Growing up, my grandparents who live in Pennsylvania would make elderberry jam which is still to this day my favorite jam, hands down. I've seriously thought about planting elderberry bushes just to make this jam. But I've never tasted anything made with the flowers, so I was curious.
Once I started to think about it, I began to notice that elderberry bushes were blooming EVERYWHERE - suddenly I was noticing them growing along every road I drove on! It helps, of course, that I live in the country and so drive along a lot of country roads.
So one day last week I decided I would go foraging for elderflowers to make this cordial. The first thing I did was stop at some planted elderberries and pick an example of their leaves so I would be totally sure to harvest the right thing.
Over at the blog Hunter Angler Gardener Cook they talk about how to identify elderflowers and what it could possibly be confused with so you know what to watch out for, so I felt pretty confident. It helps that elderflowers are super distinctive - so much so I could identify them easily as I drove by.
I brought along 2 paper bags (they say picking the flowers into plastic will cause them to sweat and wilt), some gardening gloves, and a pair of scissors.
I planned to follow the recipe from The Wednesday Chef, which says you need about 25 flower heads to make a batch of cordial. That seemed simple enough, but once I got out there it became apparent pretty quickly that some flower heads were small (size of a small child's hand) and some were HUGE (size of a dinner plate). Um, 25 of which size? So to be on the safe side, I picked 30-ish flower heads.
Once I pulled over, I discovered that some bushes were actually down a steep slope (no way I'm trying that at 6 month's pregnant while nobody knows where I am). I had read that the best foraging practice is to gather a few flower heads from multiple bushes, and in reality that's basically what I HAD to do since often that's all I could reach due to roadside ditches, tall bushes, creek banks, etc.
Still, after visiting maybe 3 or 4 roadside stands I had gotten my 30 flower heads. During the last picking session, a summer thunderstorm broke out and I ended up pretty wet.
The funny thing was that since my arms were wet, the small elderflowers kept sticking to my arm as I picked and I ended up covered with flowers!
Once I got home I used my scissors to snip the tiny flowers off their stems and into a large glass crock. THIS is the part that took FOREVER. Maybe I didn't have to be so OCD about it, but the recipe from Hunter Angler Gardener Cook said:
"Try to remove as much of the stems as you can; they are toxic. A few stray bits of stems will not hurt you, but you want to minimize it."
After reading that I kinda freaked out a little and tried to remove EVERY SINGLE BIT OF STEM possible. Of course I had 30 flower heads with itty bitty flowers on them, so I ended up standing in the kitchen for the rest of the afternoon doing this part.
Next I sliced 4 organic lemons and added them to the crock. I took 2.2 pounds of sugar in a large pot and added 6 cups of water and brought that to a boil. Once it the sugar was dissolved, I let the sugar water cool a little so it wasn't hot enough to burn, and poured that over the flowers and lemon slices.
I let that steep, stirring it every day, for about 2 days. Then I strained it, brought it back to a boil, and bottled it.
You end up with a elderflower-lemon-syrup. You just mix a tablespoon or two of the syrup with cold water, sparking water, or champagne. To me it ended up tasting a little bit like iced tea and lemonade.
I enjoyed the process of making this cordial and giving it a try, but I'm REALLY happy that this forging trip taught me where my local elderberries are.
I plan to go back out and pick the berries this fall to make my own elderberry jam!