To be honest, I have never heard of Elderflowers or Elderberries until I moved to Ireland a quarter of a century ago. Well, that said, I knew the name of the tree – sureau- I admired its beautiful flowers this time of year, but non of us in Brittany thought of doing anything with it until I met a couple of English people, friends of a friend who had retired in our beautiful Celtic peninsula. I used to bring them Birdwatching from time to time in the old salt marshes of Séné, until one day, Archibald pointed out to me that all the elder wood were on flower and he stayed in awe looking at them. He asked me if we were doing anything in them; wine? cordials? Nope! “Not as far as I know” I told Archie, the only thing I knew is that later in the season, blackbirds and song thrushes would gorge on their rich berries. “you’d be sorry if your car is parked underneath!” I said in an attempt to fill my ignorance. One thing about the Brits, they like their birds and their elderflowers!
The culture in using elderflowers is also very strong in Ireland. Mostly found in the form of cordials but chefs are having a lot of fun with them; flavouring custards or like my friend Eoin, Head Chef in the Virginia Park Lodge using it instead of vanilla. Amazing! The enzymes in the flowers are very potent and can split any custards or creamy dishes if used too early in the cooking. It gave me an idea – maybe for another day- to use it instead of rennet in cheese making. An area to explore for sure.
Mrs Gibney, who used to owe the Old Virginia Road Station with her husband and that we now call “work”, “The Cheese Shop”, has always been good to me. She gave me the other day a big bag of gooseberries, too many for her to manage. One day, a few years back, she heard that I was feeling a bit under the weather, smothered with a summer cold I don’t get anymore since I’ve stopped eating meat, and she rushed home to get me a couple of jars of her homemade marmalade. I don’t know if it worked, but it warmed up my heart, overwhelmed with the gentle and old fashioned kindness. She often gives me gooseberries this time of year, and I have a special attachment to that fruit since I first discovered it in the veg garden of my Grandparents. They were very tart and acid, which is fun too but it left very little options to include them in a recipe. So I decided to combined the two, in a seasonal fashion and with a bit of local honey to reflect this wonderful time of year, thinking about mainland Europe, baking hard like a forgotten Camembert in a hot oven…
- 1 kg of gooseberries
- 2 heads of elderflowers
- 230 g of local honey
- the juice of one lemon
- 1 litre of water
In a large pan, put all the ingredients together and bring to the boil. Let all simmer for about 20 minutes, then sieve to collect the juice in another pan. I used a potato masher to gently squeeze the cooked berries so they can release all their flavours. If the mix is too liquid, reduce for another ten minutes. I had the Ice cream bowl frozen for at least 12 hours, if you have a more modern machine, it obviously won’t be necessary. I let the mixer to its gentle churning and put it in a container for more freezing. This method will avoid having ice crystals.
For the serving suggestions? It would make a wonderful Bellini ( tbsp of sorbet and Prosecco, Italian sparkling wine), a “Colonel” ( with vodka) or with a fresh goat’s cheese on the side, absolute heaven!
Keep Well and Eat Happy