THE TRANSATLANTIC MAGAZINE
Making elderflower cordial is one of my favourite traditions. This year was exceptional. The weather produced the most beautiful spring I can remember and with it, an absolute explosion of these heavenly flowers. It is everywhere, and now is the time to harvest. But you better be quick! In many places, the low lying branches have already been deflowered. If you have a child who can use a pair of scissors AND sit on your shoulders, you can reach the higher branches and have a Kodak moment to boot! I cycled to the Hackney Marshes with my housemate Jonny for this year’s expedition. He refused to let me sit on his shoulders, but it was a great day anyway.
Foraging, preparing and bottling is a long and lovely process. Urban foraging has been trending with foodies for some time. It’s a great activity, made even better during lockdown. Nature has been unchanged by Corona virus, perhaps even improved! Life feels normal in the wilderness or a park. It is literally, a breath of fresh air. The freshest we’ve had for some time!
Once you know how to identify it, you will notice elderflower everywhere. If you are a novice, I found the following article very useful:
Elderflower is often surrounded by stinging nettles which are easy to identify by their jagged leaves, and/or brambles. For this reason, be sure to wear long sleeves and trousers when you go out. A pair of gloves can also be useful. Elderflowers are also prone to aphids. Needless to say, just avoid any that are covered in small black bugs! Otherwise, all you need is a shopping bag and a pair of scissors or hand clippers. Find the whitest, freshest flowers you can, take hold of the stem, run your fingers towards the flower so the whole cluster is in the palm of your hand, and cut as close to the flower as possible while leaving the cluster intact. Then repeat about 500 times!!! 50 to 100 will do, but you will likely regret it. I usually make about 10 litres of cordial which provides endless delights for the entire year. Watch this space for my favourite elderflower recipes including margaritas and strawberry soup!
When you get home from your foraging, make the cordial right away while the flowers are fresh. But be warned!
THERE WILL BE BUGS!
Culinary DIY is not like shopping at Tesco where everything is sanitised and packaged beyond all recognition. Most critters will hop off the flowers when you disturb them. A few diehards will remain however and end up in the pot. If you are squeamish or have become CoroNeurotic like the rest of us, GET OVER IT! All organisms will perish when plunged into boiling water. In fact, few can survive in temperatures over 60 degrees C, so you are more than covered. Everything gets strained out in the end anyway so nothing harmful or unpleasant ends up in your drink.
If you had a good harvest, you might want to save 4 or 5 choice clusters per person and make elderflower fritters as a post urban foraging treat.
Makes approximately 4 litres
3 litres water
2 kg golden granulated sugar
Juice of 4 large unwaxed lemons
50 to 100 g food grade citric acid (available or easily ordered from most chemists)
150 to 200 elderflower clusters
Cordial is not an exact science. Much depends on personal preference. I use more flowers and less sugar than many recipes. I do not use the rind of the lemon because I don’t like any bitterness in my cordial. I like mine as pure as possible. You can add whatever you like to it later.
Boil the water and then add the sugar. Stir it occasionally to make sure no sugar is scorching. When it comes back to a boil, turn off the heat. Add the lemon juice and citric acid. Again, this is a matter of taste. Add50 g first and another 50 at the end if you think it needs it. The citric acid helps prevent microorganisms from thriving but more importantly, it cuts the sugar so you don’t end up with sickeningly sweet cordial. You can just add more lemon, but be careful you don’t lose the delicate flower and end up with lemonade.
Lastly, plunge in the flowers. I pack in as many as my pot will hold. 6 big handfuls or half a shopping bag. Stir it up and check the taste. At this point you can add more sugar, lemon or citric acid to taste. Cover the pot and leave it for 3 days. Give it a good stir every morning and evening. After 3 days, it’s ready. Place a colander over another pot and strain the mixture, squeezing out as much liquid as possible. Chuck the flowers out and rinse the original pot. Place the colander over the pot, line it with an old kitchen towel or a double layer of cheese cloth and strain the liquid a second time. You can repeat this process if there is still some residue.
If you are going to drink the cordial right away, you can pour it into any clean glass or plastic bottle you have at hand using a funnel and ladle. Unprocessed, it will keep in the fridge for 2 weeks. Mix the cordial with 1 to 2 parts still or sparkling water, add some ice and a wedge of lemon and head off to heaven.
If you want to keep some for later in the year, use a mason jar with a screw top lid (I like Kilner). Rinse the jars and their lids in boiling water to sterilise. Fill each jar leaving 1 cm at the top. Screw the lid firmly but not overly tight and place in a pot that is deeper than the jar. Fill with boiling water to cover completely and simmer for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and leave it overnight. In the morning you can remove the now vacuum packed jar and it will keep in a cupboard until next year.
Happy lockdown everyone.
70 g flour
Pinch of salt
1 Tablespoon sugar
½ cup beer (I used Corona. It seemed appropriate. Sparkling water will suffice)
20 elderflower clusters. It’s important that the flowers are intact, held together by about ½ cm of the single stem at the base
Vegetable oil (I prefer sunflower, but use anything neutral)
In a medium sized bowl, beat the egg with the salt and sugar. Add half the beer and mix. Wisk in the flour till there are no lumps, then add the rest of the beer. Let the batter sit in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
Heat 1 cm of oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Grab a flower by the stem, dunk it in the batter and let most of it drip off. Place it flower side down in the skillet. It should puff up immediately. If it doesn’t, your oil isn’t hot enough. Repeat with 4 – 5 flowers at a time. Use a long handled spoon to gently splash some oil over the tops while they are frying to a golden brown. Pick them up by the stems and place them on kitchen towels to drain. Repeat with the remaining flowers. Remove any bits of batter with a slotted spoon between batches so they don’t burn and flavour the oil.
Serve them flower side up, simply dusted with icing sugar or drizzled with your favourite syrup. My favourite is made from last year’s elderflower cordial.
Boil ½ cup elderflower cordial with the juice of one orange and 4 tablespoons sugar until it thickens to a syrup (5 – 10 minutes) and drizzle over the hot fritters.
The best flowers you’ll ever eat.
To enjoy a grown up take on your stash of elderflower cordial, click here for Michael's naughty Elderflower Cocktails.
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