Let's begin with the lilacs, lolling on their stems in parks, hanging low in the streets, heady in hot weather.
Elderflower was my quarry last year. This year, it's been lilacs, inspired by the sparkling white lilac cordial I tried at Makrönchen Manufaktur last winter. (The cordial was made by Deutsche Blütensekt Manufaktur, a specialist producer who deserves its own post: other syrups include jasmine, chestnut blossom, cucumber blossom, and so many more.)
I've discreetly secateured blossoms in Viktoriapark, around Bayerischer Platz and, last week, in Kladow.
If Berlin has a maxim, it's 'make hay while the sun shines'. When the May sky burned an absolute, Yves Klein blue, I knew to make a beeline for the ferry across the Wannsee.
It still seems a wonder that Berlin's public transportation includes boats. What a thrill to flash the same ticket that's taken you across the city and enter an old-fashioned ferry with maroon leatherette seats on the inside, plastic lawnchairs on the outside, wet with spray.
On arriving in Kladow, we fortified ourselves with a humble second breakfast (bacon and egg rolls) eaten under sun umbrellas at Maisel's Biergarten.
The sun was so strong it stripped the landscape of all color. We walked down tree-lined paths with the water to our right, and we had the fields to ourselves, mostly.
There was a hillside knee-high with dandelions, and I filled a bag with leaves, to blanche and sautee with butter that evening.
Then we passed the Kulturpark Cafe to find lilacs in glorious profusion on the bushes running down from the old manor house to the water. We cut a head of blossoms here, another there, taking very little from each bush, but in the face of such abundance, our bags were soon full.
Imagine a May evening with the kitchen windows open, the silence dotted by the almost soundless pop each blossom makes, released carefully from its green stemlet. If this endless winter seems a bad dream from which we are only just awakening, such actions become a way of anchoring ourselves to the sun.
Bottles of lilac cordial appear almost redundant against another sunlit sky. Yet I remember the glee I felt on unearthing one last flask of elderflower cordial, and assume these rosy bottles will lift my spirits the same way next February.
And the taste? Dry, astringent, bright, complicated: as well-suited to children's birthday parties as to picnics on the Reichstag lawn.
2 handfuls (2 cups) of plucked lilac blossoms
1 kg sugar
1 liter water
40 grams citric acid
Place the blossoms in a deep, non-reactive bowl (ceramic or glass is ideal). Mix the sugar and water in a large pan and bring to a boil, then remove from heat and let cool til comfortable to touch. Pour the syrup over the flowers, add the citric acid, and stir. Steep for 2-3 days, tasting each day. When the taste is as you want it, strain the liquid through a fine mesh sieve and fill into sterilized bottles. (I prefer the oven method.) If you're looking for jars, well, there's Glasklar, of course, or order in bulk through Spandau-based Gläser und Flaschen.