Delicate flowers shaken, not stirred
Brightening up our daily exercise walks, runs or cycles along country lanes or city parks are huge fans of tiny white flowers hanging in picturesque sprays. These gorgeous, delicate elderflower blooms burst into life in May and June and have a brief, fragrant life attracting bees and pollinators.
These elderflower bushes are a forager’s and home cook’s dream. During Spring months the edible flowers can be transformed into a deliciously sweet cordial, tea leaves, fritters and even infused into an alcoholic liqueur. While later on in the year, foragers use the purply elderberries to make syrups, add to pies and make tinctures ready for the chilly winter months.
If you can, gather the elderflower heads on sunny, dry mornings and use them as soon as possible, before their aroma fades away.
They’re great in giving light, aromatic flavours to cakes, jellies and puddings. In fact the list goes on … biscuits, fools, pavlovas, custards and syrups.
Later on in the year, in the Autumn, the purple elderberries of the elderflower bush can be picked and used for making jams, juices, crumbles and even ketchups.
Also known as an Elhorn or Pipe tree, the elder is steeped in folklore and legend has it that if fall asleep under its perfumed blossoms you will be protected form evil spirits and invited into the secret world of the fairies.
This year, as the Corona virus lockdown is gradually eased and many people head into the countryside for exercise, fresh air and the soak up the changing seasons we remember how nature and its bounty is so beneficial for our mental health.
How and when to pick the flowers
Elderflowers generally begin to flower in late May and into June, but the soft white coloured flowers turn brown too quickly before dropping to the woodland or pathside floor. When fresh and bright, pinch the bloom a couple inches from the flower head leaving a stalk which will be useful later when making fritters, but should be cut back when making drinks of fragrant sugars.
Keep them in a string bag or roomy cotton tote whilst picking. If kept in plastic bags the blooms will sweat and loose their delicate taste. Shake the heads gently to dislodge any bugs, but no need to wash them as they will get too soggy.
Elderflower food pairings
Elderflower drinks bring a sweet, delicate floral flavour to the table which pairs well with savoury, particularly salty dishes such as fish and chips or perhaps Chinese or Asian-inspired dishes. Food flavouring expert Niki Segnit, in her encyclopaedic book ‘Lateral Cooking’, describes the ‘fragrance and flavour of elderflower as a ‘musky combination of blackcurrant leaf, floral lemon and a West Country hedgerow after a shower in June’. She suggests holding onto this smell of early summer by preserving it in sugar, by layering fresh flower heads with white granulated sugar - 0ne tablespoon of fresh blooms (just the flowers) per 100g sugar and leaving to elderflowerise for up to six months. Great for baking cakes.