Halcyon days, and a mission that would make Guy Ritchie proud

There’s no place like home and, for me, that means there’s no place like the Westcountry on a summer day. Having spent recent summers tied to a desk at a university library, or cooped up in a sticky city, or semi-stranded on a tropic isle where the sun sets at 6pm every evening, I’ve been longing to get back home. Home to hot air balloons, cricket, ducklings on canals, fayres, cider festivals, bandstands, open fields and ekeing out hazy evenings with a blanket on knees.

One of the most evocative tastes of a British summer, aside from strawberries and new veg smothered in butter, is the elderflower. Near where we live all the elderflower were plucked from the riverbanks some time ago, so when I spotted a bush still bearing white flowers, I had to take my chance and merrily denuded everything within reach. I collected over 60 heads (perhaps a little over-ambitious) and made home with my haul.

now follows… the citric acid saga
in which many frustrations befall the frolicking foodie


3pm: with a veritable heap of flora, the ingredients to make cordial must be sourced – sugar, water, lemons, oranges… fine. Citric acid? Well that must be with the bicarbonate of soda.

4pm, a well-known supermarket: OK, so it’s not in home-baking. Or specialist foods. Or the medicines aisle. Or the cleaning fluids. Or the alcohol. I’ll ask this helpful chap. OK, looking it up on the store’s system. None. Bugger. Looking it up on the Sainsbury’s mainframe. ‘no populated content for this search’. That means that there is none, in any Sainbury’s supermarket, anywhere. Onwards.

4:30pm, a well-known chemist: So people cut their drugs with it and you can no longer sell it? I could try and independent pharmacist? OK…

4:35pm [by this point, running Anika Rice-stylee down the high street]: You do sell it! YESSS! Oh… you can’t get it for love nor money? Elderflower cordial season y’say. Funny, that.

4:40pm, an independent kitchen shop: Oh you’d love to help me, m’lover, but everyone’s been asking for it! You’ves no idea what’s got into every man and his wife!

4:50pm, a health food shop: Well, I’m at least the tenth person to ask today for this citric acid stuff. Not quite sure what it’s for, but tell you what if you like, there’s the man that owns the little chemist on the end of the bridge, good Lordy, can’t even remember the name of him. Could be Gerald, or maybe Germone? Definitely began with a G of some sort, and, well, he’s pretty good with stocking stuff, he is. What’s it for anyway?

4:55pm, Gerry’s pharmacy (no clearer idea what his name really is): Why haven’t I tried the home brew shop? WHY haven’t I tried the home brew shop!!

4:59pm, outside the home brew shop (which is next to a small church with a bell tower), the clock striking out 5pm as I turn the corner to face the front door. CLOSED. I raise my fists to the sky, shake them helplessly at the air and let our a prolonged ‘Nooooooooo’. I resist falling to my knees and sobbing into them. Just.

5:00pm, car: slight mini-tantrum thrown.

6:00pm, kitchen: elderflowers reluctantly placed in a shallow bowl of water and covered with cling film. Cordial scuppered.


Home brew shop closed till Wednesday. Phoned every independent pharmacy in town. None, anywhere. There’s been a run on it, apparently. Then I get a phone call back… there will be a delivery. They can’t say when. They can take my name and my number. They can’t sell me more than 100g, cause the law’s on their back. But they can do me two packets, if I can come in at lunch time.

I go in at lunch time. I sidle up to the pharmacy assistant. Got any citric? No, all out. She eyeballs me. I’m on the list, I try feebly. Oh, well, she says. That makes all the difference, she says. She unlocks a drawer below the till and takes out ‘the list’. She crosses my name off and hands me two small boxes of acid. I pay cash, and stash them in my handbag.

Got to be careful round these parts, anyone’ll have you for 100g of citric acid.

7 responses to “Halcyon days, and a mission that would make Guy Ritchie proud

  1. Segat1 June 25, 2009 at 4:27 pm

    Awesome post! How strange that it’s used for drugs – bizarre! I remember making sherbert with it when I was a kid, crushing the granules up with a spoon to mix with icing sugar for delicious lemon sherbert but woe betide if you missed a grain – PUCKERY!!!

  2. missbliss June 19, 2009 at 11:12 pm

    I feel this is an appropriate thing to take to the ‘supper with the rector’. How homely we shall look!

    Beth – I agree! I love the Westcountry, but when I lived in Manchester it was somuch easier to get certain things. Yes, a foray into Bristol can get a lot of them but SO much more difficult and expensive!

    madsadgirl It’s good! Can you believe I forgot to put the citric acid in the second batch!? I actually dreamt about it, woke up and shouted I NEED TO ADD THE CITRIC ACID!!

    Eternal Magpie An excellent tip-off. I will be ahead of the game next year.

    Kate Phew! It was easy enough – chop, add, mix – I hope the viar is impressed šŸ˜‰

  3. Kate June 17, 2009 at 10:45 am

    Gosh, we had it easy by comparison! Don’t worry – it really is worth it in the end šŸ™‚

  4. Eternal Magpie June 17, 2009 at 6:16 am

    Oh dear, what a saga! I’m glad you managed to get some in the end.
    I used to be a soapmaker, so I had a huge bagful of citric acid left over from that. I bought it by the kilo, from Gracefruit.

  5. madsadgirl June 16, 2009 at 8:11 pm

    TLM has taken the words out of my mouth. I hope you enjoy it when the time comes.

  6. Beth (Jam and Clotted Cream) June 16, 2009 at 7:33 pm

    Im so glad I live in Cornwall. I missed it when I was at Uni!! The one downside is it does make it difficult to get some ingredients!!!! Oh well, you got their in the end

  7. The Little Medic June 16, 2009 at 7:06 pm

    All I can say is this bloody elderflower cordial better taste incredible after all the effort it has taken!

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