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FOOD Elderflower cordial, ice-cream and vinaigrette



Elderflower cordial is a midsummer treat to be relished.
?Elderflower cordial is a midsummer treat to be relished.

Hedgerow harvest

Redmond Cabot

We all came from hunter gatherers, and our DNA holds the inherent memory of going out to the countryside and gathering food stuffs. Yes, we buy most of our food in shops now, and some of us even wear a bit of deodorant! But that gathering instinct is still within us.
Each year, nature produces a bounty across all seasons. After many wet and unimpressive summers, we are now enjoying our second super summer in a row. And this year the elderflowers are particularly abundant and visible to see. You can go down to the supermarket and purchase a commercially produced bottle of delicious elderflower drink, or you can go out and make it yourself. Guess which we are going to talk about!
The basic principle is to boil some water so that it is sterilised. As it cools, you add sugar to dissolve and then add lemons/citric acid. Gently lay your picked flower heads into the mix and submerge delicately. Leave overnight to steep, before straining it and putting your concentrate in a container. This syrup has sweetness from the sugar, structure from the citrus, but more importantly a delicate floral, honeyed, freshness that actually tastes like a natural, complex hedgerow flavour in your drink. The syrup or cordial can be mixed with water about six parts to one.
We dug out the books and looked through Darina Allen, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and some newer kids on the block. The Brunette, Penny and I then went a-gathering, and a couple of variations were tried before we settled on the recipe below.

Lovely Lanmore Elderflower Cordial
Tasting something that is produced from your local area at this time of year reflects the environmental and seasonal nuances that are almost indescribable, but you know it has a significant meaning when it hits your taste buds, providing one still has taste buds!

What you need

  • 10 elderflower heads
  • 800g sugar
  • Zest and juice of one lemon
  • 40g citric acid

What you do
Pick your elderflower heads in a clean natural environment. As people will enjoy telling you in secretive, hushed tones, ‘Oooh, make sure you don’t pick the flowers beside a road’, citing pollution concerns. Pick them in good weather and not too soon after rain. Give each head a little shake to dislodge any significant insects.
Boil the water in a stainless steel pot with the lid on. For our first batch we used regular white sugar, but then switched to brown Demerara sugar. It is meant to be less refined and it also adds an attractive brown/golden hue to your finished syrup.
When the liquid has cooled from being very hot, add the citric acid. This can be bought at any chemist. Citric acid and ascorbic acid are one and the same. Full of vitamin C, they add a contrast to a sweetness that would be over-powering and sickly on its own. It also adds a structure and complexity to the cordial.
The first batch we used only lemon juice and rind as our source of citric acid, but another batch with the chemist-bought citric acid really was better. Next, take your flower heads and submerge them nice and easy. You can gently move them around, but you are not looking to press or mush them: The steeping overnight will extract all necessary flavour, and crushing them may introduce a more tannins to the end result.

Other uses
Here are some other uses for elderflower cordial. A present from nature, it comes only once a year – enjoy and relish in being in the present.

Elderflower and honey ice-cream
This in not a ‘real’ ice-cream, but a home-made version using crème fraîche and some whipped cream. The crème fraîche gives a tangy contrast to the sweet honey and floral elderflower. Using your own intuition, mix together crème fraîche, some whipped cream, honey and elderflower cordial. Set in the freezer for half an hour. Adding a touch of caster sugar helps satisfy the younger sugar addicts!

Elderflower vinaigrette
Who would have thought it? This interesting combination works well. Use as dressing for salads, fish or baked chicken. Just mix equal parts of elderflower cordial and olive/rapeseed oil, a dash of white wine vinegar a touch of Dijon mustard and some honey if you like.

Red Cabot is interested in food, nature and small things. He sells his food at Westport Country Markets in St Anne’s Boxing Club, James’s Street car park, Westport, every Thursday, from 8am to 1pm.