. Tom was working and the boy and I were stewing at home. Then, a message dropped in from some friends who’d escaped to the country inviting us on an impromptu adventure. Tom arrived home unexpected, and suddenly we were in the car, on our way to Cambridgeshire, open spaces and sunshine.

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This picnic was at Houghton Mill, where the water mill turns as families swim and paddle in the water beside it.

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We swam, along with our friends and their baby, watched fish and insects, listened the the cricket on a radio, ate kale crisps made to the recipe I posted a couple of weeks back and drank Rhubarb Cordial. J ran around naked with a toy lawn mower he’d pinched from our friends’ parents. It was bliss, a bit of a revelation really. Why hadn’t I thought of it before? The countryside is full of lakes and rivers you can swim in without parting with a penny or being exposed to other people’s verruca socks and moulding sticking-plasters. I thought J would baulk at the cold water, but the plant, bird and fish life kept him in the river for far longer than the toys at our local leisure centre do.

Hang on in there, summer sunshine, so we can river swim our way through the next few months.

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This F.O.K recipe for Rhubarb Cordial is based extremely heavily on one in the River Cottage Preserves Handbook. But since we were using up the very end of Grandpa Fantastic’s rhubarb harvest and I like to avoid using too much sugar when I’m cooking for J, I decided to use agave syrup instead of sugar. We were cooking in small quantities, meaning we didn’t make a huge amount so I figured that we didn’t need the preserving qualities of sugar (does agave preserve like sugar does anyway? Anyone know?)

To make:

Chop your load of rhubarb roughly, however much you happen to have, and put it in a saucepan.

For every 1kg of rhubarb, add 100ml of water.

Simmer gently, crushing the fruit with a wooden spoon till you have, in essence, a mush.

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Take a sterile tea towel, tip your mush into the centre, and hang the sides from a shelf of peg. Place a bowl underneath it, to catch the liquid that will seep through, and leave it there overnight.

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The next morning, tip what’s made it into the bowl into a saucepan, heat gently, and add agave to sweeten and to your own taste.

Tip the thick syrup into a sterilised bottle and you’re done. It’ll need diluting to the same proportions as Ribena but be much healthier and infinitely more delicious.

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