There is perhaps no better sign that summer is well and truly here than the sight and scent of the frothy, cream blossoms of the elderflowers in the hedgerows...
Here at The Forge we are lucky enough to have lots of elder trees and we love to make the most of them while they are in bloom. Here are our top five elderflower recipes, inspired by two of our favourite foraging gurus – Roger Phillips and Fiona Bird*. Their well-thumbed books are our bibles at this time of the year!
1. Elderflower champagne – pick 4 heads of elderflower and give them a good shake to remove any beasties that might be lurking. Place them in a large, clean bucket with a whole lemon cut into pieces, two tablespoons of white vinegar, 650g sugar (dissolved in a little warm water) and 4.5l of water. Leave for 4 days for the natural yeasts in the flowers to work their magic, then strain and bottle. We prefer to use plastic bottles as it can get really fizzy after about 6-10 days and this way you can release the pressure gradually!
2. Elderflower lemonade – so refreshing on a hot day! Just cover 2 litres of fresh elderflowers with 2 litres of water. Add a sliced lemon, a tablespoon of cider vinegar and 300g sugar. Stir well and leave for 24 hours. Strain and simmer the mixture for 15 mins then leave and bottle when cool. Plink, plink, a few ice cubes and you are onto a winner!
3. Elderflower fritters – our once a year guilty pleasure! Pick around 12 elderflower heads being careful to keep the long stalks. Give them a good shake then make up a standard pancake batter. Dip the elderflower heads into the batter and then pop then in a deep fat fryer for a few minutes until the batter is golden. Remove, drain on kitchen paper then sprinkle with caster sugar and some freshly chopped mint. Divine!
4. Elderflower vinegar – this a lovely way to keep summer going into the long winter months and is great for salad dressings, sauces and even drizzled over ice cream. Pack around 20 elderflower heads into a large, sterilized, wide-necked jar. Add 2 small lengths of lime pith, 600ml of cider vinegar and fill to the brim. Leave to steep for 10 days, shaking occasionally. Strain the vinegar then replace the flowers with 10 fresh heads. Pour the vinegar back over the flowers and repeat the process. Finally strain and seal with vinegar-proof lids. Bingo.
5. Elderflower cakes and pancakes – we love to sprinkle the delicate flower heads into our cakes and pancakes before cooking for a delicate infused scent of elderflowers. We also love just picking them directly from the tree and munching them ‘au naturel’. Delicious!
You can find elderflowers everywhere at this time of year, even in parks and hedges in the towns and cities. Why not experiment and see what you come up with? We’d love to hear your favourite recipes to add to our collection…
*Our recommended reading is Wild Food by Roger Phillips and The Forager's Kitchen by Fiona Bird.