THE taste of elderflower for many of us, is associated with the summer. KATH SKELLON has some recipes to make the most of its delicate flavour.
ELDERFLOWER has a distinct aromatic flavour that can be found in many traditional recipes from trifle to jelly, cream pudding and cordial.
The English tree, which can be found all over the countryside, dates back to ancient times when the elder was regarded as sacred. Superstitious folk would grow a tree close to their house to keep out evil spirits and it is said that as Christ’s cross was made of elder wood, it is safe to shelter from lightning under an elder tree. Washing your face in dew from freshly gathered elderflowers is believed to preserve youthful beauty.
Simon King, who is the chef and owner of restaurant 1861 near Abergavenny, is a keen forager, and adds elderflower to an array of dishes ranging from salads to risottos and puddings.
Mr King, who has worked with the Roux brothers at The Waterside Inn, Bray, and chef, Martin Blunos during his career, picked his first elderflowers in late April but adds that throughout May they will be out in even greater profusion.
“The elder might not be the most magnificent of trees, not like a mighty oak or a graceful beech, but it is a fabulous wild foodstore.”
“Throughout the year, it provides us with a fantastic range of different ingredients.”
He said the young shoots of the tree when new and young are pale and green, rather like asparagus.
“Just peel and trim them, and boil them in lightly salted water. Don’t use the leaves, however, as these are bitter. Serve with a little butter and a dash of lemon.”
“The flower buds can be pickled and used rather like capers. They go very well with fish and a cream sauce. When pickling them, use a white wine or cider vinegar rather than malt, unless you want an especially powerful taste. As with any other pickles, you can add flavourings such as lemon peel, chilli and garlic, depending on your tastes.”
Mr King said the flowers have a myriad of uses, the most popular being a flavouring for cordial.
“The blooms have a lovely fresh, summery aromatic taste. The cordial is very refreshing when topped up with some sparkling water.”
“I use the flowers for lots of other things in the restaurant too - to infuse a custard, in creme brulee and pannacotta.”
They can also be dropped into jams such as strawberry, gooseberry or rhubarb to give a delicate flavour and also look pretty.
A popular recipe is elderflower fritters which he says make a wonderful pudding.
“ I use a tempura batter, which is very light, then deep fry the fritters quickly.”
“I make this dish in the restaurant, served with a rhubarb sorbet and coulis, creating a fantastic mix of warm and cold, soft and crispy generating a great mix of flavours and textures.”
The berries can also be infused in vinegar, using the same technique as with raspberries or walnuts.
“You can use them in jam, along with apple - this is an excellent combination as they are rich and intense, and have a deep, jewel colour, and compliment the apple well.
“They are also good infused in sauces and served with game.”
Simon King’s Elderflower fritters recipe
1 egg, separated
Half a dozen elderflower heads
-Whisk the egg yolk, flour and milk together until smooth and set aside for 20 minutes.
-Whisk the egg white to soft peaks and gently fold into the batter, keeping the mixture as light as possible.
-Heat the oil in a deep fat fryer to 180C.
-Using a pair of kitchen scissors, snip the elderflowers into individual florets, leaving on as much stem as possible.
-Dip the florets into the batter and drop into the hot oil. Cook for 1-2 minutes, until golden brown. Remove and drain on kitchen paper.
-Dust with icing sugar and serve on their own, or with a dollop of cream.
Simon King’s Elderflower Cordial
2½ kg white sugar, either granulated or caster
20 fresh elderflower heads, stalks trimmed
85g citric acid – this will generally be available at your local chemist
Put the sugar and 1.5 litres/2¾ pints water into the largest saucepan you have. Gently heat, without boiling, until the sugar has dissolved. Give it a stir every now and again. Grate the lemon zest, then slice the lemons into rounds.
When the sugar has dissolved, bring the pan of syrup to the boil, then turn off the heat. Give the lederflowers a gentle wash under cold water, shaking out any excess moisture afterwards. Put them in the syrup along with the lemons, lemon zest and citric acid, then stir well. Cover the pan and leave to infuse for 24 hrs.
Line a colander with muslin, then sit it over a large bowl or pan. Ladle in the syrup – let it drip slowly through. Discard the zest, flowerheads etc left in the muslin. Use a funnel and pour the syrup into sterilised bottles (run glass bottles through the dishwasher, or wash well with soapy water, rinse, then dry in a low oven). The cordial is ready to drink straight away and will keep in the fridge for about one month. Dilute with iced water, or sparkling mineral water for a delicious and refreshing drink.