If you still have elderflowers, and I suspect I will even with the rain and my ill-timed travel, consider making elderflower sugar this year. Mine are Sambucus nigra ‘Black Beauty,’ one of the newish mahogany-leaved cultivars of the more common European elderberry. I often use the flowers for strawberry jam, but am thinking of infusing sugar so I can use it for other preparations throughout the year if the sugar mutes the particular scent that some consider cat urine-like and others call lemony. De gustibus non disputandum est.
Can’t quite commit to picking fluttery flowers? Wait for the berries and make hedgerow jam or jelly, as I’m planning to do this spring with my already ripe haskapberries (!) and frozen elderberries, gooseberries, and bramble fruit that make up my various spindly hedges.
Most important with elderberries is to know that the plant stems, leaves, and roots are poisonous, and even the berries have toxins in them if eaten raw. Don’t fret; if you cook the ripe berries of black or blue varieties (e.g., Sambucus canadensis or Sambucus nigra, but do check reliable sources for toxicity information on your variety because it’s a bit confusing) you’ll be ok. Check out Hank Shaw’s posts on effective ways to remove the stems of flowers for elderflower fritters or effective removal of the stems of ripe berries by freezing them for such lovely delicacies as elderberry syrup. You’ll also need to know that there are tiny seeds in the berries that are best strained out.
In other elder news, I recently had an excellent elderflower beer, Cazeau Saison, at San Francisco’s haut biergarten, The Abbot’s Cellar. It had a big white head and an icy fresh green taste, something along the lines of crushed wet chervil. The elderberry washed-rind English cheddar purchased at Corti Bros. in Sacramento was not nearly as good, with the berries just used as a pretty pink dye.
Hedgerow jam or jelly is a British autumn tradition, a delectable mixed fruit concoction made with fruits that can be gathered in the countryside or from your own hedges in an edible garden. It often contains blackberries, sloes, rose hips, hawthorn and crabapples, sometimes even nuts.
For a traditional English recipe, try this link featuring hazelnuts. I’d probably refrigerate this one or any recipe containing nuts or lower sugar than tested American ones either with or without pectin, both for safety and to keep the flavors as vibrant as possible. When you’re combining fruits, you will have variable issues with gel set because of the natural pectin content in the fruits you choose, so don’t feel you need to be a perfectionist about this one.
I’ll post my hedgerow jelly recipe and method soon!