Today is a sunny but coolish day - perfect for making flower syrups
Today I'll be indulging in one of my favourite pursuits of the year - making flower syrups.
I do this perhaps six days a year, when the elderflower and roses are in bloom. Elderflower syrup is one of those glorious gifts of nature - the plant itself, in the green version, is as tough as old boots and will grow on any wasteland or crack in the paving into which it can set seed. In its garden varieties - sambucus nigra Guincho Purple, sambucus nigra Aurea and the various variegated and lacinated varieties with their cut leaves, it's also a beautiful shrub, and flowers equally well.
The syrup has a wonderful, evocative smell and taste and I generally make enough to get myself through the winter.
The recipe, if you want to try it, is quite simple:
Eight heads of elderflower
Pound of sugar or a one-pound jar of honey
Juice of one lemon
Gather the elderflowers in the morning after the dew has risen but before the heat of the day gets up. Strip the flowers off and pick out the insects and dead blossoms. Place in a glass or ceamic bowl, mix in the sugar, add the lemon juice and give it a good stir, then store somewhere sunny, covered in clingfilm, for 24 hours. It should liquefy, but if it doesn't, add a little water or alcohol to get it going.
Strain off the juice and bottle it. I use small Schweppes Tonic bottles and freeze them until needed, only unfreezing one at a time. Wonderful over ice-cream, or with gooseberries to add a muscatel flavour, as a winter cold cure in hot water, or with fizzy water in summer. It also makes a good flavouring for kir with a cheap white fizz. If you don't want to freeze the syrup and you're using sugar, bring it to the boil for a minute or so, then bottle in glass bottles. You don't need to do this with honey, as it's a natural preservative.
You can do the same with the berries come winter, cooking them up for 10 minutes or so, straining and bottlling while hot, but for some people the berries are purgative and I am one of them. If they don't affect you, however (and most people are unaffected), they are very high in vitamin C and make a good cough syrup.
For the rose syrup the method is the same but you need an awful lot of rose petals - about eight good handfuls, which would mean decimating the average garden. Luckily I have whopping great rambler roses some 20ft high and wide, and highly scented species such as Rosa Californica Plena, so more than enough to go round. The rose syrup makes a particularly special kir. Pull the petals off the rose rather than removing the whole head, if you can.
As a final tip, if you gather the flowers in a colander, it gets rid of most of the insects and spare pollen, thus saving you fussing later.