It’s the summer solstice here in the UK, the longest day of the year which officially marks the start of summer (believe it or not!). Yes, the skies are still a little too grey & I have yet to don a pair of sandals or leave the house without a jacket but summer IS here! Early summer sees the appearance of Elderflowers. Truly defining British summertime, as it is said that summer starts when the elder trees (Sambucus nigra) burst into flower & ends in late August when it’s elderberries are ripe. From late May to early July, these delicate, fragrant bursting heads of little white flowers can be found growing along roadsides, in gardens, hedgerows & parks. With them comes a slightly floral, sweet aroma to the air, something that most of us would walk past everyday without giving it a second thought.
For the keen forager though this is the sweet scent of free food (thank you nature!). Elderflower can be used to flavour so many different thing’s & imparts a little taste of summer into anything. The flowering heads are best gathered just as their tiny buds are starting to open, whilst some still remain closed. These bright white, newly opened Elderflowers have a musky, sweet perfume. When picking elderflowers, always cut or snap the flower head off right at it’s base, with as little stalk as possible. You should handle he flowers carefully, keeping them upright when picking & keeping them out of the sun, in a cool place to prevent them from wilting.
The older riper heads, will have lost some of their bright white colour & begun to turn a creamier, brownish hue, the smell isn’t as pleasing & whilst these are still perfectly usable they are best left alone as come autumn these will transform into a harvest of elderberries. These are small purplish-black berries that have a tart flavour. The berries aren’t grown commercially so remember where all of your good elder trees are & come back in the Autumn to harvest (elder tree’s can live for up to 60 years to you’ll be lifelong friends). Once picked, these delicate little flowers are best used within a couple of hours as they start to deteriorate quickly. The simplest & most common way to use your glut is to make a cordial. Elderflower cordial is so simple to make at home & will taste so much better than anything you can buy (trust me!).
This floral elixir is sweet, aromatic & absolutely delicious! I can’t think of anything that can rival this sweet, floral flavour, it’s very distinct. The best thing about using your elderflowers in a cordial is that it can still be used to flavour a whole host of other things… add it to a jam, stir into or drizzle it over a cake or ,even better, add a splash to a good gin & tonic (highly recommended). This is the essence of early summer in a bottle, make it now & enjoy it all summer long, even if it’s just to add a little feel of sunshine on those rainy days.
(makes around 4.5 litres)
- 2 3/4 kg granulated sugar
- 2 litres water
- 150g citric acid
- 2 lemons, sliced
- 30 elderflower heads
- Fill the sink or a large bowl with clean water & gently wash the flowers to remove any bugs or dirt
- Gently remove the cleaned flower heads, gently shake off any excess water & set aside
- Put the water & sugar into a large heavy bottomed saucepan or maslin pan
- Gently heat the mixture on a low heat, stirring now & again until all of the sugar has dissolved
- Once the sugar has dissolved, bring the pan to the boil for 5 minutes then remove from the heat
- Add the citric acid to the pan & stir until it dissolves
- Tip in the flowers, lemon zest & slices & give everything a stir
- Cover the pan with a tea towel & set aside to infuse for 24 hours
- Once infused, the mixture should’ve turned syrupy & be very fragrant
- Line a large bowl with a clean muslin cloth or tea towel, leaving it hang over the edges of the bowl
- Gently pour or ladle the mixture into the bowl
- Carefully gather the corners of the cloth to contain all of the leftover bits & give everything a good squeeze to release the last of the cordial
- Use a funnel to fill clean, sterilised bottles, seal well & store the elderflower cordial in the fridge for up to 3 months or alternatively you can freeze in an ice cube tray or plastic bottles