Read almost any book on foraging, seasonal cooking, or sustainable living and you will likely find recipes for elderflower cordial, syrup, or soda. From what I've read I had the impression that elders would be like blackberries, cropping up in creek beds, roadsides and paddocks. That's certainly the case in some areas, but not in our neighbourhood. In December last year I asked one of our experienced Nundle gardeners where I would find elderflowers and she said I was too late for that season, but told me where I would find them the following year. She even had an elder growing in her backyard and had made elderflower cordial for her grandchildren. I ended up buying us both bottles of elderflower cordial in the supermarket to sate my curiosity and whet my appetite for the harvest.
This spring I was poised to seek out the elderflowers. The large tree in the village was covered in pretty lace-like umbrellas of white flowers, unmistakable now that I know what I am looking for. Recipes for cordial, soda, or shrub call for a surprisingly small number of flower heads, four to twenty depending on what you're making. So it was easy to pick and come away with a handful of flowers to get started.
For my first attempt at using elderflower I researched my recipe brains trust, settling on friend Jacqui Newling's Elderflower Cordial
published on Sydney Living Museums' The Cook and the Curator, Eat Your History. After making the hot sugar and water syrup and pouring it on the sliced lemons, elderflower heads and citric acid, it's a matter of letting the flavours steep for 24 hours, then decanting into sterilised bottles for storage. With several days in the mid to high thirties temperatures this week the timing couldn't be more perfect. Elderflower cordial mixed with water and chilled in the fridge is incredibly refreshing. It's definitely worth making several batches to store and give away. There are also many recipes that use elderflower syrup in baking.
On the recommendation of a friend I attempted to make elderflower soda, using Milkwood Permaculture, Real Skills for Down to Earth Living
as a reference. I am keen to give it another go because while I achieved the desired fizz I don't think I had the proportions right and the flavour didn't appeal. Milkwood's Kirsten Bradley also recommends trying this elderflower shrub
recipe. If you're up for something even more festive Sophie Hansen makes elderflower vodka
So this afternoon on my way home I'll be stretching for those flower heads higher up before the picking window closes for another season.
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