I was out sat in The Chix' run yesterday watching them as they went about their chickenny business - I had opened the gate to the promised land and they were in their own particular heaven. I decided to open up the compost heap and dig it out for their enjoyment but actually I didn't do anything - they were doing the digging. It's actually not much of a compost heap as every time I add something they eat it!
So, while I was sat on my straw bale watching them I noticed that the first of the elderflowers had broken out in the lovely hot sunshine. I looked at this with a mixture of hope and dread. I do love this mark in time of more good things to come, but also it is a bit of 'stop whatever you are doing and make cordial' situation. It is definitely a race against the clock to get the flowers processed while in good condition. Always pick the flowers on a dry day and preferably in the morning. Try to pick away from the roadside to avoid dust and dirt from passing traffic. Try and use them as soon after picking as possible. By the way, you only need to pick the flower heads - on a small length of stem - no need to pick the individual tiny flowers. Give them a good shake to get rid of any passengers and gather into a basket or flat tray so that the blooms don't get crushed. Please pause for a second to take a very close look at one of the flower heads - the arrangement of the flower petals, and the dusting of pollen and natural yeasts is really beautiful.
We . . . dig,dig,dig,dig,dig,dig,dig,dig the whole day long
I find it exciting - and I know I am strange - to find that the flowers and fruits of the Elder were the first herbs to be cultivated by Man over 4000 years ago. The plant has very powerful properties with Vit A, B1, B2, B3 and C, plus all sorts of chemicals making it anti-inflammatory , anti-viral and anti-cancer. It is also a diuretic, laxative and insect repellant! All from such tiny, delicate, lacy flowers. I won't go on and on here but you can read up for yourself on the internet.
Take care not to include too much of the green stems and stalks as they contain a toxic chemical similar to cyanide!
Strip the flowers -gently - and berries using a table fork
Dry the flowers for use in teas by turning the flowerheads upside down on a kitchen paper lined tray and dry overnight. Next day the florets can be gently shaken from the stems and stored for future use.
To make a deliciously refreshing tea put a couple of tablespoons of the flowers in a jug and pour over boiling water. Leave to steep for 10 mins and then strain into your favourite mug. Add some honey if liked. Only have one of these teas a day because of it's diuretic properties.
Right, what to make? Well, cordial, obviously. If you look back at my blog on making Lemon Cordial, it is basically the same method for Elderflower Cordial. Just follow my recipe, and then sterilise the cordial in the bottles to lengthen the shelf life. The citric acid helps with the preservation and reducing the possibility for bugs to grow. However, elderflowers have so much natural yeast and mould it is sometimes difficult to stabilise. I have had the situation where I made a large batch of cordial, sterilised it in a waterbath, and some of the batch grew moulds and some didn't - from the same batch!
The positives far outweigh the negatives though, and I still make plenty every year. It is great if you are having a party or a wedding - a really delicious but cost effective way of providing soft drinks and it can also be mixed with something fizzy like Prosecco to give it a kick. Bottle it in something pretty like the Lucca bottle, and you also have ready-made gifts to hand.The cordial can be used neat over ice-cream, diluted to make ice-lollies for a summer fete or added to icing sugar to make a delicious icing for a summer sponge.
I make Lemon Marmalade with Elderflowers, replacing some of the sugar with cordial. I strip a few of the tiny flowers from the flower head and add to each jar - they look really pretty, like confetti. A really girly preserve!
If you want to make Elderflower Fizz then there are a few ground rules to understand. When you make this fascinating brew at home you have no way of knowing the extreme pressure that will build up from the fermentation. I have already mentioned the huge amounts of natural yeasts and they create a very lively fermentation. So, do yourself a favour and do not bottle into glass bottles. The bottles will most likely shatter under the strain and then you will have a sticky, shark-infested sea to clear up. Even with the PET plastic bottles I have opened a 3 year old brew outside and have the plume of 'champagne' arc across a field about 30 feet!
When you have made your fizz, store in a cool place, away from children, pets, valuable antiques and windows. A cool garage ( as long as the family car isn't nearby ) would be fine, or even somewhere cool outside. If you are transporting to a picnic then pack into the boot and make sure the bottle can't roll around. Don't do as one of our customers did - left it on the back parcel shelf, in the sun, rolling around - it took out the front windscreen and she narrowly escaped serious injury. Really, if you are eating al fresco take the more stable cordial and some sparkling mineral water.
Just a few more flowery thoughts for you. Elderflower Vinegar. Easy. Elderflower Sugar - put a couple of heads into a large jar and cover with caster sugar. Leave for a couple of weeks, remove flowers and then store to use in or on sponge cakes, sorbets etc.
I am going to try Elderflower Butter this year - beat 4 tablespoons butter with 110g/4oz sifted icing sugar until soft, stir in 2-3 tablespoons of the flower petals and use to sandwich a summer sponge cake, top with glace icing made with cordial and scatter with a few more petals.
And finally but no means least, Elderflower Liqueur. Pick around 10-15 flower heads and snip off the florets into a large jar. Pour over 1 x 70cl bottle of vodka - nothing expensive - seal the jar and shake. Make sure that all the flowers are under the liquid, store somewhere dark and shake occasionally. Leave for at least two weeks, strain through muslin and then taste. If you would like it sweeter then add some sugar, to taste, and stir to dissolve. Bottle into pretty bottles, like the Arenzo - how sweet will it taste in the winter reminding you of last summer and anticipating the next?