Thursday, May 03, 2012

Fragrant Gift from the Forest

Yesterday we foraged for fragrant elderflowers in Stanley Park. It was a typical spring day: incidivisive weather, ranging from trickling rain, pounding hail and at long came the beautiful sunny afternoon I was waiting for, so I can go pick elderflowers.

Elderflowers are my new fling: we've only just met at the farmer's market on Saturday, and I'm already smitten with its delicate, berry-like aroma. And it took me only one time of enjoying the fresh cordial (or shall I call it iced flower infusion), to be convinced that these are worth traveling the miles for and risking a dirty shirt and a slip in the rainforest swamp for it.

It was beautiful, and I remembered seeing many of the shrubs along the trails I frequent on my weekend strolls; so I went wearing my best clothes without realizing how adventurous humans get when searching for food. White cashmere sweater is not a proper attire for such an adventure; and neither is a skirt; unless you want your bare skin to get kissed by cold wet moss. I was very glad that at least I had the forsight to put on good hiking boots though, which prevented me from slipping into the many mini-swamps that crawl alongside most of Stanley Park's trails.

A few tips about picking elderflowers: shake them well from the many little bugs that inhabit them before you take them home. You might still need to shake them again before using them for your infusions; but it will be a lot less messy.

Elderflowers are supposedly more fragrant before noon. If your weather allows, go for it and head out in the morning. I had to wait till late afternoon and they were still very fragrant and beautiful. Also, I find that the smell better after they are picked than straight on the branches, where at times their honeyed berry scent is overpowered by animalic nuances reminiscent of wet dog coat and skunk spray. Which might be why I never was tempted to forage them till this year. Thank the farmer's market for exposing me to the picked flowers!

As for the uses - you can make cordials and liquors with them, and once you've got your hands on the flowers - the process is simple. You can make it in two concentrations - a concentrated syrup-like cordial, or an infusion that can be drank fresh as it is. Below are the recipes for both:

Making Eldeflowers Cordial

Fresh Elderflower Infusion:

1.5L boiling water

1/2 cup evaporated cane sugar

30 elderflower clusters

2 organic lemons, cut into 8 wedges

Boil the water, and pour into a pitcher over the flowers, sugar and lemon.

Infuse overnight (or for 12 hours), covered in a cloth.

Refrigerate and use within a week (there is no need to strain the flowers and fruit, they will continue to infuse the water with their aroma).

To serve: pour half a glass of the flower infusion through a strainer, and half a glass of San Pellegrino or other unsweetened soda. Add ice cubes if desired. Enjoy!

Elderflower Cordial:

Most recipes call for citric acid (which is a preservative, but also kills the delicate floral aroma, in my humble opinion). My recipe won't last as long, but is true to the flowers.

1.5L boiling water

1kg sugar cane

40-60 elderflower tops

2 organic lemons, cut into 8 wedges

Dissolve the sugar with the boiling water.

Add the lemon wedges and the flowers. Cover with a cloth and infuse overnight (or for 12 hours). Strain through a fine sieve or mesh cloth, and store in sterilized containers, in the fridge.

This cordial may be used to taste (it's very concentrated) in soda water, in addition to iced teas, lemonades, poured over ice cream, and used in cocktails.

You may also use elderflower to make your own elderflower liquor - I haven't yet, but will this weekend, and if it goes well I will share with you my recipe.

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