17 May 2015

In search of elders



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)
2 lemons
1 large orange (or 2 smaller ones)
1 lime

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.









22 comments:

  1. Well, there is no shortage of Elderflowers out here in rural Hampshire, so there would be no need to get up early for it! Actually, I intensely dislike Elderflower cordial (Cat's pee!), and I prefer to wait for the berries. I put Elderberries in my Hedgerow Jelly, which gives it a rich deep purple colour.

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    1. Aha! Pleased to know that the elderflowers are out in Hampshire. I usually spot loads when I'm driving through the Meon Valley. I may just have to park up and snip a few. Despite the number of foragers on the Heath there always seems to be both flowers and berries later in the year. Not liking them means you have more time for gardening at this busy time of year.

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  2. Posted for Sue at Backlane Notebook: "Love the images of the Heath and the recipe too. Still having difficulty leaving a linked message but Backlane Notebook will have to do. Enjoy Chelsea Caro."

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    1. Thanks Sue - it was a really wonderful morning. I'll have a look to see if I can figure out any problems on leaving comments. Caro x

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  3. Shows I've been wandering too far from my usual haunts in that I've seen plenty of bluebells but no elderberry flowers. It's usually round the other way. Will have to take an old path.

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    1. The elder flowers were just starting to open round here Lucy so I think you have plenty of time. Hope you've managed to find some, they're such a spring treat!

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  4. We have elders on the plot and so are ready supply of flowers. We also once made cordial from the pink flowers on our sambucus nigra, it made a lovely pink cordial.

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    1. I bought a sambucus nigra last year in expectation of future pink cordial, Sue - it's still very tiny though so I'll be waiting for some time. Having searched the heath for elderflowers, I found a large elder tucked round the back of the flats where I live. I'm going to need a tall ladder though!

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  5. It's a lovely time of day to be out and about, I enjoy being on the allotment on an evening too, there's something about early morning and dusk, so peacful somehow. I've never made elderflower cordial, never tasted it either. Enjoy Chelsea, I'm looking forward to watching the tv coverage.

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    1. I so agree, Jo. Early mornings and evenings are the times I enjoy most, specially for gardening as it's a bit more peaceful here. I find the taste of home-made cordial much nicer than the shop bought stuff so it might be worth making it once to see if you like it! Chelsea was a treat, as usual - I must get round to writing up the posts!

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  6. An enjoyable post and lovely pictures. I have to say that I'm not keen on elderflower cordial.
    Enjoy the show tomorrow, you'll need a brolly as it looks like being rather wet unfortunately. Flighty xx

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    1. Each to their own, Flighty - and that means more flowers for those that do like it! The show was wonderful and I wore a waterproof coat so that I had hands free for photos!

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  7. I have citric acid in the cupboard, I'm looking at it in a whole new light now. I saw my first elderflowers today, I might give your recipe a go if I can find some more. Hopefully there'll be plenty in the back lane before too long. Wishing you a good week Caro. CJ xx

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    1. I'm seeing loads of elderflowers now, CJ - like all the shrubs and fruit trees, the blossom on the elders seems to be prolific this year, compared to previous years. Might even make some elderflower fritters! (Have never done that before but there's always a first time!) xx

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  8. A most inspiring post! I have several elder trees and every year I plan on making elderberry wine, I've never tried it but have heard it's gorgeous! You can't beat a good forage first thing in the morning!xxx

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  9. elderflowers make me think of my time many years ago backpacking/walking thru England, and one fine sunny day, somewhere in the south, enjoying a lovely elderflowers ice cream. I thought I was eating perfume - it was my first and best experience of elderflowers!

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    1. Wow, elderflower ice cream sounds delicious! And what a lovely memory of visiting the UK. Are elders unique to England then? Sounds like you don't have them in Aus. I used to like those Parma Violet sweets when I was younger, they were like eating perfume. Not sure I'd enjoy them so much these days!

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  10. I've enjoyed catching up with your recent informative posts Caro which as always are a pleasure to read. Yesterday I noticed the first open flowerheads on the elderflower that faces me when I look out of the kitchen window :) Himself is the brewer of the household so maybe I will persuade him to have a go. It's been a few years since he did. Hope that you had a great time at Chelsea and that you are enjoying the long weekend.

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    1. Aww, thank you, Anna - glad you're enjoying your catch up read. It's a busy time of year, isn't it? I have to make time to do the same. Gosh, yes, if you have elderflowers within arm's reach, definitely have a go this year! I've got mine bottled in the fridge so I get that lovely smell every time I open the fridge door, yum!

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  11. That does look like a magical walk. We need to find a new patch of elderflowers this year, we discovered some in the hedgerow behind us but it looks to high up to reach! It seems strange to have some many other people after them too! Sarah x

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  12. Hello- loved your post- but just wanted to point out that one of your photos of elder is actually a sorbus- which while not poisonous certainly isnt what you would want to use in your cordial! Its the bottom right hand photo. Loved the rest of your post!

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    1. Thank you Owen and whoops! Well spotted! I had originally written the post with the intention of pointing out what wasn't elderflowers as well as what was but felt there wasn't enough room for all the photos. Thanks for pointing that out - I think you're the only one who noticed! (including me) :o)

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Caro x

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