This Elderflower cordial recipe was first published in 2010 and I’ve tried to find good recipes that cut the sugar content ever since as the original was quite heavy on it. Thanks to the River Cottage Preserves book I’ve finally found one that halves the sugar and have used it as detailed below.
In a good year Elderflowers start to appear in hedgerows across the country during May, however in 2010 it was early June and in 2015 ours were only just coming into bud towards the very end of June.
Wait until the blooms are full, creamy coloured and full of scent (they’re especially heady when picked in the evening). As with any type of foraging, avoid collecting the flowers if they’re growing close to a busy road as they’re more likely to pick up pollution and don’t pick all the flowers. Take a few from different branches, leaving the rest to develop into berries that can be made into a winter tonic in the form of Elderberry syrup.
If you spot the blossom but don’t have time to make the cordial (or jam, or whatever you’d like them for), you can freeze the heads.
I stored my cordial in sterilised screw topped wine bottles and it’s an ingredient that’s handy to have in the cupboard as summer recipes often call for it.
This recipe makes around 2 litres and it will be 24 hours before it’s ready.
25 heads of Elderflower
1 kg granulated sugar
1.5 litres boiling water
3 lemons & 1 orange, unwaxed. Finely grate the zest, save the juice (around 150 ml) then thinly slice
1 heaped teaspoon of citric acid (available from Chemists, optional but I’ve always added it)
Shake the Elderflowers in case there are any insects lurking and put the blossoms in a large bowl. Add the lemon and orange zest and the sliced lemons. Pour over the boiling water, cover and leave for 24 hours to infuse.
The next day, strain the infuse liquid into a saucepan through a coffee filter or clean muslin cloth then add the citric acid, lemon and orange juice and sugar. Bring to a simmer, stirring constantly until the sugar has fully dissolved, then pour the syrup into sterilised bottles and seal.
We leave a bottle in the fridge and just add tap water but for a change it’s lovely when it’s diluted with sparkling water, or even better for the adults, with topic water and added to our favourite gin!
Have you used elder flowers in recipes before? Do you love or loathe them?
We do enjoy a good old-fashioned crumble though so the remaining plums have been saved for our favourite crumble.
Plum, Maple and Almond Crumble Recipe
Ingredients (serves 4-6)
8 ripe plums or enough to fill the bottom of your pie dish
4 tbsp maple syrup (use a tbsp of brown sugar if you can’t get hold of maple syrup)
50g butter cut into pieces
50g plain flour
50g rolled oats
25g golden caster sugar
½ tsp ground cinnamon
25g flaked almonds (lightly toasted)
Heat the oven to 200ºC (or equivalent). Cut the plums in half, remove the stones and place the halves skin side down in the base of a ovenproof dish. Drizzle over half the maple syrup and roast for 10 mins.
While the plums are in the oven place the butter, flour, oats, sugar and cinnamon into a bowl and rub the butter into the mixture until it resembles rough crumbs. Stir in the almonds, then sprinkle over the top of the softened plums. Drizzle the remaining maple syrup over the top and bake for 15 mins until the top is golden, sprinkling extra almonds on the top if desired.
Serve with custard, cream or ice cream.
Have you a favourite recipe for using up your plums?
I was born and reared within earshot of the sea and now living on top of a hill, almost an hour’s drive away from the coast, the deep yearning for sea air never goes away. I moved away from the seaside as a young child and my teenage years were spent close by to the salty marshes of Maldon, in North Essex, famed for its Sea Salt. I have no recollection of seaweed. Wistful memories tend to be of swimming every day with friends in the creeks, laying in bed listening to the bells ringing on stormy nights as they swayed violently on the tips of masts on yachts moored close by. Depending upon the wind direction, the sound of hammers and drills could often be heard echoing around the village as men worked in the boatyard on barnacle encrusted barges that sat resting, out-of-place high in the air on cradles, paint peeling from their hulls. The sounds were mirrored by the screech of the seagulls as they fought for morsels of food thrown from small fishing boats that lazily bobbed by.
But seaweed? I’m guessing there must have been some lying around the muddy marshes but it certainly wasn’t something we ate.
It came as a bit of surprise last year when I attended a fascinating talk about seaweed by Sally McKenna, author of Edible Greens, followed by a Japanese cookery demonstration by Fiona Uyema, that not only is seaweed edible, those in the know have eaten it for centuries and it’s packed full of properties that are tremendously good for us.
Prannie Rhatigan was reared by the sea too but unlike me, she grew up learning its secrets. She describes in the introduction of her wonderful book, Irish Seaweed Kitchen how, as a child, she would help her father harvest the glistening seaweed on the edge of the Atlantic ocean throughout the various seaweed seasons. These days, as well as practising as a medical doctor, Prannie is sharing her knowledge and having stood spellbound in welly boots on the slippery rocks, surrounded by an abundant carpet of free and now I know, almost completely edible carpet of seaweed, I can safely tell you she really knows her stuff.
Prannie is not only passionate about seaweed in its raw and cooked forms, she’s also convinced of its health benefits and although her medical training dictates that she works from an evidence base, she can see that evidence building. She’s looking forward to seeing the day when seaweeds have mainstream preventative and therapeutic roles as anti-inflammatories, anti-cancer and antivirals among other things.
As we carefully wove our way around the slippery Sligo rocks, Prannie introduced us to the magnificent gifts from the sea that lay strewn around us, ensuring that we understood how to harvest seaweed responsibly, explaining that it wasn’t to be pulled out by its roots or from its mother plant, but snipped carefully and sustainably.
The waterproof Companion Guide to Edible Seaweeds that’s recently been launched to accompany The Seaweed Kitchen has an illustration showing exactly where to cut each variety of seaweed with scissors, an invaluable guide to anyone new to seaweed foraging.
I could spend pages extolling the virtues of this cook book and guide with a difference, from its thoughtful bookmark that gives quick tips on preparing seaweed to the tried and tested recipes that include starters, canapés and deserts, compiled from local people’s favourite gems, or the thoughtful illustrations and photographs. The book and guide haven’t left my bedside since I arrived home as I’ve loved every moment dipping in and out of them, bringing me back to the seashore every time I do so.
During the foraging trip Prannie introduced us to her power packed green smoothie, sea spaghetti and cheese straws, as well as bladderwrack soaked in brandy. Who needs olives when you live by the sea…
You might wonder why someone who lives inland is so excited about a seaweed cookbook and the chances of foraging will be rare? Thankfully there are people who’ve created a business with folk like us in mind, selling little bags of dried seaweed that we can buy from specialist shops and online stores, re-hydrating them when we’d like. I now have a bag of sea spaghetti waiting to be turned into a salad dish I spotted in Prannie’s book, once I harvest my own cosmic purple carrots.
Bladderwrack & raspberries in elderflower fizz
If you’re interested in learning more about seaweed, there are several opportunities for you to forage along the clean waters of the Wild Atlantic Way. Prannie herself will be hosting a rather special sounding two-day course in the summer that would be a wonderful treat for someone special (treat yourself perhaps) or there are several other foragers dotted along the coastline. Failing that, buy the companion guide or a seaweed foraging book and see what you can find for yourself.
I’ve spent far too much time in the office with paperwork lately so it was a joy to head off to Clare for a workshop at Irish Seed Savers (more of that to come soon). The plan was to take some images to go with the interview but the vibrancy of the gorse (Ulex europaeus) stopped me in my tracks.
Although it flowers for most of the year, this thorny, evergreen shrub really comes into its own during the springtime, carrying buketloads of vivid yellow flowers and a suggestion of blue skies and warmth in the air.
I haven’t always enjoyed this fascination with gorse. My childhood memories of it weren’t so admiring, having been far too close and personal with a straggly bush one misty morning. I was riding a skittish young colt that was spooked by goodness knows what (perhaps some otherworldly being hiding beneath the branches). The horse took fright, dumped me off into the middle of the prickly bush then bolted, leaving me to haul myself out, trying and failing to extract my tender, young limbs from the painful thorns without injury.
There are many tales surrounding gorse in folklore, giving it a slightly mystical air so I’m apt to forgive it those painful thoughts. This hardy bush, that tends to grow in poor growing conditions, is said to ward off mischief and negativity. Apparently, if we’re brave enough to cut out a few stems and make a sweeping brush with them, it will sweep any negative influences away as well as keep the sídhe from entering our homes. Likewise, if branches are stuffed into the chimney after the last spring fire has died out, gorse is supposed to stop any mischievous sídhe from entering homes from the chimney. One would hope householders remember to remove the gorse before they relight their fires, as it’s highly flammable!
There are several recipes incorporating gorse flowers in the world of food and wine. The pastry custard recipe that Zac Gallagher over on the Irish Food Guide shares sounds intriguing and it seems that gorse is prolific in New Zealand too, where Alessandra Zecchini writes about gorse cupcakes, a recipe that I’ll definitely be trying soon.
Mr G has promised to make lots of homemade wine or beer so this might be a test of his prowess – there’s a gorse wine recipe in our beer and winemaking book that he might attempt once the flowers are dry enough to pick.
Have you tried cooking with gorse flowers? Can you recommend a recipe?
Christmas might be over but if you made sloe gin in the Autumn, now’s the time to reap the rewards of your efforts.
If you missed the sloe season, sadly it’s too late for you to make this alcoholic drink now unless you’ve frozen some berries as the hedgerows will be bare. However, if you’ve often thought about making sloe gin and never gotten around to it, I can definitely recommend it as a winter warmer so you might like to add a resolution to your list and head out to the quiet, rural laneways in the autumn!
First things first, you don’t have to like gin to enjoy this drink. The berries take away almost all traces of its usual, distinctive taste. Continue Reading…
I thought that 2013 was the year for berries but 2014 seems to have surpassed it. As a gardener and/or forager I feel it would be remiss not to rave talk about them lots given their abundance.
We often make the deliciously summery elderflower cordial and a couple of years ago made elderberry syrup, not realising it’s health properties.
The berries above are growing on an elder tree at Callan Community Garden – the ones in our own garden have barely formed. It still surprises me how far behind we can be in the growing season, living on the top of our hill. Have you noticed elderberries in the trees yet?
Elder Tree Folklore
When researching this post I was surprised to learn that the Elder tree has a very spooky reputation. Folklore says that if you approach the tree after dusk you’ll place yourself at the mercy of witches (we’re in trouble then as there’s a tree at the entrance to our chicken run and one of the family passes it twice every day!) The Elder Tree is known as the witch tree, devil’s tree or Judas tree (it seems that Judas Iscariot hanged himself on one).
Folklore aside, I think it’s a very pretty tree and to me signifies that summer’s on it’s way or in the case of the berries, that autumn has well and truly arrived.
The following syrup is a handy one to have in the cupboard over the winter months as it’s traditionally used to prevent and treat colds and flu. It contains flavonoids that help to fight the flu virus as well as vitamin C that will boost the immune system. Studies have also shown that the berries are great for helping to fight sinus problems. Don’t stick them up your nose, make them into a tonic 😉
6lb (3kg) ripe elderberries
Sugar (or honey)
1/2pt (300ml) water
6 cloves and a piece of root ginger or 2oz (50g) cinnamon and 1 level teaspoon allspice
Strip the elderberries from the stalks, wash them and discard any that are shrivelled.
Put the water and berries together in a large earthenware bowl and break up the fruits. (Do this by mashing the fruit in a bowl then heating over a pan of water until the juice runs, then mashing again.)
Strain the pulp through muslin or a jelly bag (coffee filters work too) and to each pint (600ml) of juice add 3/4lb (375g) sugar.
Put the sweetened mixture into a pan and simmer for 10 minutes. Whilst it’s simmering add either the cloves and ginger or the cinnamon and allspice. Pour into sterilised warmed bottles and seal.
Foragers Note: Never strip a branch bare of all it’s fruit. Take berries from different branches and trees, saving some for the birds.
Do you ever win competitions? For years we didn’t win a thing, not a single raffle, draw or lottery but a couple of years ago that all changed. Little prizes started to arrive in the post box…
A bottle of Bailey’s, a book on Irish Slang, a couple of CD’s and a cook book, a beautiful Greengate Jug, a DVD player, a bottle of champagne and in 2011 Electric Picnic tickets!
A couple of weeks ago I entered a competition over on the Irish Food Bloggers website to win a Wild Food book and was absolutely thrilled to receive an email letting me know I was one of the winners! I’ve been meaning to buy a foraging book for some time now but hadn’t got around to it.
The winning book was a new one from O’Brien press by Biddy White Lennon and Evan Doyle called Wild Food. I like that it’s handbag sized and divided into seasonal chapters. For instance this month I could be looking out for Wild Nettle, Dilisk, Carrageen, Wild Garlic, Wild Sea Beet and Wild Rock Samphire and if I find them (each chapter includes tips on where to look and how to pick the plants) there are some delicious looking recipes from sweet, savory to boozy (how about a wee dram of wild rowan berry schnapps for instance?
I used to think there was no point entering competitions but as a result of our little wins have completely changed my mind. On this occasion there were 142 responses all hoping to win one of five books being given away. Sometimes there might only be twenty or thirty other entrants. We still rarely buy lotto tickets but really, you just never know…
Have you won any interesting, beautiful, expensive or strange gifts in the past?
I adore dandelion clocks but have had a love/hate relationship with the plants themselves for years due to their pesky roots, until I discovered how beneficial they are for honey bees. We can also make a delicious dandelion honey using their vibrant, yellow flowers, a recipe that I’m sharing now.
As ‘weeds’ go, dandelions, are hugely beneficial as they attract pollinating insects at a time when most other flowers are yet to share their delicious nectar. Dandelions can be eaten, made into drinks of all descriptions and are loaded with vitamins and minerals, namely A, C and K as well as iron, potassium, calcium and manganese. They’ve also been around for over 30 million years – it’s no wonder their roots are so deep and strong!
Photo credit: Catherine Drea, Foxglove Lane
Almost every child I know has heard the tale that they make you wet the bed (indeed I was taught the very same) which stems from the plant’s use as a strong diuretic, though the roots are used for this purpose, not the flowers.
It wasn’t until @zwartblesIE mentioned Dandelion Honey on twitter that I’d seriously considered using the flowers in the kitchen. Suzanna generously shared her recipe and if you’d like to try this intriguing sounding dish, here it is:
Place the flowers, water and lemons into a saucepan and simmer for 30 mins, leave to cool and stew overnight. In the morning strain through cheesecloth (or coffee filter paper) then bring the liquid to a slow boil, stirring in the sugar until dissolved, then slowly simmer for about one and a half hours and you have your honey.
If you start to notice the mixture turn darker, whip it off the heat quickly or it can develop a burnt caramel flavour.
If you’re feeling adventurous you could try adding a few drops of vanilla essence as @NiamhMaher on twitter did, or a few drops of alcohol as @Justcallmelet suggested.
Honey is perhaps a misleading name as the resulting flavour is more like marmalade – guess it got its name from the gorgeous colour.
Have you ever tried food or drink made from dandelions? Did you enjoy it?
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