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Loving the elderflower...

Jun 17, 2018

The joy of summer elderflower here at the farm

What is your favourite flower? Right now, round about mid June, my heart belongs utterly to the elderflower. It’s everywhere, on the side of the road, with ordinary-looking little trees now covered in creamy white pancakes of uplifted little blooms.

It grows like a weed. Indeed, some people might call it one. You certainly don’t make space in your garden for a special elder tree in the way you would for a magnolia or a cherry.

But perhaps, just because of the joy elder brings in June, we should.

First up, there is elderflower cordial. Round about now in my part of the world, various middle aged women in robust White Stuff skirts and sensible sandals make their way into chemists and demand to buy “all the citric acid you have in stock”. This causes a grave look to cross the face of any newish pharmacist who explains, in all seriousness, that they have to ask if you’re going to use it to help you inject heroin.

“What, with these hips? Do junkies usually come in size 12-14?” I reply.

When they’ve established that you’re not a smackhead, you’re allowed to take the citric acid home. There, you need to pick 15 fresh heads of elderflower in the morning, ideally in sunshine as they have more flavour that way. Pop them into a big bowl of boiling water along with two sliced lemons, 50g of your citric acid and a kilo of sugar. I know – no one ever said this was diet food.

Steep the resulting sugary, flowery mess for two-three days, covered with a tea towel, and stir it morning and night. Then you need to strain it through a muslin cloth and bottle it using a funnel or jug. I’ll be honest, it’s a fairly sticky process but so worth it: the result is a cool, greenish, golden and utterly deliciously fragrant syrup. It’s lovely diluted with water (perhaps sparkling) or makes a great cocktail with sparkling wine.

You can make the cordial last longer by adding a Camden tablet - buy them online or in preserving shops. Or, if you bottle the syrup in plastic bottles, you could freeze it and keep a taste of high summer all year round.

However, much as I love elderflower cordial, I may have found a new favourite thing to do with these flowers. What’s more, it’s an instant hit of gratification – no waiting around for days - is utterly delicious and involves almost as much sugar.

We ran a Forest School day here at our farm over half term, which was great fun and led by the redoubtable expert in all things bushcraft, Alan Bruford, who lives near us. Once our open-air fire was lit, the kettle hot and a huge black pan warming up over the flames, Alan led me, various children and parents into our woods in search of elderflowers that the children could (just about) reach up to pick.

Once these had been shaken free of small insects (which was great fun for the kids) they dipped the flowers in a simple batter made of beaten flour and milk. Then the youngsters dropped them, blossom side down, into a sizzling pan of hot butter. Once the fritters began to brown, out they came and straight into a dish of sugar.

I held my breath as the foraged fritters were doled out to the assembled children, who had average age five. Would they go for it? They would indeed: “Mmm. Yum! Delicious,” came the assembled response as they nibbled the flowers delicately. “You’ll find, when children have gone to the trouble of finding the food, foraging it and cooking it, they will always eat it,” explained Alan. I tried one too – absolutely scrumptious.

So there you go – the summer flower you can eat, drink or just admire. Three cheers for the humble elderflower.

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