Spring foraging: Elderflowerade

With spring bursting out all over it’s a fine time to be picking up the foraging again. Much to our disappointment, we have failed to find a local source of wild garlic. But now the elderflowers are out in profusion and it seems like the perfect time to try an experiment we have been contemplating since last autumn: elderflowerade.

An elder tree in flower
Elderflowers in profusion

This refreshing early summer recipe requires the following: Approximately one and a half litres of water and 150g of white sugar (I know, that sounds horrifying, but it’s one of those things that really does need to be sweetened). Put these in a large pan with a close-fitting lid and heat gently.

Meanwhile, take a couple of large oranges and four lemons. Grate the zest off each one then juice them, adding the zest and juice to the pan. You may want to reserve a couple of slices of orange and lemon to garnish the finished drink. Now it’s time to add the elderflowers – the blossoms from around 10-15 large heads, depending on how strong you want their flavour to be.

When gathering the elderflowers, try to pick ones that are fully open but not turning brown. Ideally you should collect a couple off each bush and then move on rather than denuding a single bush – not least because you will otherwise compromise its ability to set fruit, with consequences for both wildlife and autumn foraging. This hobby is nothing if not sustainable!

Elderflowers in bud and flower
Elderflowers on the bush

As always, pick above knee height, avoid disturbing any nearby wildlife, and wash very thoroughly once you get them home. If you have difficulty identifying elder, or any other plant for foraging purposes, use a reputable guide. Your first port of call should be Richard Mabey’s authoritative Food for Free, available for a fiver or less in an excellent Collins Gem edition.

Cut small clumps of flowers away from the stalks and add to the pan, replacing the lid. Let it simmer on a low heat for 40 minutes to an hour. Sample the liquid to decide when the flavour has reached the strength you like – when it has, it’s cooked! Strain several times and allow to cool before serving in a large jug with ice, perhaps a sprig of mint, and the fruit slices you reserved earlier.

Here’s what we ended up with by following this recipe:

Two glasses of elderflowerade
Elderflowerade ready to drink