© by Kat Morgenstern, May 2014
In May the air is thick with the giddying scent of Elderflowers, sweet and heady. No wonder it is said that the Queen of the fairies stages her Midsummer night's party in groves of Elder trees. When I walk in the fields the big white flower umbels are waving at me, teasing me, beckoning and whispering titillating ideas into my ears. 'How about making some Elderflower syrup? Or Elder Fizz sparkling wine? Or fritters? Or cake? Or all of the above? It is all very tempting. But to start with I need to restock my syrup supply, which will serve as lemonade base during the coming hot summer months and also provides me with my favourite sweetener for yoghurt, home made ice-cream, may punch and many other delicacies. It even provides tasty medicine for head colds thanks to its mucus thinning properties. Medicine doesn't come any tastier than this.
The best time to pick Elder flowers is when the big flower heads are fully in flower, but have not yet turned brown. Choose a sunny and dry day and pick the flowers after all dew has dried. You don't want them to be damp. How many you should pick depends on the quantity of syrup you want to make. I usually start with a shopping bag full, which usually does not take long to collect (best to use non-plastic bags). Cut the flowers close to the umbel base from which the flower stalks emerge. When you get home spread them out on some newspaper and leave them in the shade for about half an hour to give any bugs that were gorging themselves on the nectar before your intrusion a chance to escape.
Cover the base of a large cooking pot (stainless steel – never aluminum) with a layer of elderflowers. I usually trim even more of the green stalks at this point, which results in smaller umbels with only thin little stalks still attached. The green parts of Elder are emetic. Usually this does not produce any ill effects in the finished product, but still, I prefer to be on the safe side, having once unintentionally experienced the purgative effects of this remedy. Now cover the flowers with a layer of thinly sliced organic, untreated lemons. Continue to alternate these layers until the pot is filled. Finish with a layer of lemons. Pour boiling water over everything until lemons and elder flowers are submerged. Very likely the top layer of flowers will turn brown, but that is no worry. Cover with a lid and let everything stew for 3 days.
On the third day pour the liquid through a strainer and remove all the elderflower heads and lemons. To get really clear syrup, filter the elderflower liquid through a coffee filter, which will remove all the fine pollen. You will need to change the filter quite frequently as it soon clogs up with pollen. Some filter paper is finer than others, resulting in various degrees of cloudiness from the pollen. However, the pollen does not harm the finished product. Measure the liquid and pour into a large pot. Add an equal volume of fine granulated sugar (1 liter of liquid = 1 kg of sugar) and heat over a low flame until al the sugar has dissolved completely. Meanwhile sterilize your bottles. I do this by boiling them in plenty of water with a good shot of white vinegar added. Pour off 1 liter of syrup at a time into a jug (pyrex glass is best) and add the juice of one lemon per liter of syrup before pouring it into your prepared bottles. Bottle the liquid as hot as possible and cap immediately. If you can find them, use bottles that come with vacuum lock caps, which seal the bottles really tight and thus increase the length of time the syrup can be stored without spoiling.
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