Leave it to Euell Gibbons to wax poetic about the culinary loveliness of elder flowers…then refer to them as elder blow. Good one, Euell – that conjures up a lovely image.
Roger Konka, forager and farmer of Springwater Farm in St. Helens, OR, brought me a bouquet of elder flowers a couple of weeks ago. I’d never worked with these delicately perfumed blossoms before, so I turned first to my favorite foraged foodstuffs book, Stalking the Wild Asparagus, and consulted Euell for advice.
Elder Flower Fritters
adapted from Euell Gibbons
Elder flowers make a lovely fritter. You can also add the flowers to thin pancake or muffin batter. Just mix up your favorite quick bread recipe and stir in as many elder flowers (stems removed) as it will hold. It will make a wonderfully light and distinctly flavored product.
½ cup milk
1 cup AP flour
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
Whisk together the eggs and milk. Sift in the flour, sugar and baking powder, stirring gently until just incorporated.
Remove the coarse stem of the flower and dip the clusters in the batter. Fry in oil heated to 375 degrees F for about 4 minutes, or until they are golden brown. Drain on a paper towel and if desired, either drizzle them with honey, powder them with sugar, or squeeze a little orange juice over the fritters and roll them in granulated sugar. Serve piping hot.
I made these fritters at the market, and the elder flowers sold quite well. I thought about the jelly recipe I use for Queen Anne’s Lace flowers (wild carrot), which surprisingly produces a honeyed floral jelly in precious pink (surprising because wild carrot smells a lot like carrot tops). With a couple of adjustments, I produced a delightfully efflorescent crystal-like jelly, subtle and dainty, from the elder flower.
I’m told that the European variety of elder flower (Sambucus nigra) is much more aromatic than the species that grows in Oregon (whose name I know not). Regardless, I managed to make a fairly potent elder flower syrup with the blooms, which so far I’ve mixed with soda water, and found quite refreshing. Even better, add some sliced fresh, ripe strawberries to the soda. I think it might also be nice added to a glass of champagne, as you would add cassis to champagne for a kir royal. In fact, there is an elderflower liquor, St. Germain, and lo and behold, the linked site has a similar cocktail recipe, using that liquor.
Lastly, I steeped some blow in champagne vinegar. Not so crazy about this one. The floral quality is lost, and the green of the stem makes the flavor sort of cucumber pickley. Pickley -not really a word, but I like the sound of it! Anyway, I might experiment with this one a little more. I was hoping for a light, floral vinegar to splash on fruit salad or to use in a relish or chutney. If I come up with something, I’ll keep you posted!
Elder Flower Syrup
I love Roger’s description of a “forager’s dozen”:
“Twelve is a dozen, thirteen a baker’s dozen, – I like to bundle up eleven and call it a forager’s dozen.”
Combine the sugar and water in a pot. Stir to dissolve sugar, then bring to a boil over a medium-high flame. Remove the pot from the heat.
Pull the elder flowers from the coarse stems and push them down into the syrup. Let the flowers steep until the syrup has cooled to room temperature.
Strain the syrup through a sieve, pressing lightly on the flowers to extract most of the syrup that clings to them. Place the syrup in a glass jar, seal, and refrigerate. Will last at least a couple of weeks, probably a month (experiment still in process).
I’m usually not a packaged-product pectin user, but I have not yet found an acceptable substitute for this recipe. I’m working on it, and I’ll be sure to post an update when one is found!
3 cups firmly packed elder flowers, coarse stems removed
4 3/4 cups boiling water
3 1/2 cups sugar (1 1/2 pounds)
1 package Sure-Jell for low or no sugar recipes
4 1/2 Tbsp. strained lemon juice
1 Tbsp. St. Germain liquor (optional)
Cover the flowers with boiling water, cover, and let steep for 15 minutes. Strain the liquid, pressing gently on the flowers to extract the water.
Measure 4 cups of the strained infusion into a heavy bottomed preserving pot. Mix 1/4 cup of the sugar with the Sure-Jell, and stir it into the liquid in the pot. Bring the mixture to a full rolling boil over high heat. Immediately stir in the remaining sugar, and boil for 1 minute. Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon juice and St. Germain. Skim the foam from the top of the jelly, and immediately pour into sterilized jars. Cover with sterilized lids and seal.