June. Right now in England we are getting a sweet taste of summer in the form of strawberries, gooseberries and the short-lived elderflower, whether the sun shines or not. Cream-coloured clusters of elderflower are popping out all over the place in London, and not only in the green spaces - I’ve seen the blossoms dripping over bus stops and brick walls right, left and centre. In fact, you could probably just follow your nose to find the nearest one. Or spot the distinctive tiny white petals that have fallen on the pavement -though this could be a sign that the flowers on the bush are past it.
Be warned, however, that tempting as it is to bring home a lovely big posy of elderflowers, they fill the house with a strong aroma, which quickly begins to smell overwhelmingly like cat pee, especially if they are a bit past their prime. Try to collect them just-bloomed but still perfumed, snipping them off with scissors so as not to jostle the fragrant pollen, and use in your recipe immediately.
Here’s a recipe for the Elderflower Cordial I made this weekend.
20 heads of elderflower (or a few more if small)
2 large unwaxed lemons, sliced
1.5 litres water
65g citric acid powder (available at pharmacies)
1.75kg caster sugar
Inspect the elderflower heads and brush off any insects. Place in a large ceramic bowl with the lemons. Measure the water into a saucepan and place over a high heat to bring to the boil. Put the citric acid and sugar in a separate large saucepan, ladle in some of the measured water, and heat gently to dissolve, stirring frequently. Pour the boiling water over the elderflowers and lemons. Add the sugar and citric acid solution and give it a gentle stir.
Cool completely, stir again, cover and leave in a cool place for 5 days, stirring well morning and night. Strain through a fine gauze or muslin (a nylon stocking works well! See tip below) into clean dry plastic bottles (a good way to recycle small plastic milk bottles or water bottles), seal and store in a cool, dark place or in the freezer, where it will keep indefinitely. Once opened, keep in the fridge. Makes just over two litres.
To serve, dilute with still or sparkling water. Excellent in cocktails or dribbled over vanilla ice cream.
STRAINING TIP: Strain the big stuff through a fine-ish sieve into a large jug. Stretch a nylon stocking (I keep a pack of unused knee-highs in the kitchen - they’re handy) over a funnel so it’s tight around the edges but a little loose in the middle. Place the funnel over a smaller jug. Pour the sieve-strained cordial through the stocking for crystal-clear and bug-free cordial, then pour carefully into five empty 500ml water bottles, leaving a little room at the top for freezer expansion. Screw on caps and freeze.
MORE ELDERFLOWER STUFF
Elderflower cordial is my annual stand-by, but it doesn’t stop there - you can make an exquisite “champagne”, ice cream, fritters, jam, tea, vinegar…the most comprehensive guide I’ve got for using elderflowers, and all types of wild foraged foods, is the book “Edible Wild Plants and Herbs: A Compendium of Recipes and Remedies” by Pamela Michael, published by Grub Street in 2007, as an updated version of the 1980 classic “All Good Things Around Us”. I’m also loving the colossal tome “The Wild Vegetarian Cookbook: A Forager’s Culinary Guide” by “Wildman” Steve Brill (Harvard Common Press, 2002).