In “A Modern Herbal”, 1931, Maud Grieve observed “ our English summer is not here until the elder is fully in flower.” By my home, the lanes are full of Elder trees (Sambucus nigra) with masses of creamy white blossoms ready for picking. Forage in June and July for elderflowers on dry days when the blossoms are full of pollen. Smell the flowers before picking as they have different scents. Choose the ones with the sweetest fragrance. Using scissors snip off the stalks and discard all the leaves. Leave some blossoms for foraging in September; the blossoms will have turned into bunches of purplish-black berries.
Mix these with cooking apples to make elderflower and apple jelly and elderflower and apple cheese.
Each year I make Elderflower Cordial. My recipe is made over two days and keeps for at least a year. Once the cordial has been poured into bottles, sterilise it in a water bath. Fill the bottles leaving a 2.5cm (1in) gap at the top. Screw the tops, then give them a quarter turn so that the bottles are loosely sealed. Create a false bottom in a pan, tall and wide enough to hold the bottles – a trivet from a pressure cooker, a wooden stand or wads of newspaper. Stand the bottles upright in the pan and pour cold water up to the lower level of the lids. Turn on the heat and and bring the water to 88ºC (190ºF). This will take about 45-60 minutes. Check the temperature using a sugar thermometer. As soon as the temperature is reached, reduce the heat and maintain the temperature for 20 minutes. Using protective gloves, remove the bottles from the pan on to a wooden board. Screw the lids up tightly and leave to go cold. Once opened, store the cordial in the fridge.
Makes 1.75 litres ( 3pints)
15 large elderflower heads, stalks and leaves removed
1kg granulated sugar
2 lemons, washed and sliced
2 oranges, washed and sliced
2 limes, washed and sliced
30g citric acid
1 litre boiling water
1. Dissolve the sugar in the water in a large bowl. Add the remaining ingredients. Cover with a clean cloth and leave for 48 hours, stirring occasionally.
2. Strain the cordial through a jelly bag made from muslin and pour it into bottles with screw top caps. Seal the bottles loosely and sterilise them in a water bath 88ºC (190ºF) for 20 minutes. Carefully remove the bottles from the pan and place them on a wooden board. Seal the bottles and leave to cool.
To serve, dilute 1 part cordial to 5 parts water. I bottle my cordial in 300ml bottles from the Bristol Bottle Company.
Gooseberry and Elderflower Jam
Elderflowers combined with gooseberries make a fragrant jam. Select under-ripe gooseberries and place the heads of the elderflowers into a thin piece of scalded muslin.Tie it up with string and add it to the pan with the gooseberries.
Makes about 2.25kg/5lb
1kg (21⁄4lbs) gooseberries
12 heads of elderflower
450ml (3⁄4 pint) of water
1.4kg (3lb) granulated, cane sugar
1. Top and tail the gooseberries and put them in a large preserving pan with the water and the muslin bag containing the heads of elderflower. Bring to the boil, turn down the heat and simmer very gently for 15 minutes, until all of the fruit has broken down. Warm the sugar in an ovenproof bowl in a low oven, 140ºC/275ºF/Gas 1.
2. Squeeze out the liquid in the muslin bag by pressing it against the side of the pan with a spoon. Discard the bag and stir the liquid into the pan. Remove the sugar from the oven. Add the sugar to the preserving pan and stir until it has dissolved. Bring the jam quickly to a rolling boil and boil hard until setting point is reached.
3. Test for a set after 5 minutes using the flake, cold plate or thermometer test. As soon as setting point is reached, remove the pan from the heat and leave it to stand for a few minutes. Push any scum from the surface of the pan to the side and remove it with a metal spoon.
4. Gently stir the jam and pour it into clean warm jars, up to the brim. Seal the jars immediately with new twist top lids.
In Miranda Gore-Brown’s brilliant book Biscuit a recipe for Elderflower Moments uses Elderflower Cordial in the biscuit dough and in the indulgent filling. The recipe below is reproduced with kind permission from Miranda and her publishers, Ebury Press.
MAKES AT LEAST 24
300g unsalted butter, softened
55g icing sugar
4tsp elderflower cordial
250g plain flour
YOU WILL ALSO NEED
Small ice-cream scoop (optional)
1. Cream together the butter and icing sugar until very smooth – about 2 minutes in a mixer. Stop after 1 minute and scrape down the sides of the bowl before beating again. Add half the elderflower cordial and beat again.
2. Sift in the flour and cornflour and mix gently until incorporated. Cover the bowl with cling film and chill for 2 hours. Preheat the oven to 170ºC/Mark 3 and line two baking trays with baking paper.
3. Using a small ice-cream scoop or two tablespoons, place walnut-sized balls of the chilled dough on the prepared trays, spacing them at least 3 cm apart. Bake for 15 minutes, then remove from the oven and drizzle a little of the remaining elderflower cordial over each biscuit. Return to the oven to bake for a further 3–5 minutes, until golden around the edges.
4. Allow the biscuits to cool on their trays for 10 minutes, then use a palette knife to transfer them carefully to a wire rack. When completely cold, slide a sheet of greaseproof paper under the rack and dredge the biscuits with icing sugar using a sieve or shaker.
To make these biscuits even more indulgent, you can sandwich them together with delicious elderflower buttercream. Put 100g unsalted butter into a bowl with 2tsp elderflower cordial, 1tsp lemon zest, 20ml semi-skimmed milk and 125g sifted icing sugar. Beat by hand or machine for about 2 minutes, until really creamy. Sift in another 125g icing sugar and beat for another minute. Keep somewhere cool until needed – not in the fridge, as the mixture will go solid.
I am submitting the Elderflower Moments and Elderflower Buttercream recipes to Lancashire Food’s elderflower challenge.