Category: Summer

Basket of Elderflower

There’s more to Elderflower than Cordial and Champagne!

Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE Elderflower Cordial and Champagne; I make gallons of them every year, they are THE taste of summer in my opinion. There are however, SO many fantastic things to make to eat and drink with Elderflowers that it is a shame just to stop with these two. Many of the below recipes use cordial, though you can equally infuse the flowers in liquid in a muslin bag. You can, of course, buy Elderflower Cordial if desperate. You won’t be alone, in 2015 we were predicted to buy 46 million litres of it in the UK. That equates to annual sales of more than £25 million, with sales doubling in the previous five years.

Below, we tell you where to look for Elderflower and talk a bit about identification – people do pick the wrong flowers! The main part of this post is about Elderflower recipes.

The Elder tree is steeped in folk lore, history and superstition, probably more so than any other plant. In the past, country people were afraid to cut down an Elder, with the Elder-Mother, a guardian spirit, living in the tree. Today, most hedgelayers will ask the tree for permission to cut it down. Many people also believed that if you stood below an Elder at midnight on Midsummer’s Eve you would see the king of the fairies and his entourage.

Almost every part of the plant – roots, bark, leaves, flowers and berries has been used medicinally. Effective skin cleanser and eye lotions can still be made from it.

When to look

The Elder blossoms from late May to the around the end of June. There will, of course, be some variation depending upon the weather and how far north you live.

 

Where to look

The Elder is a fairly common sight; it likes disturbed fertile (nitrogen-rich) soils – often the same places as Nettles so don’t wear your shorts when going to pick it. It grows in many different habitats including roadsides, railway embankments, waste ground, hedgerows, woods and grassland.

 

Identification

The Elder is a tree up to about 3 metres tall with a woody stem. On young branches the bark is light grey and smooth. On older branches it is a brown-grey colour and corky and furrowed. Older branches and trunk may be covered in a yellow-lichen. Leaves are arranged in opposite pairs with five to seven leaflets (smaller leaves). The leaflets are 5–12 cm long and 3–5 cm wide, with a toothed margin. Leaflets are dark green and matt on top with a paler underside. They smell unpleasant when bruised (and were used for insect repellent for people and crops).

 

Elderflower leaves and bark
Elderflower leaves and bark

In late spring and early summer, the trees are adorned by large groups (umbels) of ivory flowers. The flowers have 5 petals and are about 5–6 mm in diameter.

 

Elderflowers
Elderflowers

I have known people confuse the flower heads of Rowan trees with those from Elder (disappointing results!). You might also potentially muddle Elder and Wayfaring tree. Be aware that at this time of year there are quite a few tall plants (no woody stem) that have superficially similar flower heads; these are members of the Carrot family. A year or two ago, on the radio, someone admitted trying to make Elderflower drinks with Cow Parsley! Again the result was disappointing. Be very aware that some other Carrot family members are deadly poisonous including Hemlock and Hemlock Water Dropwort. Use a flower-id book if you are unsure.

Picking

Pick on a dry, sunny day for the best flavour and to retain natural yeasts needed for fermenting. Remember not to strip all of the flowers from any one Elder. You want to allow some to grow into berries both for the birds and for you, but that’s another story. Don’t wash the flowers either, just give them a gentle shake to remove any insects. A walking stick will help you pull some heads into reach. You can easily make one from a piece of Hazel. Use it upside down, with six inches of one side branch left on, Don’t bend the Elder branch too much, however, as they are not that flexible and will snap. Have a basket or carrier bag over the other arm to put the Elderflowers into.

 

Being tall helps picking Elderflower
Being tall helps picking Elderflower

 

Using a stick definitely helps
Using a stick definitely helps. Picker wearing shorts – not advised – spot all the nettles!

Drinks

Elderflower Champagne and Cordial are classics but give the liqueur, wine, cider and herbal tea a go. You can also freeze Elderflowers in ice cubes to cool your favourite tipple!

Champagne (or “Fizz” if you bow to EU “protected designation of origin” rules!). The Champagne is very simple to make and only needs 4 heads of the flowers for a gallon of drink. It is a wonderfully light, sparking drink and is fantastic cool on a warm summer evening. It’s that good that I’ve made it by the case for parties! The fizz does carry a bit of a health warning though – bottles can explode if they are thin glass. I have used flip-top “Grolsh” style bottles for many years without incident. Used plastic fizzy drink bottles can also cope with pressure.

There are dozens of recipes for this out there, but the one I use is from Roger Phillips excellent book – “Wild Food

  • 4 Elderflower heads in full bloom
  • 5 Litres cold water
  • 1 lemon (juice and rind cut into four slices)
  • 650g sugar
  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
Making Elderflower Champagne
Making Elderflower Champagne
  1. Dissolve the sugar in a little warm water, allow to cool.
  2. Squeeze the juice from the lemon, and cut the rind in 4 pieces.
  3. Put the juice and lemon pieces with the Elderflowers in a large jug or basin.
  4. Add the wine vinegar and pour on the rest of the cold water.
  5. Leave to steep for 4 days.
  6. Strain and bottle. It should be ready in 6 – 10 days.

Cordial – This needs quite a few more heads compared to Champagne and again is the flavour of summer for me. Some recipes call for Citric Acid; others use more citrus fruit / zest. You can buy Citric Acid from homebrew shops (best) or a pharmacy. You may get a quizzical look when you ask; apparently, drug dealers also use it! Make cordial by the gallon and put it in empty (and clean) plastic milk bottles and freeze to enjoy at any time of the year. On those warm summer evenings remember that you don’t just have to dilute it with water, add to wine – especially a sparkling one, like Prosecco or Champagne! Alternatively, freeze the cordial in an ice-cube tray and add to cider or ginger beer.

Making Elderflower Cordial
Making Elderflower Cordial

Again there are dozens of recipes about; I have happily used the River Cottage one for years.

Wine

Liqueur (Vodka or gin) – Make as you would sloe vodka or gin. Here you will find 32 cocktail recipes that use Elderflower liqueur! with more here and here! I like the sound of this one – “serve with cloudy English apple juice & a sprig of mint, or mix with lemonade & freeze for some very grown-up ice lollies”!

Elderflower Cider – Follow a cider recipe but add 8 heads for every 5 litres of apple juice.

Herbal Tea – Good for treating coughs and irritable throats. Use fresh or dried on a sunny windowsill and store in dry, dark, cool place. Enjoy “neat” or add to rose petals, lemon balm, mint or nettle.

 

Puddings

There are so many different Elderflower recipes for puddings. For great big lists of them head for the pages produced by the main cordial manufacturers – Bottle Green and Belvoir Fruit Farms. You can use cordial in most of these or infuse Elderflowers in a muslin bag while heating the liquid / cooking the fruit.

  • Sorbet or granita – a fantastic pud.
  • Ice lollies for kids
  • Panna cotta – While you can make a gelatine version, be a true forager and use Carrageen seaweed you have gathered and dried yourself. The seaweed version will be vegan / vegetarian friendly.
Seaweed and Elderflower Panna Cotta
Seaweed and Elderflower Panna Cotta
  • Fritters – dip flowers in batter, deep fry, drain on kitchen towel, sprinkle with sugar and eat while still warm! For an alcoholic version soak the flowers in a mix of Cinnamon, brandy and sweet Sherry or Madeira for an hour before dipping into the batter. Another version adds chilli!

Elderflower has a strong affinity with Gooseberry, Rhubarb, Raspberries, Strawberries or Pears and the combination works well in some of the below.

  • Fool – a must-do pudding.
Elderflower and Gooseberry Fool
Elderflower and Gooseberry Fool

 

Other

A range of other Elderflower recipes.

  • Elderflower Cream – use in a range of puddings such as Eton Mess.
  • Elderflower Vinegar – use for salad dressings or a refreshing drink (diluted).
  • 600ml white wine vinegar
  • 15 elderflower heads
  1. Shake the flower heads to remove any insects.
  2. Remove the flower heads from the stalks (you want the least amount of stalk possible in left attached to the flower heads).
  3. Pack the flower heads into a clean jar.
  4. Pour the vinegar on top of the flower heads.
  5. Leave for 2-3 weeks in a sunny spot.
  6. Once ready strain the mixture through muslin.
  7. Decant into bottles and store in a dark cupboard.

Summer Foraging Video

This video shows some of the things the group on this year’s summer foraging course got up to. It includes underwater footage from the crabbing session and an Eel coming to the drop net. The Eel got put back as they are a protected species.

This course runs every summer (July) in West Dorset – it includes crabbing and plants of seashore, hedgerow and river. We gather ingredients for a three course wild-food based meal.

Many thanks to Ashley Thompson (@redchillisauce) for the video.

A Slice of Summer – Summer Foraging

When most people think of foraging for wild food it is mainly the autumn – fruit, nuts and fungi. There are of course wild foods to be found all year and the summer is no exception with soft fruit, flowers, herbs, nuts and some fungi offering great summer foraging. A few of the autumn species are showing themselves too but are not quite ripe yet.

A selection of summer wild foods - berries, fungi and plants.
Results from a summer foraging trip – berries, fungi and plants.

Fruit

In both the garden and the wild it is soft fruit season. The wild parents of garden species are generally smaller than the garden versions but still flavoursome and worth the effort in finding and picking. Gooseberries, Strawberries, Red Currants, Cherries, Raspberries, Bilberries and Mirabelles (Cherry Plums) are awaiting you to turn them into delights such as puddings, drinks (cordial, wine and sloe-gin equivalents), vinegars, jams and chutney. Venture a bit further afield (for me to a nearby bypass!) and you will find Sea Buckthorn berries – an amazing flavour. The first blackberries are ripening. It is always the one at the end of the cluster – the “king” berry that ripens first. They are hinting at autumn along with ripening Japanese Rosehips, Rowans, Haws and Damsons.

 

Mirabelles or cherry plums - a fine summer foraging fruit
Mirabelles or cherry plums come in many colours – yellow, red and purple. They make great puddings, jam, plum brandy and chutney. I leaves the stones in for a quick crumble and spit them out as I find them – “pippy pudding”.

Flowers

Elderflower time is a distant memory, though the cupboard or freezer should be stocked with cordial, which can go into puddings, cakes, breads and more. Roses, Meadowsweet, Himalayan Balsam and Clover flowers can be picked with drinks, puddings and more in mind.

Meadowsweet in summer
Meadowsweet smells of hay or almonds as it dries. It was the original source of Aspirin so should be avoided by people that are allergic to it. It was traditionally used as a strewing herb (air freshener) and infused in Claret to make a liqueur. It can be used for many drinks – wine, vodka or brandy, tea (leaves or flowers), cordial or champagne. It can be used when stewing Summer fruits (raspberries, peaches or plums) to add a nice nutty flavour. The leaves can be put in salads. It also can be used when making ice cream or a Panna Cotta.

Greens

While not as bountiful as the wealth of greens of Spring, Summer foraging finds Chickweed in the fields for a lettuce role and Watercress abounds in the chalk stream though must be cooked (soup or a veg) to avid the risk of liver fluke. Fat Hen is plentiful though the woodier stems should be avoided. Soup, curry, quiche or a simple green veg being the main uses. Pine Needles make a refreshing, fruit cordial, delicious on a warm day.

Watercress in Summer
Watercress can be found growing on many chalk streams. It should not be eaten raw as there is the risk of the parasitic liver fluke. Cooked it makes a fantastic soup or can be flash fried (after carefully washing it in a vinegar solution) as vegetable.

 Herbs

Summer is a good time for foraging for herbs. Many such as Marjoram, Fennel and Water Mint can be dried. The dried herbs can be used in the autumn with crab apples for herb jellies. Sorrel is ongoing in the meadows with a multitude of uses – from a sauce for oily fish, to a salad or quiche ingredient or bruised with buttered new potatoes.

Marjoram in flower
Marjoram is commonly found on the chalky banks of old lanes.

Nuts

Hazelnuts are visible in the hedgerows and on the grass where the squirrels have thrown his leftovers. The flesh of green Hazelnuts have the crisp crunch of overgrown peas, and a sweet vegetable-like taste that quickly becomes rather addictive! Do use nutcrackers and not your teeth though. Green Walnuts are still about but we have missed the traditional time for pickling them – late June. They have been a delicacy in England since at least the early 19th-century enjoyed with cheese and biscuits. Charles Dickens mentions them in The Pickwick Papers,

Hazelnuts
Green Hazelnuts

Fungi

A good thunderstorm or two in August usually gets the fungi season kick-started. Online foraging and fungi forums are full of pictures of people’s latest finds. I’ve seen Chanterelles, Chicken of the Woods, Fairy Ring Champignons, Field Mushrooms and Red Cracking Bolete.

Red Cracking Bolete
Red Cracking Bolete. Edible but take care with the ID for any bolete with red on it. A friend enjoys it with drying improving the flavour. He powders it to use it in soups and sauces.

Summer Foraging – 4th July 2015

Thanks to the folk that came on our summer foraging course over the weekend. The session included:

  • Seashore plants
  • Crabbing
  • A countryside foraging walk along hedgerows, through fields and beside (and in) a river.
  • Cooking and eating a three course wild food-based lunch

In the harbour we used drop nets to try and catch Shore Crabs. They were however a bit thin on the ground. It was a real surprise when one of the drop nets was hauled up to find this magnificent Eel. They are great eating and I remember catching one while fishing as a child and taking it home to eat. Today they are however critically endangered  and it was put back. I am looking forward to seeing the video footage on Ashley’s Kitchen.

Eel in a drop net
Eel in a drop net – not a crab! Plus video camera!

 

Meadowsweet - an edible summer plant. The flowers and leaves have many uses.
Meadowsweet – an edible summer plant. The flowers and leaves have many uses.

 

Gathering Fat Hen for our wild food lunch.
Gathering Fat Hen for our wild food lunch.

 

Eating our three course wild food-based lunch.
Eating our three course wild food-based lunch.

 

Sea Beet Soup
Sea Beet Soup (for the vegetarians)

 

Crab bisque
Crab bisque (for the carnivores)

 

Fat Hen Pesto bake, Sea Beet and new potatoes.
Fat Hen Pesto bake, Sea Beet and new potatoes.

 

Elderflower & Gooseberry Fool (garnished with raspberries, Wild Strawberries and Water Mint)
Elderflower & Gooseberry Fool (garnished with raspberries, Wild Strawberries and Water Mint)

Elderflower time!!!

While technically it’s not summer yet, one of my summer favourites is ready to gather. Its flavour is one of the things that make a summer and its arrival means time to put it to good use. The Elder is a fairly common sight. It likes disturbed fertile soils – often the same places as nettles so don’t wear your shorts!– and grows in a many different habitats including roadsides, railway embankments, waste ground, hedgerows, woods and grassland. It is technically a tree though never substantial, and a bit bigger than a bush. As always with foraging be 100% confident with your identification using a plant ID book if you are unsure. There are other shrubs and plants with white flowers at this time of year. Recently, on the radio someone admitted trying to make Elderflower drinks with Cow Parsley! Don’t wash the flowers as the natural yeasts in them are needed for some of the uses, just give a gentle shake to remove any insects.

Elderflower
Elderflower

The most well known uses for Elderflowers will be for Champagne (fizz if you bow to EU “protected designation of origin” rules!) and Cordial. I’ve got my first batch of this year’s champagne on the go already. It is very simple to make and only needs 4 heads of the flowers for a gallon of drink. It is a wonderfully light, sparking drink and is fantastic cool on a warm summer evening. It’s that good that I’ve made it by the case for parties! The fizz does carry a bit of a health warning though – bottles can explode if they are thin glass. I have used flip-top “Grolsh” style bottles for many years without incident.

The cordial needs quite a few more heads and again is the flavour of summer for me. Some recipes call for citric acid. You can get this from homebrew shops (best) or a chemist. You may get a quizzical look when you ask. Apparently, drug dealers also use it! Make cordial by the gallon and put it in empty (and clean) plastic milk bottles and freeze to enjoy at any time of the year. On those warm summer evenings remember that you don’t just have to dilute it with water – friends enjoy it with white wine! The cordial can also be used for ice-lollies for the kids and a sorbet or granita for the grown-ups.

Drinks

Smoothies
Dried for tea
Vodka
Cocktails

Food

Sorbet
Ice-cream
Fool (optionally with (wild) Gooseberrries)
Fritters (dip flowers in batter, deep fry, drain on kitchen towel, sprinkle with sugar and eat while still warm!)
Panna cotta (made with seaweed of course!)
In jams e.g. Strawberry or Gooseberry
Gooseberry & Elderflower chutney
Turkish Delight
Cakes
Jelly
Vinaigrette
Sugar

Remember not to strip all of the flowers from any one Elder. You want to allow some to grow into berries both for the birds and for you, but that’s another story.