Lessons in Living a French Life

Bringing a touch of French culture to everyday life

Your Weekly Voilà: Everything Elderflower, s'il vous plaît 😊💕🇫🇷

Anything with Elderflower, s'il vous plaît
Think subtle flavor of early summer. A delicate scent, sweet and just a tiny bit spicy. Elderflowers are a personal favorite and come as early as late April into the first two weeks or so of June. I celebrate the warmer weather by collecting the flowers to make a simple syrup or cordial to use in delicious drink and dessert recipes throughout the year.

The Elder plant is a large bush or small tree if you are in the perfect warmer climate. Its flowers and berries are edible but avoid the leaves, twigs, and roots because they are toxic. The plant is easily propagated by taking cuttings with three nodules in February and rooting them in sterile soil, keeping the pot inside. By early June, you can transplant into your garden. Be sure to water well while they establish themselves. If you live where the winters are very harsh and long, you probably will not be able to grow Elders. But in most climates from the northern U.S to the south, or the continent of Europe and England, you will find elderflowers blooming from late April to early June depending on warming temperatures.
When gathering elderflowers, take only the most beautiful flower heads. You don’t want flowers that have yet to open or are past their prime. Collect them in a paper bag so they can breathe. Plastic will make them wilt and sweat. Be sure to harvest only from sources that you know have not been sprayed with pesticides.
There are many ways to enjoy the flowers. My favorite is to make an elderflower cordial or syrup that I can add to cakes or lemonade. You do need a lot of flowers. But the recipe is simple: Bring a 1:1 mixture of sugar to water to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Allow the syrup to cool to room temperature. (Placing the flowers in the hot liquid will ruin the flavor.) In a large bowl or jar, place as many washed elderflowers with the majority of their stems removed (they are bitter and have a slight toxicity) as will fit, along with the zest of two lemons and their juice. Sometimes I just slice the lemons into the jar and call it a day.

I find if you add a bit of citric acid, the resulting syrup will be more stable and thus last longer. Usually, I just go with the lemons. Pour the cooled syrup over the flowers and lemons and cover with a cloth. Allow the mixture to macerate for 3 days or so in the refrigerator. The resulting liquid is then strained through cheesecloth, placed in sterilized jars or bottles, and kept refrigerated. If I am making a large batch that I want to use throughout the year, I boil the liquid again, place into sterilized jars, and seal with a hot water bath just as if I was making a batch of jam.

If you prefer to skip the lemon juice and citric acid and create straight elderflower syrup, just know that it ferments very quickly. Use the same process as above with a smaller quantity - say 3 cups sugar to 3 cups water - and steep for only 1-2 days. Strain into a sterilized mason jar and use within 3 weeks. Again, be sure to keep the syrup refrigerated.
The jar is very full with fresh elderflowers at the start. As the syrup sits for a couple of days, all the goodness comes out of the flowers and the rest is spent. I like to enjoy a bit of elderflower syrup in sparkling water or lemonade, garnished with fresh, washed elderflowers and a slice of lemon. A beautiful and delicious way to kick off summer.
If you would like to make elderflower liqueur, you simply cover washed and dried elderflowers with their stems removed, completely with vodka. The stronger the proof, the more the flower oils will be extracted, creating a stronger flavor. An important note is to weight the flowers so that they are completely submerged in the alcohol. If the flowers oxidize from contact with air, they turn brown and impart that into the liqueur. Not desired. I use the same jar and weight that I ferment vegetables in. Seal and allow the flowers to sit for up to a month. Strain through a fine-meshed strainer to remove all the flowers and debris. I often do this process twice so to be sure I don't end up with a cloudy liquid. I have a strainer that I use to make greek yogurt and it works perfectly. If you don't have a fine-meshed strainer, add a paper towel to your strainer and perhaps stain three times. All that is left to do is to add between 1/4 c. to 1/2 c. sugar per quart's worth of liquid depending on how sweet you want the final product. Seal the jar and shake well to combine. Place the jar in your pantry and shake every now and again until the sugar is dissolved. Volià! You're ready to enjoy your elderflower liqueur. The best part . . . it will last forever.
You can purchase elderflower liqueur. My favorite is St. Germain. It's pricy. But oh so worth it . . . Made in France. Bien sûr. With it you can make a St. Germain Spritz. Start with 4 oz of a dry sparkling white wine. Add 1 1/2 oz of elderflower liqueur and top off with club soda. Garnish with lemon, or lavender, or elderflowers, or even a spring of tarragon. A cocktail fit for the 6th arrondissement of Paris. Zelda Fitzgerald would most definitely approve.
You can also add either elderflower syrup or liqueur to dessert recipes such as a lemon pound cake. It makes a wonderful sorbet for summer or use in place of sugar over fresh berries. But did you know that you can batter the flowers and enjoy them as a fritter? Yep. In my mind, only in France does such a delicate and delightful treat exist.

When I first arrived in France, my aunt and I would watch a favorite cooking show on Saturday afternoons. One episode, the host picked elderflowers, washed them, and then dipped them in a thin pancake mixture. I was mesmerized. She held them by the stem and delicately allowed the battered flower clusters to enter a hot deep fry. The key is to use a very mild oil so that can taste the delicate flower flavor. Plus, the temperature of the oil needs to be hot so that the elderflowers go golden in seconds, rather than sit and gather a lot of oil in the cooking process. Gently remove the golden brown flowers to a stack of paper towels and cool slightly. You want to enjoy them warm either sprinkled with a bit of powdered sugar or drizzled with honey or a touch of elderflower liqueur. Eat the flowers and leave the stems which can be a bit bitter and upset the stomach if eaten in quantity.
For a thin, crisp batter use 100 g. of shifted flour, 2 T. of oil, and 175 ml of sparkling water. Beat to a thick paste and add 1 T. of sugar. You need to set aside the batter for 30 minutes in order to have a light result. Just before frying the elderflowers, beat an egg white and fold it into the batter. My aunt says that this is the secret. If you ever tasted her cooking, you would never doubt her word.
Elder be ye Lady’s tree, burn it not, or cursed ye’ll be.
The ancient Celts believed a spirit lived in Elders that was a protector but could also be easily angered. Elders were planted around a home for protection against lightening and were never to be used for firewood or woodworking. (So be careful of those Harry Potter Elder wands.) Permission was sought three times before cutting the branches less ye wanted to endure the wrath of Elder Mother. I can't help myself. I do very quietly talk to an Elder bush before cutting. I figure it can't hurt.

I'm fortunate because Elders grow almost like weeks in most of France. While the flowers seem fleeting, I know the berries come next and I have a multitude of recipes for both the kitchen and the dye pot for those little guys. Promise. I'll share them in a future Weekly Voilà.

Fritter a flower this weekend. It feels so French.

À bientôt mon amie,