“They’re awful! They taste like soap!”
My old roommate was describing French floral “mints” that she claimed the French were so in love with. I’d never really noticed them before but her comment had me thinking of rose geranium soap, an abomination of all good taste in a little ornate tin, in mint form and I couldn’t help but picture exactly what she meant. Of course, in the moment, I failed to remember that I too actually like a little floral flavour from time to time.
I’d love to tell you I remember the first time I ever tasted the sweet delicate flavour of Elderflower that I crave, but I have no specific memory of the beginning. In fact, I didn’t grow up with it even, so it must have been at some point in University when I first tried it. Somehow, Elderflower cordial managed to push through my general disinterest for sweet drinks and turn into a quick favourite. A bottle of Saint Germain liqueur being about the ultimate in a stocked liquor cabinet but I’d take the simple syrup just as easily.
Since then I’ve actually learned that I quite like the French taste for flowers, though I’ve still never tried the “mints.” Whether poppy syrup or violet ice cream or even down to using rosewater on my skin at the end of the day. I guess I just hadn’t made it past my initial thoughts of that fictitious rose geranium soap flavour on that first encounter.
The last few years I’ve been wanting to make some myself but my schedule had me going east, west, north and south and anywhere but home when the flowers were in bloom. Last year, I missed it as I was feeling ill for some time before finally discovering I had meningitis… so this was the year. No sickness, no travelling just lots of sun calling me outside. In this last week of May, I set out on my bike with some clippers and gardening gloves ready for the hunt!
Fortunately, Elderflower is a shrub that grows everywhere around here. If you want to have a look for yourself, be sure you know how to identify the plants before picking anything. As a general rule look for stems with a cluster of five leaves, one on the tip and two sets further down. The flowers will grow in an umbrella-like spray and have creamy white anthers. Be sure only to pick sweet smelling flowers that are open or just opening, leave any that have started to turn brown behind.
It’s simple to make and a perfect activity on a warm spring day. I’ve written up my recipe below for you to try. It yields approximately 2 Litres of syrup which can be used for a simple flavouring in cold sparkling water or in your baking or perhaps in a glass of champagne to make a simple cocktail.
When I finished making mine I decided to throw a little of the syrup soaked fruit in with some white wine to make a simple version of sangria to celebrate the end of a successful project.
- 40 Elderflower heads
- 1 Grapefruit
- 2 Lemons
- 1 1/2 L Water
- 1 Kg Sugar
- 55 g Citric Acid
- Shake free or rinse your elderflowers of any bugs and trim off as much stem as possible (as this part of the plant is not considered edible)
- Prep your Grapefruit and Lemons by using a vegetable peeler to collect the zest before cutting large rounds. Set aside.
- In a large pot bring water to a boil and turn off the stove.
- Pour in sugar and stir until dissolved.
- Add the zest and rounds of your lemons and grapefruit then add citric acid and stir until dissolved.
- Finally place your flowers into the pot and give a quick stir so everything is submerged.
- Cover with a towel and leave it be for 24 hours.
- After it has been left to steep overnight strain the entire mixture through a clean tea towel or muslin to get rid of any impurities.
- If you'd like your syrup to last a little longer, reheat it briefly to a low boil before placing it in sterilized bottles and seal according to instructions.