Collect flowers early in the day before the sun hits them and not within 48 hrs of being wet AT ALL by rain. Choose heads that show about 75% opened florets and the rest still in bud. Do not bother with any flower head that drops florets as you touch it.
Harvest as little green stalk as possible. Do this one of two ways. First, gather the head into your hand so when you clench your fist your thumb is pointing down the stalk of the head. Move up the stalk as close to the florets as you can and pinch through the stalks between the thumb nail and the index finger.
Second, gather the head in the same manner, but with the free hand, snip the florets off using kitchen scissors. The less green stalk the less you will get bitter compounds into your water extract.
Place the flowers into a carrier bag and tie the top when you are not adding to it. Store in the shade and when home, put in the fridge until ready to extract the fragrance, which should be done asap, certainly within 24 hours of picking.
Extracting the elderflowers.
Shake the flower heads gently over the sink to dislodge any large insects. (you just will not be able to remove all insects, so be prepared for the odd floater later on. Thrips (aka ‘thunder flies’) are tiny and common in elder flowers.
There is no precision with the amount of flowers to boiling water at this stage, but, to aim for consistent strength of syrup, it is useful to weigh them. I like at least 350g stalkless flower heads to make about 1.5 litre of syrup for good colour and strong flavour.
Flower heads, (350-400gm)
Boiling water (1.8-2 litres)
A clean linen tea towel or muslin
650 g white sugar to each litre of flower extract.
Place the weighed flower heads in a casserole saucepan with a lid. Pour over the boiling water, pushing the florets under the water quickly to avoid them turning brown. The water should just cover the flowers. Replace the lid for 10 minutes.
Pour the liquid from the infused flowers through the tea towel lining a large kitchen strainer and into a large measuring jug (2 litre). Don’t be tempted to squeeze the liquid from the mass of infused flowers. Rinse the casserole. Measure the volume of the infused extract and return it to the pan. For every litre you need to add 650g of sugar. Weigh the calculated amount of sugar and add to the pan, stirring until dissolved.
Bottle the elder flower syrup and seal tightly. Label your bottles.
Recipe by Christopher Robbins
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