Elderflower, preserving summer

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The weathers improving, more sunshine is filling our days and suddenly the air is filled with the most delicious smell, Elderflower. For me this is the foraging highlight of the summer. Sadly, it can also be very fleeting, so I am always trying to find new ways to preserve this distinctive scent and flavour to bring back balmy summer days during the dark cold ones.

By far the simplest is Elderflower champagne. With the grand total of five ingredients:

  • 10 Elderflower heads
  • 1kg sugar
  • 5 lemons
  • 8ltrs water
  • 4tbsp white wine vinegar

All you need to do is dissolve the sugar in the water by warming half of it. Next chop the lemons into slices and then bung all the ingredients in to a tub with a muslin cloth over it to ferment away for 1/2 days. Time to remove the Elderflower heads. By now you should have tell-tale signs of fermentation with the mixture starting to bubble.

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For some reason this seems to be a particularly bad year for the natural yeast normally found on the Elderflower heads and I've had two batches not show any signs of fermentation at all. So to kick start things now is the time to add a pinch of champagne yeast if it needs it.

Continue to allow the fermentation process to occur for a further 4/5 days. Strain it through muslin into strong sterilised bottled. I like to use the swing top one as they can release excess pressure if need by themselves without needing constant monitoring. Elderflower champagne can be very explosive, so be warned. Give it another week then pop it in the fridge to have a chilled glass at a summer BBQ.

A new recipe I’ve tried for the first time this year, that’s quickly becoming a firm favourite, is elderflower cordial. Another lovely simple recipe that takes a little more work than the champagne simply because you need to keep stirring to dissolve a LOT more sugar.

Elderflower Cordial

  • 2.5kg white sugar
  • 2 unwaxed lemons
  • 20 fresh elderflower heads
  • 85g Citric acid (can be ordered online or found at a chemist)

Gently heat and dissolve the sugar in 1.5ltrs water stirring occasionally. Once dissolved bring it gently to the boil then turn off the heat. Slice the lemons into rounds before adding to the sugar water along with the citric acid and cleaned elderflower heads. Cover the pan and leave to infuse for 24 hours. Once infused line a sieve or colander with muslin or a tea towel, ladle or pour the syrup through it before decanting into sterilised bottles. Keep it in the fridge for up to six weeks or freeze as ice cubes to be put into drinks.

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Strawberries are also now just coming into season and for me elderflower and strawberry is a match made in heaven. Nothing brings back summer for me like a hot piece of toast covered in butter and a slathering of strawberry and elderflower jam. It’s a beautiful and simple recipe creating a basic ruby red strawberry jam, but you add the individual flowers from clean elderflower heads at the end. This infuses the jam with the citrusy floral taste of elderflower.

Strawberry and Elderflower Jam

  • 1kg Strawberries
  • 1kg Jam Sugar (Strawberries need extra pectin to help them set, you can either use jam sugar which has extra pectin in it or I like to add a bramley apple which are high in pectin.)
  • 8 elderflower heads

Clean and chop the strawberries roughly in half and cover them with the sugar. I like to leave them over night like this to help draw out the juice and intensify the flavour. Gently bring to a simmer and using a thermometer monitor the temperature until it reaches 105 degrees centigrade (normally labelled jam on specialised thermometers). Once it hits the correct temperature add the washed elderflowers by gently pulling the white flowers from the woody stems. Turn off the heat, stir and allow to infuse before decanting into sterilised jars.

I hope these inspire you to get out foraging and back into the kitchen :). Please remember to only pick what you need though and to be 100% certain of what you are foraging.

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