Views, history and recipes from a pastry chef living and working in London.

"The fine arts are five in number, namely: painting, sculpture, poetry, music,
and architecture, the principal branch of the latter being pastry." Antonin Carême (1783-1833)

Tuesday, 22 June 2010


Elderflowers, Sambucus nigra, is a species of shrubs, one of thirty Sambucus trees in the moschatel family. A relative of honeysuckle it is native to Europe, North Africa and Northern America. The small white flowers appear in large heads, approx. 10–25 cm diameter, in midsummer and the fruit appear in late autumn as dark purple berries that hang in large clusters. The ripe berries are used to make all sorts of condiments including jam, jelly and wine whereas the under ripe berries are mildly poisonous.

The flowers are mainly used to make an infusion or cordial which is popular all across Northern Europe and the Balkans. It is known as Socata in Romania and Fladersaft in Sweden. These are all diluted before drinking. The fresh flowers are also dipped in a light batter and fried to make a elderflower fritter and in Scandinavia and Germany the berries are sometimes made into soup.

The elderflower berries and flowers have also been used for many centuries for their medicinal qualities. The stems, berries, flowers and root have been used to treat coughs, bronchitis and infections. In Russia, elderflowers are still sold in drugstores to relieve congestion. The dried flowers are simmered to make a weak tea which is taken when ill.

Here are a few things you can do with elderflowers this summer. They are out in force in the south and appear to have not yet kicked in in the North. Favored by jam makers and foragers alike their perfumed flowers are a real reminder of summer that can be bottled and jarred to keep you feeling summery all year round. Enjoy.

Elderflower and bramley apple jelly
  • 6lb cooking apples
  • 6 pints water
  • 2.5lb (approx. 5kg pectin / jam sugar)
  • 5 lemons
  • 40 elderflower heads
This jelly has a beautifully subtle hint of the perfume of elderflowers whilst having the tart astringency of the bramley apples. It goes great with cold meats and pies.

Quarter apples and place in a large plan with quartered lemons and cover with water. Bring to boil, turn down and simmer for approx. 1 hour until the apples are soft and pulpy. Strain through muslin or a fine seive over the elderflower heads. Allow to stand overnight. Strain through a fine sieve to remove flowers and for every pint of liquid add 1lb pectin sugar. Place on heat and bring to boil. Boil hard till you reach setting point skimming off any scum that forms on the top. To check for set, pour teaspoon of liquid onto frozen saucer and place in freezer for a few minute. Run your finger through the jelly and if you leave wrinkles either side of your finger you have reached setting point. Pour into sterilised jars and allow to cool.
Elderflower Cordial
  • 3lb Caster sugar
  • 3 pints water
  • 2 split lemons
  • 25 elderflower large heads
  • 2 oz citric acid
This is a real winner. Really easy to make, tastes great just diluted with water or lemonade on a hot summers afternoon or used as a topping for ice cream and strawberries. It can easily be turned into a frozen sorbet and can be added to cava or other spirits for a refreshing evening drink.
Place sugar and water in a pan with split lemons and bring to the boil. Pour over the elderflower heads and cover. Leave in a cool dark place for 5 days stirring every day. After 5 days run through a fine sieve or muslin to remove all the flowers and stir in citric acid. Pour into sterilised bottle (pour boiling water into old screw top wine bottles) and store in a cool place.


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