As soon as I see the first elderflowers appearing in hedgerows and gardens I know that summer is just around the corner – sometimes a little further away than we hoped – but for sure the evenings are getting longer and their is a definite ‘bon vivant’ in the air. Elderflowers have a special place in my heart too as they remind me of childhood forays into the woods to go gathering basketfuls to take home and make into cordial and fizzy pop, as we called it. The past few years have seen a return to foraging and preserving due partly to the economic climate but also a desire to reconnect with nature. Suddenly lost pastimes are popular again and everywhere you look people are out hunting and gathering, pickling, salting, smoking and preserving. Bring it on…….
So it is the beginning of June and due to a slightly cooler spring the flowers are a little later than usual this year. I’m off basket in hand, dogs by my side and husband in tow with his camera to capture and record this years collecting of elderflowers for the blog. It’s only a gentle stroll along the path behind our home to a lovely sheltered spot where there are several heavily laden trees, more white than green, with so many flowers this year just waiting for to be picked. But why oh why do they always have to grow in the middle of a hundred nettles – I hate nettles!
Both of us love elderflower syrup, so that’s a definite. It’s such a versatile syrup and can be served simply, with water or why not try drizzling a little over wedges of chilled melon or stirred through whipped cream to serve with scones. The recipe is simple to make and the end result refreshing and delicious. Add ice cubes and sparkling water for a lovely summer drink or perhaps top up with Prosecco for a wonderfully fragrant aperitif.
Makes: approx 2 litres cordial
20 elderflower heads, choose those with all the flower heads open and bright white
1.5 L cold water
1 kg granulated sugar
4 un-waxed lemons, thinly sliced
55 g citric acid
Wash the flowers lightly under cold waking shaking away insects. Place the water and sugar in a large saucepan and bring it the boil over a low heat, without stirring, until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from the heat and carefully stir in the elderflowers, lemon slices and citric acid.
Cover the pan with a clean tea towel and leave to steep overnight in a cool place. The next day strain the liquid through a sieve lined with a piece of muslin and transfer to clean jars.
Seal and store until required. Once re-opened store cordial in the fridge.
Another great idea for making the most of the flowers is to serve them as crispy fritters, dusted with sugar and squeezed with lemon juice. The batter should be light so it doesn’t overpower the delicate nature of the flowers and they are best eaten just as soon as the batter cools enough to pop into the mouth. I tend to fry a couple, serve them and then fry a few more. Remember when deep-frying anything don’t over fill the pan with oil – for this recipe you will only need about 4-5 cm of oil in the bottom of a large wok or deep saucepan and have everything ready to go so that you don’t have the fat getter hotter and hotter. The best way to ensure that the oil is at the correct temperature for deep-frying is to invest in a sugar thermometer. It needs to be between 170-180c/340-350f but alternatively you can pop a small piece of bread into the hot oil – if it crisps and browns in 20 seconds the oil is perfect and remember the temperature will dip as the flowers go in so keep checking the thermometer and adjusting the heat as necessary.
8 elderflower heads
100 g plain white flour, sifted
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 tsp caster sugar
175 ml fizzy water
caster sugar and lemons wedges, to serve
sunflower oil, for deep-frying
Wash the elderflower heads under water to remove any dead bits or insects and dry on kitchen paper. Combine the flour, bicarbonate of soda and caster sugar in a bowl and gradually whisk in the fizzy water until the batter is smooth.
Pour 5 cm or so of oil into a wok or old, deep saucepan and heat until it reaches 180c/350f on a sugar thermometer (or until a cube of bread added to the oil, crisps in 20 seconds).
Working in batches, dip 2 flower heads into the batter, shake off excess and deep-fry for 1 minute or until the fritters are golden brown. Drain on kitchen paper.
Serve the fritters dusted with sugar and some lemon wedges to squeeze.