Ask Peter: Elderflower
I have lots of elderflower on my new property – the local farmers consider it a weed but I’d like to use it. I am familiar with elderflower syrup but any suggestions on how else to incorporate it in day-to-day meals or other ways of preserving it would be greatly appreciated. Alistair
Elderflower blossoms are one of early summer’s greatest offerings in many ways. The delightful flavour from the flowers of this ‘weed’ goes so well with summer fruits, in cocktails, with white fish and poached chicken amongst others that it should really be more popular than it is. In the UK there are dozens of elderflower based cordials and waters to choose from in the shops, as well as the fabulous liqueur called St-Germain from France which comes in the most gorgeous bottle of any liqueur that I know of.
They grow wild in the British hedgerows and are mostly left alone and off British menus, but the flowers and the later appearing elderberries, are fantastic ingredients. Elderflower cordial is probably how most people know of the plant. The reason being that a cordial can be used all year long and so it can be added to sparkling wine as an aperitif in spring, tossed through sliced peaches and apricots to be spooned over vanilla meringues for a summer lunch, or churned into a sorbet with apple juice to be served with poached quince in autumn.
I also like to add some to poached or stewed apples and pears for the last few minutes cooking, as well as whisking into a meringue towards the end. It’s great whipped with cream and a little yoghurt to serve alongside anything you’d normally serve whipped cream with (scones and jam, chocolate cake, crumble) and also drizzled over a roast chicken or crispy pork belly for the last 5 minutes cooking.
But to try some other ways of using the freshly picked flowers, there is a fairly short window of time when they’re at their peak. If you’re harvesting them yourself make sure you pick the elderflowers when the blossoms are freshly opened, before any of their petals brown around the edges.
Pick them on a dry morning – rather than after a rainfall, and avoid any plants near a motorway or road. Fill a basin with cold water and dunk the flowers (on their stem) under the water a few times to make sure there are no insects or other leaves lurking amongst the blossoms. Gently shake the flower heads to remove excess moisture and sit on kitchen paper, stalk side facing up, to drain any excess moisture.
Pikelets & fritters
A great way to use them is to make a pikelet batter that you sweeten with a little runny honey and vanilla paste (go easy).
Grease a non-stick pan with butter and make pikelets slightly larger than normal – about the size of a saucer –which should be about the same size as the diameter of the blossoms. Pour 6mm of the batter into the pan and wait 10 seconds, then gently press a whole blossom into the batter – stalk facing up. Cook the batter over medium heat until it begins to firm up then gently pull the stalk out – which will leave the blossoms in the pikelet.
Once the batter has firmed up you can carefully flip the pikelet over for 5 seconds then carefully slide it out of the pan onto a warm plate. Serve with a dollop of crème fraiche and sliced strawberries that you’ve macerated with a little icing sugar.
You can also snip off the individual blossoms from the main stem (you don’t want anything too woody) and mix these into a batter – an olive oil or tempura style batter – and mix in some thin slices of banana, peach, nectarine or very ripe pear or apple.
Drop tablespoons of the batter into hot oil and fry until crisp. Dust with golden caster sugar and squeeze on a little lemon juice and eat while hot.
For a savoury option, snip the flowers into a jar and cover with verjus or the juice from a sweet lemon or orange. Shake well and leave the flowers to infuse for a few hours. Add a light olive oil, salt and pepper and a little mustard and shake again. Strain this over a salad of poached chicken or flaked white fish mixed with thinly sliced celery, toasted chopped hazelnuts, some pear or avocado, white witlof and warm sliced baby potatoes. Yum!
In our Ask Peter series, executive chef Peter Gordon answers your curly culinary questions. If you're stumped over something food-related, send your question to [email protected] and keep checking in for answers. You can read more on Peter on his website, have a read of his Ask Peter articles or check out his recipes on our site.