respect your elders


When an elder bush sprang up in the corner of the garden, I kept very quiet about it so that Bill didn’t wrench it from the ground as he thinks elder is a weed, even though I’ve told him it only thrives near a happy home (according to folklore). The bush isn’t very big yet and if I’m to make Elderflower Fizz, cordial, vinegar and syrup then I need to go further afield, so for the last week, when walking Morris the fox terrier each morning, I’ve stopped in the gateway of Gardners Field to scan the hedges for elder flowers. Even from the far side of the field, the large saucer shaped flowers show up against the green hedge and this morning they warranted a closer inspection. These flowers need picking when they’re still creamy as once they whiten and then turn brown their heady, flowery scent turns rather nasty. This morning the first of the flowers were perfect for picking, with more to flower in the coming days. Maybe one of the benefits of our cold spring will be a plentiful supply of elder flowers.

elderflower picking

Beth had also decided that the first elder flowers were ready so, instead of going out to pick for myself, I helped her pick for the first batch of 2013 Slamseys Elderflower Gin. It was such a beautiful day that it was no penance to be Deputy Picker (unlike some of the bitterly cold days when we’ve been sloe picking), except when I reached across for an elusive flower and was stung by stinging nettles.

Once picking was done, Beth busied herself with calculations, measuring and weighing while I sneaked away with a bowlful of flowers that I hoped she wouldn’t miss and escaped to the kitchen to make Elderflower Syrup.

To make elderflower syrup:

Take about 30+ large flower heads, snipped away from the stems and put them into a large bowl. These flowers need to be used as quickly as possible, certainly within a couple of hours, as they go brown very quickly.

Into a large saucepan pour 1 litre of water and 1 kg of sugar with the peel of two small lemons and bring it slowly to the boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. When it boils, pour the syrup over the elder flowers, give it a good stir to submerge the flowers, cover and leave overnight in a cool place. Next day, add the juice of the lemons and strain into bottles.

If you’re going to use it fairly quickly, it will keep in the fridge or you can heat treat the bottles to keep longer. I put mine in the freezer in different sized containers.

Elderflower syrup can be drizzled over strawberries or raspberries instead of cream, added to fruit salad or mixed 3 parts elderflower syrup to 1 part lemon juice and diluted with water or soda water to make a refreshing long drink. This year I’m going to use the syrup in an elderflower syllabub and I thought I might try elderflower sorbet.  I also like to make jelly.

9 thoughts on “respect your elders

  1. Eldflowers just coming out properly here too. I note what you say about needing to cull them before they go over the top. Inspired by your jelly-making I made an elderflower jelly at the weekend – tasted good and looked so beautiful. But this was courtesy of commercial cordial not home-made so will now see if I can go one step further armed with your instructions and make my own from scratch! Thank you as always for your beautifully clear directions. E x

  2. I just picked first few elderflowers today to cook with gooseberries for ice cream – they’re only just flowering though, need to wait a little while until there’s enough for cordial. Picking elderflowers always feels such a lovely, very English summer ritual. Love the idea of elderflower jelly.

  3. Ah I love these English wild food things you do that seem so very ‘River Cottage’ to me! We have some Elderflower cordial in the pantry but it’s certainly not homemade and probably not a shadow of the real thing.

  4. I’m fascinated by the way your seasons are always slightly ahead of ours … I looked yesterday and I reckon it’ll be a week yet before the elderflowers are ready to pick here. But then I’m a lot further north than you. I’m thinking elderflower vodka as opposed to gin … it’s not something I’ve tried before, and if I want elderflower gin I know I can buy it from Beth 🙂

    Thanks for sharing the syrup recipe Anne.

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