Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Elderflower Power

Summer is Here!! 

Today was the day that the elderflowers finally made an appearance at 
Allt-y-Gôg Farm! They’ve taken their time this year; for weeks I’ve been looking, checking, desperate for any signs of their lacy cream flowers. Often, it’s their pungent sweet odour that draws me and announces their presence; today I was rewarded for my patience! 

Last week we had a brief taste of summer sun; enough to encourage the elder into flower. Elderflowers are a traditional May flower, always at their best in May and June, just before all the other garden flowers and berries compete for our attention. For a very short while they have my undivided attention and, every year, I really try my best to make the most of their early appearance. May is still early in the kitchen gardeners diary; seeds are still being sown, and even the keenest of gardeners are reluctant to plant out tender frost vulnerable plants such as beens, courgettes and pumpkins until the risk of any late frosts have well past. The May harvest is very limited, often to salad crops from the greenhouse, and so any addition to this is greatly welcome! 

Elderflowers can fill this void, keeping us busy and offering ample opportunity to make cordials and champagnes, jams and jellies, fritters, ice creams and sorbets. Add an early (ish) crop of gooseberries into the equation, and the mixture of the heady aromatic elderflowers, with the tart, yet sweet gooseberry makes a fantastic combination.

Before we go any further, it may be worth mentioning that elderflower should not be mistaken for cow parsley that lines the country lanes at about the same time of year! Cow parsley is not elderflower; it’s white flowering stems can reach up to 2m in height, whilst the elder is a deciduous tree/shrub in woods, found in hedges, along roadsides and in gardens.

To make the most of the elderflower’s strong aroma and flavour, pick them in full sun a few days after they first appear.  This ensures that every tiny flower in the spray is open and will give maximum pollen and flavor. Once the pollen drops from the flowers  their colour becomes less creamy and the intensity of the flavour also diminishes. This may suite some people, especially if they’re not to enamored with the elderflowers strong scent and flavour. The ‘cat pee’ smell often associated with elderflower comes from flowers that are ‘past their best’ so avoid browning flowers, choose the best and the freshest, and leave flowers that have ‘gone over’ well alone! It probably goes without saying, but please beware of flowers near main roads, the fumes and pollutants do affect the vegetation and are probably best not consumed! The other hazard to beware of whilst picking elder, is the constant desire to get ‘just one more’! Before you know it, you’ll be high up in the tree, stretching just a little bit higher for the perfect flower head! Remember, the flowers at the top of the tree are no better than those at the bottom, they just look better!! 

As the weeks and months pass, my attention moves to the red, white and black currants, the raspberries, strawberries and finally the blackberries towards the end of the summer. There are plenty to choose from, and fortunately for us cooks, the elder gives us a second chance. If we miss the June flowers, we can always make the most of their dark handsome berries that appear later in the season. 

Gooseberries are another treat to find in the kitchen garden this time of year; they work well with elderflower and combined, make the most amazing ice creams and jam. As a quick cheat for an incredible hot weather dessert, try stirring home made Gooseberry and elderflower jam through a tub of good quality vanilla ice cream. Allow the ice cream to thaw a little, add the jam, ripple it through and refreeze! Serve alone or use to top an ice cold glass of sparkling elderflower cordial!

Gooseberry & Elderflower Jam
1kg Gooseberries
500ml Water
5 Elderflower heads OR 4 tablespoons elderflower cordial syrup
800g granulated sugar
Sterilised Jam Jars

  • Top and tail the gooseberries and place them in a large pan or preserving pan if you have one. 
  • Add the water and the elderflower heads (or the cordial) and head over a low heat until the gooseberries just begin to soften.
  • Add the sugar and stir until dissolved, but don’t stir too energetically or you will lose the shape of the gooseberries! 
  • Bring the jam to a gentle boil for about 20 - 30 minutes until the setting point is reached. You can check for this by dropping a small amount of jam on to a fridge- cold plate; if it sets after a minute or two, the jam is ready. if not, boil for a little longer and check again.
  • Once the jan is ready, allow it to cool slightly, skim off any scum, then ladle into warm, steralised jars, cover with a wax disc and lid and label! Done!

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Elderflower Cordial
There are several methods of making the cordial, but basically you simply want to flavour the water with the elderflowers! Adding sugar and tartaric or citric acid preserves the cordial. Don’t forget that the cordial must be diluted before drinking.
20 – 25 elderflower heads
2 lemons
2 litres water
up to 1.5 kilos granulated sugar
30g tartaric or citric acid

  • Shake any insects off the picked elderflowers and place them in a large saucepan
  • Add the juice of 2 lemons 
  • Cover the flowers and lemons with about 2 litres of  hot but not boiling water (enough to cover them) and allow to soak for at least 4 hours (overnight is ideal)
  • Strain the liquid using a fine strainer or a clean cotton cloth and measure the liquid you have left. 
  • Add 350g of granulated sugar and a teaspoon full of tartaric acid for every 500ml of liquid
  • Bring the mixture gradually to the boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar
  • Allow the cordial to cool and then pour into clean bottles (a funnel is useful!)
  • Dilute with cold water (about 4:1 water to cordial)

To serve... Pour into a glass with ice....Mmm Delicious 

☺Tip: Try freezing some to make your own home made lollies!
Elderflower Sorbet
600ml water
250g sugar
10 elderflower heads
Juice of 3-4 lemons

This is so simple! :) 
Add the sugar to the water, bring to the boil and stir to dissolve the sugar. Once dissolved, boil for a further 5 minutes to form a syrup.
Add the flowers and the lemon juice, stir and allow to cool fully. 

To make the sorbet: Strain the syrup and either use an ice cream machine, or transfer into a plastic container and place in the deep freeze, stirring regularly. If you don’t manage a fine sorbet, blitz in the food processor and enjoy a granita! 

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