I’ve noticed that now most flowers in the hedges and fields are white, in contrast to early spring when wildflowers were overwhelmingly yellow. I’m curious to know why that is, and if anyone knows, do please share your knowledge. The elderflowers and Philadelphus (called Holunder and Jasminstrauch here) are cascading frothily against the hedge trees, mostly field maple and Ligustrum. In the fields nearby, wild carrot umbels promise a sea of white. I’m late making my usual elderflower syrup this year. Isn’t that strange, now that I’ve got trees in the garden and don’t have to go out of my way to gather them? Just typical of me. I made the syrup just in time, as today thunderstorms and hail have changed the past few days’ brilliantly sunny skies to a dark grey gloom, and the remaining flowers on the elder are all bedraggled.
I usually add a tablespoon or so of the syrup to sparkling water for a refreshing summer drink, and my friend Hanna tells of an excellent elderflower gelatin dessert she’d had recently. I might try making that, and M is thinking of making elderflower and yogurt ice cream. Sounds divine. Another friend suggested pouring it over pancakes (thanks Charity!). The elderflowers are best gathered as soon as they open. Try to pick them from places that are not too close to traffic. They’re at their best before they’ve been rained on. No need to wash them, just shake off insects if you find any. Picked early enough, you may beat the insects to them.
Making the syrup is dead simple.
1 kg refined sugar
1 litre water
30-35 fresh elderflower heads
5 unwaxed lemons
1/2 tablespoon citric acid
1. Put sugar into a pan and pour water over. Bring slowly to a simmer until sugar is completely dissolved. No need to stir: just allow the sugar to slowly melt and turn transparent. Immediately turn off the heat and leave to cool to lukewarm.
2. Meanwhile, strip flowers from their stalks with clean fingers into a large non-reactive bowl (stainless steel or plastic). It’s okay if some fine stems join the florets, but try to keep them to a minimum, as they give a foxy scent to the syrup.
3. Wash the lemons, thinly peel the zest, taking care not to include any white pith as it will impart a bitter taste. Squeeze the juice, and add the zest and juice to the bowl. Stir the citric acid into the syrup and then pour over the flower and lemon mixture.
4. Cover the bowl with plastic film and leave in a dark, cool place for 3 to 4 days. Pass the mixture through a sieve or clean cheesecloth, and then store in small containers in the freezer. If using immediately, store in the fridge.
5. To make an elderflower drink: place 1 – 2 tablespoons of syrup in a glass, pour over cold plain or sparkling water, stir, and add ice cubes, if desired. You may wish to freeze some florets in an ice cube tray for decorative ice cubes.