It seems to be a bumper year for elderflowers this year. I don’t know if it’s because each shrub is particularly bountiful or if we have more bushes sprouting up around the farm but the creamy flowers are abundant.
Although best known for its flowers, all parts of the elder have a use. The bark, leaves and berries can be used for dyeing and apparently, if you rub the leaves onto your bare flesh then you’ll keep away the flies and midges. Certainly, the leaves don’t smell particularly nice so it could be true. In autumn, the berries can be used for syrups and wines, chutneys and pontack sauce. So, don’t pick all the flowers or you won’t have any berries in the autumn.
If you have some elder growing near you, venture forth with a bowl and snip off a few of those saucer shaped blooms to turn into something delicious. Pick the flowers while they’re still creamy coloured and pollen laden and leave them if they’re turning brown. I snip off the heads with scissors and take them home to cut off the big stems, letting the small florets fall into a bowl.
The most obvious thing to do with elderflowers is to make Elderflower Cordial. As well as foraging for your elderflowers, you’ll have to go through the rigmarole of buying citric acid, which involves the pharmacist asking you exactly why you want to buy all those boxes of citric acid. I usually make Rose and Elderflower cordial as the roses are blooming at the same time as the elders and it makes a pretty pink drink. Not that I’m a pretty pink sort of person. But heigh ho, it’s summer so why not?
The cordial can be diluted with still or sparkling water, added to fruit salad or pour it into a glass and top up with sparkling wine. Left forgotten in the bottle, the cordial will start to ferment and add its own sparkle. You can also use the cordial as a flavouring for jellies and sorbets and …
… marshmallows. I know marshmallows are achingly sweet and of little nutritional worth but home-made ones are a far cry from the plastic bag of marshmallows you buy in the supermarket. Just imagine a dish of these on the table at the end of a meal eaten outside in the sun.
If you want to give it a try, the recipe for these light, delicate puffs of sweetness is below.
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Rose and Elderflower Marshmallows
400g granulated sugar
14g powdered gelatine
90ml Rose & Elderflower Cordial
2 tablespoons icing sugar
2 tablespoons cornflour
Smidgeon vegetable oil
Put the powdered gelatine into your food mixer bowl and pour over 100ml of cold water. Give it a quick stir to amalgamate and set to one side to soften (it should look like gloopy wallpaper paste after a few minutes).
Add the granulated sugar to 175ml of cold water in a heavy based saucepan and bring to the boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Then, stop stirring, heat to 113C and take it off the heat.
Moving swiftly to your food mixer, whisk your gelatine mixture on a slow speed and gradually pour the hot sugar syrup into the bowl in a steady stream. When it’s all incorporated, add the rose & elderflower cordial, turn up the speed and whisk for ten to twenty minutes until you have a thick and shiny voluminous mixture that’s beginning to set.
While your mixer is whisking the mixture, lightly grease a baking tin (approx 28cm x 20cm) with vegetable oil, line with parchment paper and lightly oil again. Mix the icing sugar and cornflour together and sieve a teaspoonful over the base and sides of your baking tin.
Quickly pour and scrape the marshmallow mixture into your baking tin, spreading it evenly (a palette knife dipped in boiling water helps) and dust with a little more of the icing sugar and cornflour. If your marshmallow mixture doesn’t reach the top of the baking tin, cover with cling film. Otherwise, lay a piece of baking parchment over the top and be prepared for a slight crust where it dries out. Leave to set in a cool, dry place (not in the fridge) for about two hours.
When set, lay a piece of baking parchment on your work surface and dust with the sugar and cornflour mixture. Turn your baking tin upside down to tip out the marshmallow onto the dusted surface and then peel away the baking parchment. If you remembered to oil the parchment it will come away easily, if not it may be more difficult. Sieve over more sugar and cornflour.
The easiest way I find to divide the marshmallow is to cut a strip and roll it away from the main slab, coating each side with sugar and cornflour and then cut the strip into squares. Toss the squares in the bowl of sugar and cornflour so all the sides are well covered, pop them in an airtight container and keep in a cool, dry place. They’re best eaten within three weeks.