Sunday, 21 June 2009


Elders are not conspicuous trees most of the year, and their branches usually blend into the rest of the greenery in a hedge. For a few short weeks in June, though, they burst into elderflowers, and clusters of the large white blossoms line our roads and fields.

The berries that come in June can be made into a jam that preserves vitamin C in winter, but the flowers themselves also have many uses. Elderflower champagne, a mildly alcoholic drink, can be made with nothing more than elderflowers, lemons, yeast, bottles, and two weeks.

Peel the rinds off two lemons, squeeze their juice into the bucket and throw the lemons and elderflowers in as well. Pour in a kilogram of sugar and two tablespoons of white wine vinegar. Then pour in eight litres of water, stir until the sugar is completely dissolved and let stand for 24 hours.

The next day or so, strain the mixture and pour it into bottles – large plastic jugs do fine for us. Set them in a cool place for about two weeks, and test the result. The yeast should develop by itself, but some people put a pinch of bread yeast in the bottles before sealing them, just to make sure. Try different approaches and see what works for you.

One easy use for elderflowers is in pancakes. Clip some elderflowers and wash them lightly, making sure to clip off the stem below the flower right below where it divides. To make the batter, just crack two eggs into a large bowl and stir until smooth, then mix in 120g of flour – the result should be so thick it is difficult to stir. Then slowly add 250 ml milk until the mixture is runny but not watery.

Put small pan with a little oil under medium-high heat, pour in the batter so that it covers the whole pan in a thin layer, and set one full elderflower into the batter face-down. After a minute or so – whenever the underside of the pancake gets golden-brown – flip it over and fry the other side for another minute or so.

If the only pans you have are large ones, you could put three or four elderflowers in one pan. The flowers add a fruity taste to the pancakes, as blueberries would. Elderflower extract is also used to make pancakes, but using the flowers themselves is simpler and more direct.

Do make sure you don’t pick elderflowers from the side of the road or where exhaust could contaminate the plants with heavy metals. Also, make sure you have actual elderflowers and not poisonous Queen Anne’s Lace or some other broad white flower. Elderflowers grow on elder trees and bushes, Queen Anne from green stems on the ground. If it’s lower than a metre off the ground, it’s probably something else.

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