This month will see the beginnings of the Elderflower season – those wonderful frothy, scented flowers of the elder tree or Sambucus nigra. The leaves are believed to repel insects and vermin, and a decoction can be sprayed on plants to protect against aphid attack. The elder is strongly associated with all things ‘faerie’, and myths abound about ‘Mother Elder’.
One thing is clear: elderflowers have a wide range of culinary uses due to their prolific nature and strong scent and taste. Following are 3 recipes from Kate Harrison that she has tried and tested.
Ideally, pick elderflower heads early morning, choosing blooms that are newly opened. Make sure you have permission from the landowner to collect, and don’t forget to leave some for the insects (and to set berries for harvesting later in the year).
Elderflower Fritters (from BBC Good Food website)
16 elderflowers heads
Sunflower oil, for deep-frying
100g self-raising flour
2 tsp cornflour
2 tsp golden caster sugar
175ml sparkling water
orange blossom honey
Cut away any elderflower stalks, just leaving the head still joined together. Half-fill a large saucepan with oil and set over a medium heat – you want it to reach 180C on a temperature probe.
While the oil is heating, mix together the flours, sugar and a pinch of salt in a bowl. Beat together the egg and sparkling water. Make a well in the centre of the flour, then slowly pour in the wet mixture, whisking until combined – you want it to be lumpy. You’ll need to use the batter immediately.
Dip the elderflower heads into the batter, then drop into the hot oil, a few at a time. Cook for 30 secs-1 min until golden, then remove using a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper. Dust generously with icing sugar and drizzle over some honey. Eat straight away, while crisp
Elderflower Cordial (from Good Food Channel)
20 heads of elderflower
1.8 kg granulated sugar, or caster sugar
1.2 litres water
2 unwaxed lemons
75 g citric acid
Shake the elderflowers to expel any lingering insects, and then place in a large bow
Put the sugar into a pan with the water and bring up to the boil, stirring until the sugar has completely dissolved.
While the sugar syrup is heating, pare the zest of the lemons off in wide strips and toss into the bowl with the elderflowers. Slice the lemons, discard the ends, and add the slices to the bowl. Pour over the boiling syrup, and then stir in the citric acid. Cover with a cloth and then leave at room temperature for 24 hours.
Next day, strain the cordial through a sieve lined with muslin (or a new j-cloth rinsed out in boiling water), and pour into thoroughly cleaned glass or plastic bottles. Screw on the lids and pop into the cupboard ready to use.
Elderflower Delight (from River Cottage)
Packet of Agar Agar or Carrageenan
Soak the agar in a shallow dish of cold water to soften. Strip the elderflower blossom from the stems with a fork and tie them in a piece of muslin to form a bag, leaving a length of string. Put the granulated sugar, lemon juice and 300ml water in a heavy-based saucepan, heat gently until the sugar is dissolved, then leave to cool.
In a bowl, mix 100g of the cornflour with the remaining 100ml water until smooth, then stir into the lemon sugar syrup. Return the saucepan to a low heat. Squeeze the agar to remove excess water, then add to the mixture and stir with a balloon whisk until the agar has dissolved.
Bring the mixture very slowly to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring almost continuously to prevent the mixture sticking and any volcanic build-up of steam. Suspend the muslin bag of elderflowers in the mixture and simmer, still stirring, for a further 15 minutes, giving the muslin bag an occasional squeeze with the back of the spoon to release the elderflower fragrance. The mixture will gradually clarify and become extremely gloopy. When ready, leave to cool for 10 minutes.
Mix the remaining 30g cornflour with the icing sugar. Line a shallow baking tin, about 20cm square, with baking parchment and dust with a heaped tablespoonful of the icing sugar and cornflour mixture. Remove the muslin bag from the gloopy mixture, then pour it into the baking tin and place in a cool place (but not the fridge) to set. Now refrigerate for a few hours until it becomes rubbery.
Cut the elderflower delight into cubes with a knife or scissors and dust with icing sugar and cornflour.