This week I have been experimenting with elderflowers, which anyone can collect on a trip to the countryside where the frothy creamy blooms are easy to spot. Alternatively, pop down to a local market and buy from the street sellers - I found mine at Pta Matache. I couldn’t know if these were roadside elderflowers with extra pollution or plucked from pristine fields “la tara”. Best not to think about it. Elderflowers have been used in folk medicine for centuries – dried flowers to make a detox tea, the cordial to alleviate allergies and asthma and a tincture for skin problems.
Elderflowers are one of the smells of spring. The heady fragrance is probably best captured in a syrup (instructions below). Once prepared, the syrup offers plenty of things to experiment with. Typically it is served as a cordial diluted with fizzy or plain water and it makes a very acceptable non alcoholic aperitif. I added it to chopped strawberries to make a fast and interesting dessert and I am planning some ice cream and a fragrant panna cotta. If gooseberries are available, (Agrise) the combination with elderflower is a magical one, actually one of my favorite elderflower recipes is elderflower and gooseberry ice cream, which my grandmother used to make using the fruit from her precious gooseberry bushes.
This week I took my “punga” (the Romanian for bag) of elderflowers and I let them soak two days in a light sugar syrup. This was an English recipe (see below). In fact, elderflower cordial is extremely traditional in the UK and is now enjoying a big revival. Here in Romania the recipe for “suc de soc” or “socata” the traditional elderflower drink requires the flowers to macerate in the sun a few days in a large pickle jar with a few slices of lemon… of course the English recipe is not based on “sun maceration” as we do not have real sun. The recipe I suggest is an English one, not because I prefer it, but I think it’s a little easier only requiring a large saucepan and a few bottles rather than a large pickle jar.
Large saucepan, muslin or a fine sieve, funnel, bottles with good lids
1.5 liters boiling water
4 medium lemons, washed
30 large Elderflower heads, shaken to remove creepy crawlies
Boil the sugar and water together to obtain a light syrup. Let the syrup cool. Really! If the syrup is too hot the elderflowers will discolor, the syrup will darken and the flavor will change, so be patient or make the syrup ahead of time.
Grate the rind of the lemons with a fine grater, add to the syrup.
Slice the lemons into thick slices and add to the water. Finally add the flower heads to the water and stir again. Make sure isn't too much “stalk” on the flowers – I snipped mine with a pair of kitchen scissors – because too much stalk can make the syrup bitter.
Cover with a clean cloth and leave to macerate for 48 hours (no sun required).
Strain through clean fine muslin cloth into a clean bowl or, for less fussy, just through a fine sieve. If you do not have fine muslin to hand then a coffee filter often works well.
Using a funnel, fill sterilized bottles (ie bottles warmed to 150C in the oven) with the syrup. Seal and store in a cool, dark place... if you can resist using it immediately!
By Rachel Sargent, guest writer
Rachel Sargent is the chef and owner of the London Street Bakery, which offers healthy seasonal food. More about it here.