From early summer, elderflowers can be found almost everywhere in woodland areas, hedgerows and even in city parks and wasteland. Once you’ve spotted these fragrant bunches of tiny, white star-shaped flowers, you’ll see them all over the place. A few bunches are all that is needed to infuse cordials, vinegars, oils etc. or make your own elderflower ‘Champagne’ as the pollen that coats these delicate flowers is packed with flavour (and natural yeast). When picking elderflowers (on a dry day), please leave plenty on the trees to mature into berries later on in the year.
From ancient times the elder tree has been used for medical as well as culinary purposes. It is known as the medicine chest as it has so many medicinal properties. The elderflower is most commonly used to treat colds, hayfever and other chest diseases but the leaves (sprains and bruises) and the berries (rheumatism) are also used by herbalists.
A cordial is really easy to make and can be the base for many recipes and cocktails as well as a refreshing summery drink when simply added to sparkling water or sparkling wine.
I’ve added grated fresh root ginger as it gives a lovely refreshing kick but omit if preferred.
Makes about a litre:
About 10-12 bunches/heads of elderflowers
500g granulated sugar
zest of 1 large or 2 small lemons
zest of 1 large or 2 small oranges
plus their juice, about 75ml total
1 inch piece of fresh root ginger, grated
Remove most of the elderflower stalks, any pesky insects, and place heads in a bowl with the ginger, and lemon and orange zests. Pour about 750ml boiling water over, cover and leave overnight to infuse.
Strain the liquid through a fine sieve or muslin cloth into a saucepan. Add the sugar, lemon and orange juices. Bring to a gentle simmer to until the sugar has dissolved.
Pour the hot syrup into sterilised bottles. It will keep as is in the fridge for several weeks, or pour into plastic bottles or ice cube trays and store in the freezer.
Try also infusing oils, vinegars or spirits with elderflowers.
Elderflower syrup can be used to make or enhance lots of desserts, here’s a really quick and easy example utilising two of my favourite ingredients, the classic gooseberry fool.
500g fresh gooseberries
100ml elderflower cordial
100g caster sugar
250g Greek yoghurt
100ml double cream, mascarpone or mixture of both
1 vanilla pod (optional)
Gooseberry compote – Top and tail the gooseberries. Put them into a pan with the sugar and elderflower cordial. Bring up to the boil and then simmer gently until soft and pulpy. Leave to cool. Press through a sieve if desired to remove skin/pips. I like to keep as is for texture. Drain some of the juice and reduce to a syrup or dilute with some water to make into a granita (as I did in the photo above).
Cream – I like to use a mixture of Greek yoghurt, lightly whipped double cream and mascarpone for a rich but tangy cream filling. Mix together and add a little vanilla and/or elderflower cordial if desired.
Layer up in bowls or glasses and enjoy!