Thursday, 26 July 2012

Elderflower: Joys & Disasters

As we haven't had much of a summer here in the UK - apart from the past four days it has been exceptionally cold for this time of the year and it's been raining more than usual - everything is very delayed. I've only just picked my first strawberry (singular!) yesterday. So it comes as no surprise that the elders are flowering rather late. I went to pick my first batch at the beginning of this month, at a time when its usually finished flowering and I could barely find any because it hadn't even started properly.

I found enough to make a big batch of low sugar cordial, which tastes great, but due to the low sugar it doesn't need much diluting which means using a lot of it rather quickly.

I dried several heads in my food dehydrator to add to summery tea bags I'm planning on making later this year. I managed to yield quite a lot of dried blossoms but at the expense of the entire house smelling of cat wee = disaster #1

After I had used up all the flowers from my first batch I had a brain wave: Elderflower Ice Cream! So I went out to get a few more, so I could experiment with it. I wrote down what I did in case it worked out. Oh and I tell you it did work out - it's soooooo yummy. As I have a tendency of losing my random scribbles I'm going to write down here how I went about for my own reference, but please go ahead an try it yourself, it's worth it - I promise. If you live in the UK it might not be too late yet for this year, although the last warm four days may have sped nature up a bit. Anyway, this is what you do:

- take 6 small heads of elderflowers
- shake them lightly to get rid of any insects, but not too much, so you don't lose the lovely pollen
- get rid of any brown blossoms as this is what gives it the cat wee smell
- add the flowers to 200ml full fat milk
- slowly warm up the milk with the flowers on a low heat to infuse it with elderflower flavour (do not allow to boil)
- as soon as you notice any blossoms turning brown take the mixture of the heat
- cool down rapidly to avoid further browning by placing your pan in a sink with cold water
- strain the milk through a fine sieve
- whip 200ml of double or whipping cream
- mix 2 egg yolks and the finely grated rind of one unwaxed lemon + 70g of caster sugar until fluffy
- mix the egg mixture, cream and infused milk
- pour into your ice cream maker and churn for 30 minutes (if you don't have an ice cream maker place the mix into your freezer and fluff it up with a fork every half hour or so to avoid any crystals from forming until the right consistency is reached)

Enjoy with fresh strawberries.

The following weekend I set off again to get more elderflowers and was slightly more successful when it came to quantities.
I made another batch of cordial - this time a naughty sugary version which should last much longer as you only need a small amount to dilute it.
I started a gallon of elderflower wine which is still happily bubbling away and I tried to make some elderflower champagne, which brings me to disaster #2
As recommended in most recipes you can find on the internet I filled the semi-fermented concoction into ugly screw-top plastic bottles. I only filled them 3/4 full and squeezed out all the air to allow for some expansion when the gas develops. I did toy with the idea of releasing some pressure when the bottles turned very hard, but in the end I never did - fatal mistake! I got a call at work from Jamie telling me about some big explosions coming from our kitchen. Big explosions isn't even an exaggeration as the force of the pressure blew the cupboard door of its hinges, flooded the entire kitchen with sticky liquid and causing the landlord to come running over to see whether the house was still standing! It took all of our bathroom towels to clean up the mess, they then had to be boil-washed to get rid of the stickiness, parts of the walls had to be re-painted and for days our kitchen smelled like a brewery. That's what I call a definite disaster. It was such shame too, because what could be rescued (no more than 1 glass full) tasted extremely nice. Should I ever try this again I will use my pressure barrel.

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