Over the last week or two the elder trees here at Salt Box HQ have exploded with frothy white, heavenly scented blooms of elderflower.
One of our favourite ways to capture the full scent of these spring flowers is to steep the flower heads in a sugar syrup and lemon zest which we use mainly as cordial. However it would be just as delicious if you were to add a dash to your gin and tonic or spring cocktails!
The best time of day to collect your flowers is a warm sunny morning when the pollen is deeply scented. Rain will do the elderflowers no favours and wash away all the flavour held within the delicate umbels.
Always pick elderflowers from above hip height or higher than the tallest cocked dogs you can imagine as we want our elderflowers to be as clean as possible. Once picked the elderflowers should be placed into a basket as gently as possible to keep all their pollen intact.
Elderflowers should be given an ever so gentle shake to encourage any of the little bugs to make their way to a new home, most bugs have generally disappeared by the time we get our foraged delights home.
The sugar content of this recipe is quite high but the sugar along with the lemon juice will act as a preservative for the cordial. If you wish to reduce the amount of sugar you use then please feel free but make sure to keep it stored in the fridge.
The citric acid is optional, it is a natural preservative which you can buy from most chemists and will allow you to store your cordial in a cool dark place for up to a year.
1L of water
1kg caster sugar
2 lemons (You could also try using oranges or lemons instead)
Place the water and sugar into a large saucepan. Gently warm the water over a low heat until the sugar has dissolved.
Whilst you wait for the sugar to dissolve zest both of the lemons and place into a large non metallic bowl or container. Slice the lemons and add to your vessel too.
Once the sugar has dissolved, bring the sugar syrup to the boil and allow to boil for a minute or two.
Carefully pour the boiled sugar syrup over your lemons, add in your citric acid if you are using it and stir to dissolve.
Gently place the elderflowers into your sugar syrup and cover with a clean cloth. Set aside and leave at room temperature overnight to steep.
The next day remove the tea towel and use this to line a sieve or colander over a clean bowl.
Slowly pour your elderflower cordial into the tea towel to remove all the fine bits of petals.
Use a measuring jug and funnel to pour your cordial into sterilised bottles. Shut the lids tight and store for up to 6 months in a cool dark place. Once opened store your cordial in the fridge and drink within a week or two.
how to sterilise jars and bottles
Sterilising your glass jars and bottles is a crucial step to remove any bacteria from your vessel to stop your preserves from spoiling.
Before you set off there are a few foraging guidelines to keep in mind to avoid any injury to yourself or the natural habitats you encounter.
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Always forage small amounts for personal use, leaving adequate produce for animals and insects to indulge on, as well as other foragers!
IF IN DOUBT, LEAVE IT OUT.
Only eat something if you are 100% sure of its identification, as some plants can make you unwell, or worse still – some are even deadly. Books are very helpful for this; one of our favourites is ‘Wild Flowers of Britain and Ireland‘, ‘Food for Free‘ and ‘The Forager’s Handbook‘. Websites and social media groups can also be helpful, but make sure you trust the source entirely before you eat your finds
PICK FROM PLENTIFUL PLANTS
Only forage from plants that have produced plenty of fruit as the plant depends on this to reproduce.
WATCH YOUR STEP
Choose carefully how you access your foraging finds. Avoid crushing plants and habitats underfoot whilst hunting for wild foods.
LEAVE ROOM FOR RE-GROWTH
Avoid taking too much twig and never uproot a plant so that it is always able to regrow after you have foraged from it.
Your foraging kit should include – a small legal carry knife or secateurs, gloves to protect your hands from plants that may sting (the humble nettle) and thorns, and a basket/container or three. Don’t forget to wear long trousers and long-sleeved tops to protect your arms and legs from natural nasties such as ticks (find out more about ticks here.)
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