RECIPE INGREDIENT: Hedgerow Elderflower

Tried and tested seasonal ingredient notes from our country cookery school kitchen garden.  As well as hacks and get ahead tips for EVERY cook who loves to be in the garden. 

Adorning the hedgerows from mid May until late June, the creamy umbels of elderflower, fill the evening air with a delicious scent.  As soon as the tiny blossoms are pollinated the berries swell and begin to turn from green into a deep, almost decadent, dark purple.  Both the flowers and the berries are edible and can be used to create cordials, syrup and autumn jellies. 

In Season

Late Spring & Early Summer 

Mid May until late June 

Where to Forage 

Along hedgerows and at the edge of woods.

Plant Family

Sambucus nigra  – a hedgerow shrub or small tree 

How to gather:

To forage for flowers, choose a hedgerow along a quiet lane or along a footpath.  Snip the main stem of the umbel with scissors and give a gently shake to release any insects before placing in a basket. Remember to only gather a few flower heads from each shrub so that some can develop into berries for birds and wildlife.

How to prepare:

Check for insects and shake the flower heads to remove any that may have remained.  For syrups and cordials, simply snip the flower heads into a bowl. If you decide to make fritters, leave a slightly longer stalk.  This will make it easier to dip into the batter.

Did you know that it is said to be a good omen if an Elder tree grows near to your doorway?  This is because it is thought to ward away evil spirits. 

How to cook:

Aside from making a syrup or cordial to serve with sparkling water or tonic.  Elderflower can be used in the following sweet and savoury dishes.

Savoury recipes:  seek out Mary Quickes delicious Elderflower cheddar to add to quiches and tarts, or for a lunch of sourdough and gooseberry chutney.

Puddings & desserts: fritters, sorbet, cordial, lemonade and to partner gooseberry in a fool, ice-cream, compote or cake.

Partner with:

Gooseberries and strawberries.  Lemon, mint, cucumber and borage.

Create a savoury sauce with gooseberry to serve alongside mackerel.

Combine with strawberries for a delicate preserve. Or flavour a cordial to serve with mint and lemon.

Poach with gooseberries and create a compote to serve with ricotta or to top with an almond and oat crumble topping.

Kitchen Hacks & Tips

Elderflower Gin

Fill a sterilised 2 litre Kilner jar with approx. 8 – 10  elderflower heads (or umbels) remove as much of the stem as possible. Add 250 g granulated cane sugar.  Fill with gin to cover the flowers and seal down tightly.  Shake the jar to help dissolve the sugar and then remember to shake the jar for the first week or so.  Leave in a cool dark place for a couple of months and then strain.  Pour into a bottle and chill to serve.

Gooseberry & Elderflower Compote

This is a classic combination, but there is usually only a short window when the elder is still in flower and the gooseberries are ripe.

Top and tail the fruit and either poach gently with a light syrup, add three strips of lemon zest and 3-4 elderflower umbels into a pan over low heat.  Or, fill a single layer of prepared fruit in a ceramic dish to ‘roast’ with the juice and zest of a lemon and a tablespoon of golden caster sugar.  Cook in the oven at 160 C or gas mark 3 or AGA baking oven for 10 – 15 minutes or until the stems are tender but have kept their shape.

The alternative would be to bottle some elderflower cordial in readiness for the gooseberries to be at their best. Serve alongside homemade granola and ricotta for breakfast or with baked custard for tea.

Gooseberry Fool

Prepare fruit compote, then liquidise to make a puree.  Combine equal amounts of fruit with lightly whipped cream (or half cream and half custard).  Sweeten with icing sugar to taste, pour into glasses and chill for a couple of hours before serving.

Gooseberry & Elderflower Sorbet

Prepare 450 g fruit for a compote with elderflower cordial.  Liquidise and pass through a sieve to make a puree.  Add 300 ml water.  Mix well and then chill until cold.  Pour into a freezer container or add to ice-cream machine and churn until half frozen. Whisk one egg white* until soft peaks form and then add 25 g caster sugar.  Continue whisking until the mixture is stiff and glossy.   Pour half frozen fruit mixture into a prechilled bowl and whisk until smooth.  Gently fold in egg white and sugar.  Return mixture to  freezer for 1-2 hours until firm or use the ice-cream machine and continue churning.  Remove before completely solid and transfer to a freezer container or serve immediately.

*Use pasteurised egg white or be cautious to serve raw egg to elderly or infirm.

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