On my almost treeless Isle, I gaze at elderflower blossom wistfully. When spied, I dare not pick the fragile, creamy lace-woven elderflower heads because on South Uist, the elder tree will have been planted. Over the sea, on the British mainland during the months of May and June growth of the shrub is frantic. It is often referred to as a B &Q species, meaning that it is grows quickly and is available to everyone. It certainly springs up on city waste ground, bursts through garden fences and on a rural bus journey, its blousy flowers brushed against the bus window. Unless you live on a windswept Outer Hebridean Isle, gathering elderflower blossom at this time of year should be straightforward. The fortunate may find Black Lace, which is pink flowering. If its flowers are used to make cordial the resulting scented syrup is bubble gum pink. Pick a little here and there, leaving plenty for wildlife and autumn berries.
Scottish readers may have to wait a week or two until they can harvest elderflower blossom but from my recent sojourn to the southerly parts of our Isle, I'll guess that most of Britain is ready to reap the culinary benefits of the elderflower. Pick your blossom whilst the sun is shining and well before the flowers fade and lose their youthful, heady scent. Brown flowers will result in tainted flavour and inevitably recipe failure. Put simply, brown flowers don't taste very nice. Cut your pick of the crop blossom with scissors, shake it lightly to allow any visitors to re-house locally, and then pop the flowers in a basket or on a windy day, a carrier bag. Elderflowers will freeze if you're pressed for time before making elderflower presse. I freeze elderflower cordial in well washed plastic bottles.This extends its shelf life, avoids cluttering up the fridge and dispels old age fears of a cloudy cordial. Pick the flowers well above levels where animals relieve themselves and far from car fumes.
Artisan producers are increasingly using elderflower blossom to flavour more than cordial and champagne. Its fragrant aroma is now slipping into gin and vodka and it is often blended with cucumber.You can try this at home too. Elderflower infused rice or white wine vinegar has a lightly fragrant tang. During the short asparagus season I use elderflower vinegar in a vinaigrette or beurre blanc and serve it with the king of British vegetables.You might throw a couple of elderflower heads into the poaching liquid of chicken or salmon, the later of which can then be served with a gooseberry and elderflower sauce. Rhubarb or gooseberry and elderflower sauce cuts tastefully into oily mackerel too. Rhubarb and gooseberries both gain from an elderflower infusion when used in preserves, fruit curds, jellies and summer puddings, either hot or cold. A rhubarb and elderflower sorbet heralds spring but as the weeks pass and strawberries ripen, replace the rhubarb with strawberries, which also team with elderflowers. Cooked and infused with elderflower heads these late spring and early summer fruits may also be used in summer pudding, which is traditionally made with yesterday's bread that has had its crusts removed.
Strawberry and Elderflower Custard Popsicles
Makes 4 x 100ml lollipops
300ml single cream
Large elderflower blossom, well shaken
3 large egg yolks
25g caster sugar
200g ripe strawberries
2-3 tsps elderflower cordial (to taste)
Pour the cream into a pan with the elderflower wrapped in muslin. Scald the cream over a low heat - do not allow it to boil. Remove the pan from the heat and leave the elderflower to infuse into the cream. Remove the elderflower from the cold cream and reheat to warm. Do not boil or the cream will separate.
Put the egg yolks and sugar in a bowl and whisk together until thick and creamy. Slowly whisk in the warm cream and return the custard to a heavy based pan. Cook the custard over a very low heat until the mixture thickens, stirring continuously. This may take 20 minutes - it is a slow process. Do not be tempted to increase the heat or the custard may split. Leave the custard to cool.
Whiz the washed and hulled strawberries in a food processor. Strain the puree through a sieve (to remove the seeds) into a jug. Add elderflower cordial to sweeten (to taste) and mix well. Divide the sweetened strawberry purée between four containers and then add the elderflower custard. Swirl the two mixtures together for a rippled effect. Put the popsicles on to a freezer proof tray and freeze for about 30 minutes (until partially frozen) and then insert a stick or spoon into each container. Return the popsicles to the freezer until completely frozen. Dip the moulds in hot water to loosen the popsicles and enjoy them as soon as possible.