One of my healthy obsessions is mountain biking. As with many things that I do, even when cycling my thoughts turn to food. Speedily swerving through snaking single track I’ll be glancing at the woodland floors for mushrooms and pondering how to learn about foraging. Certainly after identifying elder trees and seeing how many there are surrounding us, spurs me to learn more about foraging, so please post in the comments if you have any suggestions for blogs or people to get in touch with to learn more about foraging. I’d love to finally learn which mushrooms are edible in our woods amongst other delights.
A few of the people I follow on Twitter (@ginandcrumpets and @rachelsfood) started talking about picking elderflowers and thanks to their help and a bit of research I figured out where to get them. I see elderflowers everywhere now, and wish I could keep picking them. I may turn to home brew, much to the consternation of Mrs Fly.
Elderflowers are an umbellifer, i think of it as umbrella-like white flower clusters. It looks similar to hemlock, but elder (or Sambucus for the Latin name) is a tree with a woody stem as opposed to the soft stem of hemlock. The leaves are another indicator. They are pinnate, that is multi-divided along both sides of a common axis, with 5-9 leaflets (rarely 3 or 11) per leaf. The flowers should smell nice and sweet, and I’m told you should pick them when the sun is on them. To pick, you just need to push the pedicel or stem of the flower up or down near where it connects to the branch, it’s very easy and you shouldn’t need secateurs. I wanted some nice depth of field in the photos, but the wind seemed to prefer them in soft focus. You get the idea.
I used the recipe from UKTV food and it’s amazingly easy!
20 heads of elderflower
1.8 kg granulated sugar, or caster sugar
1.2 litres water
2 unwaxed lemons
75 g citric acid (you can find this in most pharmacies, just ask behind the counter)
1. Shake the elderflowers to expel any lingering insects, and then place in a large bowl.
2. Put the sugar into a pan with the water and bring up to the boil, stirring until the sugar has completely dissolved.
3. While the sugar syrup is heating, pare the zest of the lemons off in wide strips and toss into the bowl with the elderflowers. Slice the lemons, discard the ends, and add the slices to the bowl. Pour over the boiling syrup, and then stir in the citric acid. Cover with a cloth and then leave at room temperature for 24 hours.
4. Next day, strain the cordial through a sieve lined with muslin (or a new j-cloth rinsed out in boiling water), and pour into thoroughly cleaned glass or plastic bottles. Screw on the lids and pop into the cupboard ready to use.