Elderflower cordial, gin, fizzy water and mint. It was late at night, we didn’t have much left to experiment with (previous suggestions had included “Can you make a jaegerbomb with sambuca and coke?”), but lord it was scrumptious. Stumbling over this late night delight made me keen to discover how else I could exploit the elderflowers that seemed to be bursting from the hedgerows. with them.
First, pick your elderflowers. At risk of sounding repetitive, these really are pretty easy to identify. (If you’re having trouble with this, get your paws on a copy of the River Cottage Hedgerow Handbook.) The sprays of white flowers are abundant during June, and ten minutes work can yield enough elderflowers to make a vat of cordial. Recipes abound on the internet (see links below), but basically you need elderflower heads, lemons, sugar, and citric acid. The latter, according to my remarkably well informed great aunt, is used to cut heroin with, and generally needs to be bought in pharmacies, so probably best if you don’t go in to buy it looking as if you’ve come off a three day bender.
Most elderflower recipes use cordial as the base. Easy ways to use it include elderflower fizz (just add champagne), or the delicious recipe for elderflower ice cream on the National Trust Website: http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/main/w-chl/w-countryside_environment/w-food_farming/w-plot_to_plate-gardens/w-plot_to_plate-in_season-june.htm#recipes.
Elderflower champagne is also a real treat for summer afternoons. You generally need to keep the bottles to ferment for a couple of weeks, and I would strongly recommend using plastic bottles. The contents can be rather explosive, and picking shards of glass from your walls is a rather time consuming process. For a good recipe, see here:
More recently, I have experimented with elderflower fritters. Previously I had rather been put off by their slightly hippyish associations. Neither owning, nor wishing to own a pair of sandals, I steered well clear of anything that I thought might mark me out as a tree-hugger. Well, we all learn. It turns out that elderflower fritters are delicious. Eating fresh heads from the tree, dipped in batter, fried, and covered in icing sugar and lemon, it’d be pretty impossible for them to be otherwise. I used the recipe from Richard Mabey’s “Food for Free”, but Downsizer.net has a great selection of recipes and ideas for everything from Elderflower wine to jam, sorbet, and of course, fritters.
– If making cordial go for the elderflower heads that are all white without any brown bits. This is considerably easier in late may and early June than in July, when the flowers are starting to turn.
– Elder trees are steeped in folklore. They were used to repel witches, scare off evil spirits, and more recently, an elder wand murdered hundreds in the Harry Potter books.
– The best places to find elderflowers are country hedgerows and urban parks. If you plan to pick berries later on in the year you’ll need to leave a few heads on the tree.
– The season for elderflower runs from late May to early July.
Do you have other ways of using elderflowers? We’d love to hear your favourites!