Over the years I have experimented with the berries, however last year was the first time I started making things with the elder flowers. Walking past elderberries first thing in the morning you can't miss them. Their scent is unbelievably fragrant. You can find elderberry bushes along roadside ditches in your area. I truly believe more people should be planting them as an edible ornamental in urban areas. The blooms are gorgeous, you can use the flowers and the berries for food and if you don't have time to make anything from them, the birds will love you in the fall when the berries are ready to harvest.
Elderberries are big business in the UK. I can't recall ever seeing elderflower cordials in any of our stores? Yet, the Europeans seem to know and love it overseas. Perhaps because elderberries were so prevalent in Canada that they went out of "style" in the 1940's? If you check in old recipe books, you will find that our grandmothers and great grandmothers knew what they were and cooked with them as well as used them medicinally.
- The flowers need to be picked first thing in the morning. This is when they have the most scent. Interestingly enough, if you collect them during the heat of the day they don't have near the scent they do in the early morning or late at night.
- The flowers tops need to be picked while in bloom. You will see their tiny buds. Those buds need to be flowering in order to use them for any recipe. Unopened buds have little to no flavour.
- Make sure the flowers aren't turning brown. Once they start to turn they are to old. Leave them to ripen into berries for later use.
- The pollen is what makes the flavour, so don't rinse the flowers before using.
- Remove the green stems of the flower head. Just snip off the flowers in bunches into your water. If you leave the stems on, it will turn the infusion rank. Seriously. Try it and find out how gross it will become.
- Many recipes call for the flowers to steep in boiled water. The blooms are way too delicate for this! Just allowing the flowers to infuse in distilled water is sufficient.
- Don't snip off all of the flowers! Leave enough for the bees to use and for berry production later in the season.
Now....how do you make elderflower cordial? It's actually pretty simple. The most difficult part is finding the shrub usually!
Make about 8 cups of simple syrup (1:1) and allow it to cool. Add another 2 cups of distilled water. I found my original batch was WAY to sweet. Pour over the elderflowers. Add to this 1/4 cup lemon juice. Cover with a cheesecloth. Allow to infuse for 3 days.
Strain the elderflowers from the sugar water mixture into a separate bowl.
Pour into sterilized mason jars. Watercan for 10 minutes.
Once the syrup has been canned, you can use the syrup by adding a 1/4 cup to a large pitcher and adding seltzer water or you can add 7-Up or Sprite. Add it to a weak lemonade. Have fun with it. You will find what flavour seems best for your family. Enjoy!