Local producer – Deborah Steward of Lil’ Miggins
Norfolk chef Deborah Steward loves foraging for elderflowers and shares her recipe for elderflower vinegar
When you are going about your daily business you don’t notice the elder tree until around late May when it bursts into flower and the hedgerows are covered in the most beautiful froth of creamy sweet-smelling blooms.
A rather lovely thing to do on an early summer afternoon is head out with a large basket to pick some. The best time to gather them is on a sunny day when they will be at their most fragrant, and by using a basket you don’t crush and bruise the delicate flowers.
Of course, as with any kind of foraging, you have to be sure the plants have not been in contact with any pesticides, and asking the landowner this whilst getting permission before you pick is the best way to be certain.
For some reason, the biggest flower heads have always been the hardest to get to, either at the very top of the tree or among the most vicious stinging nettles, so be warned, dress accordingly!
When you get them home gently shake the flowers to get rid of any insects, inspecting them carefully, and then they are ready to use. Some advise washing the flowers but I think you lose a lot of the flavour if you do but if you do decide to, gently swish them in cold water and leave them to dry on kitchen paper before using in your chosen recipe.
The obvious thing to do with elderflowers is to make cordial. I sometimes add lemon balm when infusing the flowers as it gives a delicious, unexpected fresh flavour.
I like to make a few bottles of elderflower vinegar as it is such a lovely unusual ingredient to add to salad dressings and also roasted summer vegetables.
Elderflowers are also particularly good with gooseberries which appear around the same time.
Gently poach the gooseberries with a little sugar, add a few heads of the flowers, turn off the heat and leave for a couple of hours to infuse while they add their delicate flavour and perfume before picking them out and discarding them.
The resulting compote is good served simply with vanilla ice cream or made into a deliciously tart crumble served alongside a jug of cold thick cream – rural seasonal eating at its very best!
This is so easy it’s really worth giving it a go – the most difficult part is waiting for the flowers to infuse!
It is delicious in a salad dressing or lightly sprinkled over a pan-fried fillet of trout or sea bass.
1 litre kilner jar or 1 litre bottle
Rinse the jar or bottle with boiling water and leave to dry thoroughly
Place the elderflower heads in the jar or bottle and carefully pour in the vinegar, covering the flowers completely
Shake well and place in a dark cupboard for about six weeks
Strain through a coffee filter, if you have one, and reserve a few of the flower heads to put in the bottle
The vinegar is ready to use straight away
- Check out Deborah’s new gluten free range of chutneys, jams and more – Lil’ Miggins