Elderflowers - Penny Snowden
Once regarded as one of the most magically powerful of trees, elder is a forager's favourite and its flowers are the scent of summer. Traditionally feared by the devil it is loved by foragers. Elder is the very essence of summer with its fragrant flowers and soot-dark fruits. It was said that an elder planted by your house would keep the devil away.
Elderflowers come from the elder tree (Sambucus nigra) that generally grows as a shrub or small tree. It’s abundant throughout the UK, in woods and along roadside hedgerows. From late May you’ll see masses of tiny white flowers hanging in sprays which develop into purple elderberries later in the summer. Flat-topped clusters of tiny, creamy-white flowers appear in June. To many people the fragrance is sweet and summery and it attracts masses of insects.
There are many simple and delicious ways of using elderflowers. Here are some easy identification tips and ideas on what to do with them.
The flowers and berries are the only edible part of the plant. They are mildly toxic and have an unpleasant taste when raw. Cooking destroys the toxic chemicals. Elderflowers are ready around late May to mid-June. They’re best picked when the buds are freshly open on a warm, dry, sunny day, well away from traffic fumes. Give them a shake to remove any insects and rinse briefly in cold water before using.
The fragrant flowers are most famous for making elderflower champagne and cordial – perfect summer drinks.
Elderflower cordial can be made without citric acid and can be drunk chilled, diluted with water or add a drop to dry white wine.
You can also add to fruity, creamy desserts with gooseberries, raspberries, rhubarb or peaches.
There are recipes out there for elderflower wine and elderflower liqueur (drizzle over fruit salads). You can also make elderflower tea from an infusion of the fresh flowers.
Add a couple of sprigs of elderflower when cooking fruit for tarts and crumbles (removing them at the end) for a delicate summery flavour. Or, stir a few flowers into cake and muffin mixtures to give them a light, sweet scent. Elderflowers can even be fried in a light batter until crisp.
The green, unopened flower buds can be pickled like capers.
Here is a recipe for Elderflower Cordial from the BBC Good Food magazine :-
Preparation and cooking time - (Makes about 4 litres)
Prep: 20 mins
Cook: 10 mins
Plus picking and 24 hours steeping
Fragrant and refreshing, springtime elderflower cordial is easy to make. Mix with sparkling water to create elderflower pressé, or add to wine, prosecco or champagne to start a party in style!
2 ½kg white sugar , either granulated or caster
20 fresh elderflower heads, stalks trimmed
85g citric acid (from chemists)
STEP 1 Put the sugar and 1.5 litres/2¾ pints water into the largest saucepan you have. Gently heat, without boiling, until the sugar has dissolved. Give it a stir every now and again. Pare the zest from the lemons using a potato peeler, then slice the lemons into rounds.
STEP 2 Once the sugar has dissolved, bring the pan of syrup to the boil, then turn off the heat. Fill a washing up bowl with cold water. Give the flowers a gentle swish around to loosen any dirt or bugs. Lift flowers out, gently shake and transfer to the syrup along with the lemons, zest and citric acid, then stir well. Cover the pan and leave to infuse for 24 hrs.
STEP 3 Line a colander with a clean tea towel, then sit it over a large bowl or pan. Ladle in the syrup – let it drip slowly through. Discard the bits left in the towel. Use a funnel and a ladle to fill sterilised bottles (run glass bottles through the dishwasher, or wash well with soapy water. Rinse, then leave to dry in a low oven). The cordial is ready to drink straight away and will keep in the fridge for up to 6 weeks. Or freeze it in plastic containers or ice cube trays and defrost as needed.