Frothy white elderflower blossoms are the jewels of the hedgerow – they are the quintessential flavour of early summer. They lend their haunting muscat flavour to many fruits but the combination of green gooseberry and elderflower is a marriage made in heaven.
As soon as I see the first flowers, I make a beeline for the gooseberry bushes in the fruit garden. They will still be tart and green but as soon as they are the size of a marble, one can start to pick them. I always have to go myself, because no one will believe me that they are ready to pick – not to enjoy fresh but to pile into pies and crumbles, tarts, compotes…. always with a few elderflower blossoms to add that haunting muscat flavour. We make fritters too and lots of elderflower champagne and cordial which keeps brilliantly to perk up a G&T and enliven cordials and add magic to a custard or simple sponge or Swiss roll.
Even with the Covid-19 travel restrictions, you should be able to find some elderflowers in your neighbourhood, both in urban and country lanes. They flower prolifically from early May to the end of June – it’s one of our commonest hedgerow trees and the umbelliferous flowers are easy to identify. They vary in size but can be as big as saucers, are made up of hundreds of tiny white flowers with a slightly musky aroma and unpleasant taste when fresh which disappears to a distinct muscat flavour when they are cooked.
Elderflower and berries have been used in folk medicine for over 4,000 years, it’s often referred to as the ‘medicine chest of country folk’. Elderflower has several essential Vitamins including Vitamin A, B1, B2 and B3 complex and a little Vitamin C. It’s also known for its anti-inflammatory and antibacterial and antioxidant properties. All very important. In early autumn the flowers turn into elderberries with a whole different set of nutrients.
But back to the kitchen… we’ve been loving this green gooseberry tart tatin with elderflower cream. Green gooseberry and elderflower compote makes a super delicious accompaniment to vanilla ice-cream and of course panna cotta. If you can’t find any gooseberries, there’s still lots of ways to use elderflowers.
Make a batch of elderflower champagne with your children, they’ll love the way it fizzes up within a few days. It’ll be all the more exciting if you show them how to identify and gather the elderflowers themselves. They’ll also love fritters and how about strawberry and elderflower ice-pops.
Elderflower is also delicious with strawberries, try this simple combination with shredded mint, made in minutes and memorably delicious. Elderflowers also freeze. Try this elderflower gin or add a dash to a G&T, or elderflower champagne.
Get picking, the season only lasts for about another month but the flavour is best early in the season...
I’ve used a bit of poetic licence here when I use the word tatin, but everybody loves this upside down tart recipe which works well with all kinds of fruit, plums, peaches, apricots, greengages… Of course this is best when the green gooseberries and elderflower are in season and fresh, but we’ve also made it very successfully with frozen gooseberries in winter.
Use organic ingredients where possible
175g (6oz) sugar
125ml (4 1/2fl oz) water
450g (1lb) fat green gooseberries
150g (5oz) soft butter
150g (5oz) castor sugar or 110g (4oz) castor sugar and 2 tablespoons elderflower cordial
200g (7oz) self-raising flour
3 eggs, free range and organic
600ml (1 pint) softly whipped cream
4 tablespoon elderflower cordial
1 x 25.5cm (10 inch) sauté pan or a cast-iron frying pan.
Preheat oven to 160c/325F/Gas Mark 3
Top and tail the gooseberries.
Put the sugar and water into the sauté pan. Stir over a medium heat until the sugar dissolves, then cook without stirring until the sugar caramelizes to a pale golden brown. Remove from the heat.
Scatter the gooseberries in a single layer over the caramel.
Put the butter, sugar (and elderflower if using) and flour into the bowl of a food processor. Whizz for a second or two, add the eggs and stop as soon as the mixture comes together. Spoon over the gooseberries, spread gently in as even a layer as possible.
Bake in the preheated oven for approximately one hour. The centre should be firm to the touch and the edges slightly shrunk from the sides of the pan. Allow to rest in the pan for 4-5 minutes before turning out. Serve with softly whipped elderflower cream or crème fraiche.
To make the elderflower cream, fold the elderflower cordial into the softly whipped cream to taste.
When I'm driving through country lanes in late May or early June, suddenly I spy the elderflower coming into bloom. Then I know it’s time to go and search on gooseberry bushes for the hard, green fruit, far too under-ripe at that stage to eat raw, but wonderful cooked in tarts or fools or in this delicious Compote.
Elderflowers have an extraordinary affinity with green gooseberries and by a happy arrangement of nature they are both in season at the same time.
900g (2lbs) green gooseberries
2 or 3 elderflower heads
600ml (1 pint) cold water
400g (14oz) sugar
First top and tail the gooseberries. Tie 2 or 3 elderflower heads in a little square of muslin, put in a stainless steel or enamelled saucepan, add the sugar and cover with cold water. Bring slowly to the boil and continue to boil for 2 minutes. Add the gooseberries and simmer just until the fruit bursts. Allow to get cold. Serve in a pretty bowl and decorate with fresh elderflowers. Serve with elderflower cream.
N.B. The tart green gooseberries must actually burst otherwise the compote of fruit will be too bitter.
Flavour whipped cream to taste with elderflower cordial.
This magical recipe transforms perfectly ordinary ingredients into a delicious sparkling drink. The children make it religiously every year and then share the bubbly with their friends.
2 heads of elderflowers
560g (1 1/4lb) sugar
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
4.5L (8 pints) water
Remove the peel from the lemon with a swivel top peeler.
Pick the elderflowers in full bloom. Put into a bowl with the lemon peel, lemon juice, sugar, vinegar and cold water.
Leave for 24 hours, then strain into strong screw top bottles. Lay them on their sides in a cool place.
After 2 weeks it should be sparkling and ready to drink. Despite the sparkle this drink is non-alcoholic.
Top Tip: The bottles need to be strong and well sealed, otherwise the Elderflower champagne will pop its cork.
These are very easy to make, very crispy and once you’ve tasted one, you won’t be able to stop! Serve them with the Gooseberry and Elderflower Compote, below.
110g (4oz) plain flour
pinch of salt
1 organic egg
150ml (5fl oz) lukewarm water
8–12 elderflower heads
sunflower oil for frying
Sieve the flour and salt into a bowl. Make a well in the centre and drop in the egg.
Using a whisk, bring in the flour gradually from the edges, slowly adding in the water at the same time.
Heat the oil in a deep-fat fryer to 180°C/350°F. Hold the flowers by the stalks and dip into the batter (add a little more water or milk if the batter is too thick). Fry until golden brown in the hot oil. Drain on kitchen paper, toss in caster sugar and serve immediately with gooseberry and elderflower compote.
Makes (500ml/18fl oz) or 6 x 75ml (3fl oz) popsicles
400g (14oz) fresh strawberries
150ml (5fl oz) stock syrup or 1/2 stock syrup and 1/2 elderflower cordial
Clean and hull the strawberries, put into a liquidiser or food processor and blend. Strain, taste and add lemon juice and stock syrup to taste.
Pour into 75ml (3fl oz) popsicle moulds and freeze for 3 – 4 hours or as long as it takes. Dip the mould into hot water for 20-30 seconds. Slide the popsicles out carefully. Enjoy or wrap in parchment and freeze.
Makes 825ml (28fl oz)
350g (12oz) sugar
600ml (1 pint) water
To make the stock syrup: Dissolve the sugar in the water and bring to the boil. Boil for 2 minutes then allow it to cool. Store in the fridge until needed.
One of our favourite ways to eat strawberries and good way to perk up less than perfect berries.
900g (2lb) ripe strawberries
2-3 tablespoons elderflower cordial
freshly squeezed lemon juice of 1/2 – 1 lemon
2-3 tablespoons fresh mint leaves, torn or shredded
Cut the strawberries into quarters or slice into lengthwise.
Drizzle with elderflower cordial and freshly squeezed lemon juice.
Scatter with torn mint leaves, toss gently, taste, adjust with a little more sugar or freshly squeezed lemon juice if necessary.
Serve alone or with softly whipped cream.
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