Seeing elderflowers in full bloom is the real sign of summer. British asparagus and strawberries being available in the shops may also be a sign but there is nothing that beats a walk in the countryside and the smell of the elderflowers as you wander along a country lane. And even better than that is that you are likely to find them growing not too far from where you live – they are happy growing along roadsides, on wasteland and are rife in cities and parks.
The flowers are the summer produce from this wonderful tree, then in autumn it produces dark round berries, also great for culinary use. People have often thought that the berries are poison but they are certainly not! The bark and leaves however, do contain chemicals that can make you sick so be certain to stick purely to the berries and flowers.
The best elderflowers are picked when they are white and newly opened – the creamy ones are riper and any that have a brown tinge will give a bitter taste.
As the flowers are very short-lived, probably the best thing to make is elderflower cordial, that way you can keep a supply of the wonderful summer flavour for longer. I will leave you to find your own recipe for the cordial – there is no shortage of them.
What is more interesting is what to do with the cordial once you have made it, apart from drinking a dash of it topped up with champagne of course!
As well as the recipe below, elderflower cordial can be used to brighten up cocktails, fruit jellies, sorbets or ice-creams. Whenever you need a hint of summer, bring out the elderflower cordial and start experimenting!
Rhubarb and Elderflower Fool
Most cookery books will give a recipe for gooseberry and elderflower fool, as they are both in season around the same time, but I love rhubarb and this combination also works really well.
You can also make your own custard, but I am cheating to give you the quicker option!
400g (14oz) rhubarb, chopped into 2 cm chunks
1 tbsp light muscovado sugar
200ml (7 fl oz) double cream
1 tbsp elderflower cordial
200ml (7 fl oz) vanilla custard
- Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas mark 6.
- Place the rhubarb in a roasting tin and sprinkle with the sugar.
- Bake for 15-18 minutes until the rhubarb is soft and the juices have started to run. Remove from the oven and spoon everything into a bowl to cool.
- In a large bowl, whisk the double cream until thick. Gently fold in the custard and rhubarb, but do not over-mix, it’s nice to have a marbled effect.
- Spoon into small glass bowls and serve, or chill until required.