It's that time of year again when the race is on to see who can get to the elderflowers first. I spotted promising looking buds three days ago so, waking up ridiculously early yesterday, I instantly put foraging at the top of the day's agenda. I suspected there would only be a few flower heads but I was on the Heath by 7.00 a.m., just me and a few lone runners jogging past.
I knew where I needed to go but couldn't resist the opportunity to dawdle in magical green glades, creep under branches in secret copses to get close to banks of bluebells, be thankful for logs laid to pinpoint the muddy ditch beyond and listen to the early morning birdsong of a little coal tit, no doubt alerting his pals to the approaching human! I saw lichen on ancient trees, wild forget-me-nots and red campion, buttercups and ferns. I even found a good thick stick shaped like a slingshot. That went into my bag and got passed to a friend's young son on the way home. He was thrilled. So was I. He's such a boy.
Wandering back in the direction of home, my sylvan idyll was gradually dispelled by the massed puffing of running clubs, ladies chatting while jogging together (men seem to be lone huffers and puffers) and lots of people out with their dogs. I'd gathered over 20 large elderflower heads and was now hungry for breakfast. Thoughts of freshly baked bread and the Heath Farmer's Market crept into my head. And - as luck would have it! - the Harrington Scheme (a local project providing gardening training for disabled youth) were selling lovely organic plants on the neighbouring stall to the bread. All in a good cause, 6 sweetcorn, some purple sage and some lime Nicotiana came home with me. All in all, a bit of a top-hole morning.
So, how to identify elderflowers? Here are some pics.
|Spot the difference! Bottom right is NOT elderflower - look at the leaves!|
Paired mid-green leaves with serrated edges. Umbels of green buds open to tiny white flowers. Distinct scent from open flowers.
Back at home I quickly got on with making my first batch of elderflower cordial. I've had a tiny delicious taste this morning but I'll leave it until tomorrow evening as I have garden planting to do today and Chelsea Flower Show tomorrow. Life is sweet.
The recipe I use is an adaption from Sarah Raven's recipe (link under name) in that I use less sugar and then substitute slightly healthier alternatives. I really like the addition of oranges and lime rather than using just lemons. I don't use citric acid because, in my neck of the woods, no-one sells it. There's a story that it's used to cut cocaine but that's not something this innocent lass is ever likely to prove.
Here's my version:
1.5 litres water
1 kg sugar (I used 500g organic granulated, 250g coconut palm sugar, 250g Xylitol)
1 large orange (or 2 smaller ones)
Put water and sugar in a saucepan. Heat very gently until sugar completely dissolved, stirring occasionally to check. Once dissolved, bring to the boil and take off the heat.
Zest and thinly slice the citrus fruit. Put into a large bowl. Add the elderflowers. I usually check the flowers by turning them upside down, giving a gentle shake, check for insects, then cut most of the stems off leaving a half inch behind the flowers. Don't wash the flowers, the fragrance will disappear.
Pour the hot syrup over the fruit and flowers. Give it a stir round, lightly cover (a tea towel or pot lid will do) and leave to infuse for 24 to 48 hours. When time's up, strain through muslin or a jelly strainer into a jug and pour through a funnel into clean sterilised bottles. Store it in the fridge or decant into plastic bottles and put in the freezer where it will keep for several months.