Our hedgerows are festooned with creamy white elderflowers and their scent is hanging in the air all around us. I love their intoxicating fragrance and every so often I make Elderflower Wine (Frontiniac). (Elderflower Champagne is heavenly but after finding a lot of bottles that had exploded I play safe and make the still version).
Elderflowers are edible and are best picked in the last weeks of June or the first week of July on a sunny day when the clusters of flowers are in full bloom. Always smell the flowers before you pick them as some wild varieties can smell musty. The flowers are traditionally used to flavour cordials, custards, sorbets, fritters, vinegars, jams and jellies – they are lovely when used with gooseberries or rhubarb. In Alsace they are distilled to make a liqueur and a famous brand, St Germain, was so popular it was acquired by Bacardi recently.
Elder takes its name from the Anglo Saxon word for fire, aeld, as its hollowed out branches were used to blow the flames (the soft pith inside the stems is easy to remove and the Romans used to hollow out twigs to make into musical pipes, flutes and horns). The tree is steeped in folklore – traditionally it is thought of as the Witches Tree and even today some country folk are reluctant to cut it down (or even worse, burn it), lest they suffer bad luck. In times past it was believed that the elder guarded against evil spirits, thunderbolts and plagues if grown outside your door (the elder's leaves keep flies away and the diseases they carry. I have used elder leaves stuck into my horse's bridle to ward off flies – it does work!). It's said that if you sit under an elder tree on mid summer's eve you will see faeries.
I have a recipe for Elderflower Water Ice which is light and refreshing. The recipe uses dried elderflowers and if you collect your own, spread them out to dry on trays in a warm place out of direct sunlight. When dry the flowers can easily be rubbed from their stems and stored in airtight containers in a dark place. If you are unable to gather your own elderflowers you can either buy dried ones online or use elderflower cordial as a replacement.
Elderflower Water Ice
1 ¼ pints water (or if using elderflower cordial, 1 pint of cordial and ¼ pint of water)
4 oz sugar
6 fl oz lemon juice
2 tbps grated lemon rind
1 oz dried elderflowers (omit if using cordial)
Add the water and sugar to a saucepan and boil, stirring regularly, until the sugar has dissolved. Continue to boil for a further 5 minutes and then add the lemon juice and grated lemon rind.
Place the dried elderflowers in a cheesecloth, tie the ends with string and add to the mixture in the saucepan. Heat for 5 minutes. Remove saucepan from the heat and allow to cool. Remove the elderflowers and squeeze out excess liquid back into the saucepan.
Pour the mixture into a container and freeze. Stir every hour for 4 hours or until the ice is well blended and firm.
Sparkling wine is super with desserts and Cremant d'Alsace pairs beautifully with Elderflower Water Ice. Cremant d'Alsace Jean Baptiste Adam has a fine mousse of bubbles and expressive aromas of apricot, pear and lime blossom which compliments the fragrance and taste of the elderflowers. Rounded and well balanced with notes of spice and brioche it has a a delicious depth and is well worth trying if you haven't done so before!