Well, technology is amazing but we can't quite bring you the full range of deliciousness happening in my world.
Do you know what these pretties are?
If you guessed elderflowers, you'd be right. Also known by their Latin name, Sambucus, various varieties of elderflower grow all over the world. In my part of the world, we have primarily Sambucus nigra. Being clear about the variety is extremely important, not because the flowers and (cooked) berries of the elderberry are poisonous (though the leaves and stems contain cyanogenic glycosides, like a lot of fruit seeds) but because there are other plants that look sort of similar and are poisonous.
Back to the elderflowers.
We harvest them for a few different things. Primarily, we want to make elderflower cordial, at this time of year. Secondarily, elderflower wine or champagne and dry some to have in tea in the winter. The floral scent and flavour of the elderflower is simply incomparable to anything else. And that takes us back to the limitations of tech. Right now, I have my annual batch of cordial working away.
The scent that winds up from the pot every time I take the lid off is nothing short of divine. And that, my friends, is where I think the Internet fails us. There really should be an app for that. I know, it would be misused and largely serve to play pranks on people (I have a 14 year old son and have no trouble imagining where this could go) but in these moments, I just wish I could share this with all of you.
The next best thing then, is to teach you how to make it yourself.
First of all, locate elderflowers (and now is the time in most places). You want them on the young side - just bloomed is best. And you want to pick them in the early afternoon when they're releasing their full perfume. It's best to leave the ones in a traffic heavy area for the birds; though we don't use leaded gas anymore, there is still some speculation that the toxins from the exhaust are taken up by the flowers. I don't know about you but I don't want to eat that!
So, find some on a quiet street, in an out of the way area.
For me, half of the enjoyment of making these sorts of things is the foraging. So consider it an adventure.
When you have positively identified that you have, indeed, located an elderberry bush in flower, ask for permission to take the blooms and get harvesting. Now, a word to the wise... most of us know that we're to ask permission if we're taking something from someone else's land and some people will ask the plant for permission but in the case of the elder, you must always ask the spirit of the shrub for permission to take anything from it. And you'll know if you have permission, trust me.
So, you harvest your blooms. You're careful to take a mix from up high and down low, leaving enough to be sure there is a good crop of berries for the birds (and possibly you) in the up coming seasons. A good rule to harvest by is to never take more than 25%, unless it's something like Japanese Knotweed, then take as much as you can!
Take your blooms home and leave them in a basket or somewhere they can breath overnight. There are two reasons for this - first, it makes getting the blooms off the stem a million times easier. And second, it gives a chance for the bugs to realize they need to move and most of them will.
The next day, strip the blooms off the stem, getting as little of the fine stems as you can without making yourself crazy. Definitely keep the big stems and leaves out of the pot of blooms. Even though you're not likely to get enough to make you sick, you don't want the bitterness they're supposed to impart.
I like to shake the blooms before picking them. Most of the scent/flavour is in the pollen so I figure the more I can get that into the pot, rather than on my hands, the better. So I shake them and I strip them until all of the blooms -the nice ones, not the old crunchy ones - are all in the pot. And then I cover them with my water solution and let them soak.
So my recipe is as follows:
30 humungous, young elderflower heads
16 cups water +1 cup hot water
5-8 cups of water
5-8 cups of sugar
2 Tbsp citric acid (available at the chemist/pharmacy)
2-4 Lemons, limes, oranges (on day three)
Pick the flowers (after asking permission) in the early afternoon on a sunny day (yes, be that particular, the results are worth it).
Let them sit overnight in a basket or other breathable option.
Strip the blooms from the stalks, taking care to keep as much of the small, tender bits of stalk out. Definitely be sure there are no leaves and woody stems left in with the flowers.
Cover the flowers with 16 cups water.
Dissolve the citric acid in the reserved cup of hot water and add to the flower/water soup. Stir. Cover. Ignore.
Stir once in the morning, once in the evening, taking time to breath deeply each time you open the lid because that is the smell of fairies.
On day three or four (let the quality of the blooms be your guide - if they look yucky, do it sooner), make a simply syrup of sugar and water. Again, let your preference be your guide. For this size batch I'd probably use about 6 cups of sugar to five cups of water. While that's simmering, slice up your citrus. I prefer lemons though any citrus can be good. More citrus in there = more citrus flavour.
Add the simple syrup and citrus and stir. Leave covered for at least 24 hours (except to stir once more).
Strain the whole delicious mess and pour into bottles. A lot of people in the UK 'sterilize' swing top bottles and leave them on the shelf. I haven't had huge success with that so I strain it off and freeze it in jam jars. Thaw as needed and dilute with water (sparkling or still) to your taste.
Oh - and want to savour the deliciousness but don't live near elderberry bushes? Check out the gorgeous elderflowers offered at Mountain Rose.