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Thursday, July 25, 2013

California Gourmet: Cooking with Elderflowers

Flowers: Blue (Mexican) Elderberry
Sambucus nigra ssp. cerulea

Many gardeners know that Elderberries make delicious jellies, syrups and baked goods (see August 2012 postings for more on picking, cleaning and using Elderberries). But you may not know that the flowers of the Blue Elderberry (Sambucus nigra ssp. cerulea) can be used to produce some special summer treats. In our climate, Elderberries bloom off and on throughout the summer. If you already have enough berries, this might be the perfect time to create a little Elderflower magic.

Elderflowers are small, creamy white and grow in flusters on drooping branches (see photo above). You can tell that Elderflowers are ready by smelling them. Ripe Elderflowers have a unique, sweet fragrance reminiscent of honey spiced with a little clove and ginger. It’s no wonder that bees – and humans – find them irresistible.

Flowering cluster: Blue (Mexican) elderberry

Pick flowers on a warm, sunny morning. Choose only flowers that are fully open – they should smell like spiced honey. We find it’s easiest to pick flowers by cutting off entire bunches of flowers into a bowl. You can then remove the stems and any leaves in the kitchen. It’s best to prepare the flowers as soon as possible after picking. Older flowers lose their unique flavor.

Flowers will fall off the stem easily – just grasp the stem in one hand and gently rake the flowers with the fingers of your other hand. Discard the stems; they are inedible and mildly toxic if eaten. Remove any insects and gently wash the flowers with cool water. They now are ready to use.

One of the easiest ways to prepare Elderflowers is as an herbal tea (infusion/tissane). You can use the flowers fresh, or dry them for later use. For drying, pick and prepare Elderflowers as above. Lay them out on a clean paper on a cookie sheet in a warm dry place. They will dry in a day or so. Store in a tightly sealed jar – we like old-fashioned glass ones. Use within a year (like all herbal teas, they lose their flavor with time).
Elderflower Tea

1-2 Tbsp prepared fresh flowers (1-2 medium-size flower heads (umbels) or
1 heaping tsp dried elderflowers
6 oz boiling water

Pour water over prepared flowers in a non-metal cup, pot or bowl. Cover. Let steep 2-3 minutes. Strain out flowers. Sweeten if desired. Enjoy!
Elderflower Sun Tea

3-4 Tbsp. fresh flowers per 8 oz of water (1 cup flowers/quart or liter of water)
Tap or bottled water

Place prepared flowers and water in a large glass jar. Place jar in a hot, sunny place. Let tea steep for 2-4 hours, stirring occasionally; tea will be a bright yellow color when done. Strain to remove flowers. Let cool and then refrigerate. Sweeten if desired. Makes a lovely, light sweet iced tea that refreshes on a hot summer day.

Another refreshing use for Elderflowers is to prepare a syrup that can be used in iced beverages or as a syrup on pancakes and desserts. Many good recipes for English-style ‘Elderflower Cordial’ are available; below are two of our favorites.

Elderflower ‘cordial’ is traditionally dissolved in cold sparkling water, tap water or even mild-flavored sparkling beverages like 7-up. Just add cordial to taste – usually about ½ to 1 oz cordial per 8 oz beverage. You can also use the ‘cordial’ as a syrup on pancakes, waffles or drizzled over a dessert. Any way you use it, Elderflower ‘cordial’ makes a unique summer treat. For fun, have your guests try to guess the secret ingredient.
English-style Elderflower Cordial: 1
(non-alcoholic; used for beverages)

2 cups (moderately packed) washed fresh elderflowers
2 1/2 cups boiling water
2 cups sugar
Prepare an Elderflower infusion by pouring boiling water over washed Elderflowers in a glass or pyrex bowl. Let flowers infuse for at least 30 minutes – we prefer to let it cool to at least lukewarm and you can leave it overnight. Strain out the flowers.
Place 2 cups of the infusion in a heavy saucepan. Add sugar and stir to dissolve. Heat on medium heat to a boil, then decrease heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Ladle into hot, sterile jars and can using a boiling water bath (see below, jelly recipes). Or cool and store in a jar in the refrigerator for 1-2 months.
English-style Elderflower Cordial: 2 (non-alcoholic; used for beverages)

1 ½ cup sugar
1 lemon (sliced thinly)

1 orange or lime (sliced thinly)
1 ½ cup water
6-8 cups elderflowers


Dissolve sugar in water. Bring to a boil and boil for 10 minutes, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Place cleaned Elderflowers and citrus slices in a non-metalic bowl. Pour the hot syrup over the flowers/citrus; stir. Cover with a clean cloth and leave overnight, then strain out flowers/citrus.
Place liquid in a heavy saucepan and bring to a boil. Remove from heat immediately and bottle in hot sterilized jars. Store for up to 3 months in the fridge, or freeze. For longer-term storage (up to a year), process using a boiling water bath (see below, jelly recipes).

Elderflower Jelly

Elderflowers can also be used to make a light, sweet jelly. We usually use added pectin to ensure that the jelly sets properly. If you prefer a recipe without pectin, there are good recipes available on-line.

Elderflower Jelly
(using dry powdered pectin)

5 cups elderflower ‘infusion’ (see below for preparation)
1 package Sure-Gel dry pectin
2 Tbsp lemon juice (strained)
1 Tbsp butter or margarine (if desired to decreasing foaming)
6 cups sugar

Prepare an elderflower infusion by pouring 8 cups (4 quarts) of boiling water over 6-8 cups washed elderflowers. Let flowers infuse for at least 30 minutes – we prefer to let it cool to lukewarm. Strain out the flowers.

Place infusion, dry pectin, lemon juice and butter/margarine (optional) in a large, heavy pot. Bring to a full rolling boil (one that cannot be stirred down), stirring frequently. Add the sugar all at once. Bring again to a full rolling boil, stirring often to prevent burning. Let mixture boil for 1 minute after it reaches the full rolling boil.

Turn off the heat. Skim off foam with a spoon. Ladle jelly into hot, sterilized canning jars; seal with 2-part canning lids. Process in boiling water bath for 10 minutes (up to 2000 ft elevation); for higher elevations add minutes to the processing time as outlined in http://www.freshpreserving.com/tools/reference/adjust.aspx


Elderflower Jelly (using Certo liquid pectin)
2 cups flower infusion (steep 2+ cups moderately packed flowers in 2 cups boiling water at least 30 minutes; strain out the flowers)
1/4 cup lemon juice
4 cups sugar
3 oz of liquid pectin (this will be 1/2 box of liquid Certo)

Bring first 3 ingredients to a boil you can't stir down. Add pectin and boil 2 minutes. Ladle into hot sterile jars. Process as above.

Do you have a favorite Elderflower recipe?  Share it as a comment, below

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