The side of the road is my favorite place to find food. Why? Because I’m a sucker for free stuff. Elderberry is especially cool because it has two seasons: the Flower Season and the Berry Season. The flowers are nice because they are the first thing you can put up. They come out in late spring, about June 15th, and once you know what you’re looking for, you’ll see them everywhere. (We’ll go over what to do with the elderberries in a few months, but for now, here’s the flower-stuff.)
Elderflower syrup is the same junk at St. Germain, that heavily marketed, very pricey yet delicious elixir that’s on every cocktail menu from Bix to Brix. It’s no wonder – it’s hugely delicious stuff that has a lemony, flowery taste about it. I make it in large batches and give it to friends at the start of the summer to ensure that everyone I know has me in mind when they have a surplus of fruits or vegetable in need of ‘putting up’. European friends, in particular, will fall to their knees. They will wonder where you obtained the heady stuff of their youth. For me, it’s the first thing I tackle in the spring.: the peas have not yet shown their pods, the cukes are far from poking out from their slumber, the fruits are still the stuff from which dreams are made, but Elderflowers are right there…on your neighbor’s property.
Look up “Elderflowers” online or (gasp!) in your local library, to ensure you’re scrounging for the right thing. Once you see what they are, you’ll notice them everywhere. You (like me) might sneak around at night with your basket, your clippers and a good made-up excuse when your neighbors (or the po-po) discover you lurking around their yard. “Looking for my dog!” “Lost my diamond earring!” “Making some elderflower liquor…want some?”
I should probably credit some website for this recipe because I had no idea how to make it until I Google searched it, but I’m sure sugar + water + ingredient is fairly well documented in the public domain. This is the basic recipe for any sort of ‘syrup’ that you make: lemon balm, basil, mint, Buddha’s Hand peel. Syrup, of any sort, is great for ice tea, marinades and of course, gin cocktails.
You can add a tablespoon (or more!) of the following to soda water, or make a ‘martini’ with a tablespoon added to a measure of gin (or vodka, if you’re my husband) in a shaker with ice. Shake while singing Happy Birthday twice then pour into a chilled martini glass.
Here’s how to make it:
45 heads of Elderflowers (more or less)
4 cups water
4 cups sugar
Zest of one lemon
Juice of one lemon
Optional: 1 teaspoon of Citric Acid
Citric Acid will make your syrup last much longer in the fridge. You can buy it in the canning aisle of your grocery store or on cheese-making websites. Despite its frightening, Quentin Tarantino-esque name, Citric Acid is kind of nice to have around. It helps with a bunch of weird cooking projects, particularly jam and other things that require a longer shelf life, a higher level of acidity and a ‘lemony’ note.
1. Separate the flowers from the stems as much as possible. Apparently the stems are toxic but I’ve yet to keel over. Ideally, put your offspring to the task. Make it sound fun – like painting a fence!
2. When the flowers are like a big fluff, put them in a heat-proof bowl or a large Ball Jar (my choice).
3. Add the lemon zest and lemon juice to the flower pile. Add the citric acid if you have it.
4. While said offspring are doing their thang, boil the sugar and water in a pot until the sugar ‘melts’ into the water. Let the hot sugar water (aka ‘simple syrup’) cool down for 10 minutes then pour the syrup over your flower pile. Put some plastic wrap over your bowl or your ball jar and leave it on the kitchen counter.
Now you wait. For about two to three days, or until the flower flavor infuses intensely into your syrup. I taste it more frequently than required, a couple times a day, to check its progress; maybe I live in fear that it will go beyond the delicious mark and become more like eldeflower-saukraut or maybe its just a good excuse to have some sugar. I try and get it at its peak.
STRAIN THE SYRUP
When it tastes insanely delicious, strain the syrup into a measuring cup (or anything that has a bit of a ‘spout’ for pouring) and toss out the flowers. It’s at this point that I secretly plop a fingerful of cooked flowers into my mouth, but it’s not a requirement. I suck on the sugary stuff then spit out the spent flowers in the sink before anyone catches me.
POUR INTO PRETTY BOTTLES
You’re ready! Pour this yummilicious syrup into pretty glass bottles. Keep a batch for yourself, but give away as much as you can part with. You’ll be rewarded tenfold when your neighbors remember that you know what you’re doing in the kitchen and might turn their over-producing plum tree into something delectable.
Take your boots off before you come in here!