One of the things I find frustrating when I flick through preserving recipe books is when a recipe requires ingredients that are not available at the same time when growing your own. Blackcurrant and apple may be a classic combination but I do not have apples ready when the blackcurrants are out. I saw a recipe the other day for a jam using rhubarb and apple. Fail! There are about 4 months between these two ingredients (at least in my world!).
Fortunately, with the use of the freezer it is possible for me to freeze some blackcurrants to use when the apples are ready and so you will find Blackcurrant and Apple Jam in the Jammy Cow product list. Another classic and delicious combination which requires the intervention of the freezer is gooseberry and elderflower. These two seem to miss each other by a matter of days, with the elderflowers finishing by the end of May and the gooseberries ripening sometime from the end of May to July. So rather than risking missing that special moment when both are available (although arguably not at their best), I pick the elderflowers now and freeze them until the gooseberries are good an plump.
I don't grow elderflowers myself but they feature frequently in the hedgerows and municipal planting of Milton Keynes. We pass many bushes on the school run each morning in fact. Once you have your eye in you'll spot them all over the place. Although it may not be your eyes that notice them first, as the heavy scent is often so strong that your nose will notice it first.
There are other whitish cream blossom flowers out at the moment so if you do decide to collect elderflowers please make sure you know what you are doing. The result really won't be the same if you collect the wrong flowers and I guess there is a possibility you may poison yourself! Below is a photo of a blossom that isn't elderflower.
Elderflowers grow on shrub or tree sized plants and have an umbrella shaped blossom made up of numerous of tiny cream flowers. The leaves are typical leaf shaped, fairly large and grow in collections of 5 or 7 leaves on one stem. If you think you have found the elderflower then smell it. It should have a lovely strong sweet perfume. If it has no perfume or stinks like sweaty donkeys then forget it! Below is a photo of what you are looking for.
Most recipes call for 20 large flower heads so aim to collect at least this many. They can be snapped off with sharp fingernails or snipped off with scissors. Back home, give them a good shake to remove any bugs. You may also wish to wash them. I always use my elderflowers in recipes as a flavouring so they usually get strained out of the finished product. This means there is no need to fiddle around with snipping each flower from the head. So, either use them fresh or pack them into freezer bags, squash out as much air as possible and seal. Then pop them into the freezer until needed. They will probably discolour and go brown on thawing them out but they will retain their flavour and this is the key thing. They can be used from frozen to flavour jams (recipe to follow when seasonal) as well as to make things such as elderflower cordial.
If you fancy using them straight away then try making some elderflower cordial now. It is dead easy and tastes delicious. As well as diluting it to make a drink you can use it to flavour other things such as butter icing for fairy cakes. You may also like to try the River Cottage recipe for elderflower panna cotta. My 8 year old made this a couple of weekends ago and it was delicious. Whatever you decide, if you want to use elderflowers then get out there and pick some now because they won't be there next week!
2lb 4 oz (1kg) sugar
1½ pints (900ml) boiling water
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon lime juice
about 15 large elder flower heads
1 lemon, sliced
1 lime, sliced
Put the sugar in a non-metallic bowl with the boiling water and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Add the lemon and lime juices. Wash and flick dry the elder flower heads then snip off the flowers into the bowl. Add the sliced lemon and lime. Stir then cover the bowl with Clingfilm and leave to stand for 24 hours. Scald a jelly bag and drain the mixture through it into a clean bowl. Funnel into sterile bottles then refrigerate. Dilute to taste with still or fizzy water. Will keep in the refrigerator for about 3 months.