Monday, June 1, 2020

Along many of London’s cycle paths and rivers, you will find an abundance of tiny, white clusters of elderflowers blooming right now.

Elder trees seem to be quite common in the London area as well as the rest of the UK. The elder tree (‘Sambucus nigra’) is common everywhere except the far north of Scotland and frequently grows along hedgerows and woodlands. These trees produce lovely, lightly perfumed blossoms beginning in May through June. By August, those flowers will have transformed into deep claret elder berries, which are often cooked down with sugar and used to make jams, syrups and even wine. 

One of the best areas that I have found elderflowers in London is along the River Wandle, which is a tributary of the Thames in the southwest part of the city. There’s a wonderful cycle/walking path that mostly follows the river and runs for about 12.5 miles (20km) from East Croydon Station to the Thames Path near Wandsworth Town train station. (See map of Wandle Valley Trail.) 
If you decide to go foraging for elderflowers, here’s my advice:

·      * Bring a plastic bag and scissors or small gardening trimmers.

·       *Pick the flowers on a dry, sunny day because the scent will be the strongest then.

·       *Cut the stalks carefully and keep the flowers upright so you don’t lose the precious pollen, which is the source of that unique flavor and fragrance.

·       *Place the flowers carefully into your plastic bag and inspect them later once you are home. Do not wash the flower heads.

·      * Wear long pants. Most of the elder trees I have found are nestled in between tons of nettle plants, which cause an itchy rash if you rub up against them.

Last year, I made a huge pot of elderflower cordial, and I did the same thing just a few weeks ago. Brits seems to love using elderflower cordial in fizzy drinks, cocktails and desserts. So I’ve wholeheartedly adopted this custom while living here. I enjoy topping up my sparkling water with a spoonful or two of homemade elderflower cordial.

While researching recipes for elderflower cordial, I found a variety of recipes involving all lemons or sometimes a mix of lemons and limes. This year, I used the zest and the juice from one lime and two huge Sicilian lemons, which yielded a pale-yellow color in my cordial and a delicate taste. Last year, I used a more equal mix of lemons and limes and I think the flavor was stronger. However, I think I prefer the taste of using a greater quantity of lemons.

Homemade Elderflower Cordial
1.5       L.         water
750      g.         granulated or caster sugar
40        g.         citric acid
1          ea.       zest and juice of a lime
6-8       ea.       zest and juice of lemons
20        ea.       large elderflower heads (If small, use two or three to yield 1 flower head.)

1. Place the water and sugar into a large pot and bring to a boil. Cook until all the sugar is dissolved. Add the citric acid. Remove from the heat.
2. Add the elderflowers and citrus zest and juice.
3. Cover the pot with a lid and leave out at room temperature to let the flowers steep for at least 24 hours.
4. When ready, pass the cordial through a sieve lined with a muslin cloth to catch any debris and the discarded zest.
5. Pour the cordial into clean bottles and store in the fridge.

This recipe will yield about 2 liters, so it’s perfect for gift-giving a few bottles to your friends.

Cheers!
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