seasons have flavours. winter is citrus. i associate it with the bitter fragrance of seville oranges. these are the kind of oranges that require a generous amount of sugar to make them edible and are best preserved as marmalade. autumn is for apples, pears and quince. they love warming spices like cinnamon, cloves and star anise. spring is for rhubarb whose tartness loves sweet and crumble. summer is a combination of strawberries and elderflower.
it was j who introduced me to elderflower cordial. we had an evening post-work ritual that involved watching the gilmore girls; her with large glass of elderflower cordial and me with a mug of tea. i grew up in a country where mitchell’s fruit squash, homemade sharbat like that made of almonds or nimbu paani (lemonade) were quintessential summer quenchers. the cordials i found in london were much the same in purpose but with more interesting flavours – lemongrass and ginger, spiced berry and strawberry with elderflower. i prefer lengthening them with sparkling water and sliced lemon and sometimes a splash of gin or vodka.
floral essences can sometimes be overpowering. too much rosewater can make cordial soapy with a fragrance that is overbearing, much like the pungent wafts of itar on edgware road that assault the senses. but elderflower is nothing like that. it is delicate and possesses a subtle sweetness. it is the essence of long, languid summer days spent lying in the park. it is the sight of blue skies with wisps of cloud and bright white contrails. the blossoms themselves are frothy like soft peaks of whipped cream. they grow in careless abandon along the regent’s canal and in london’s many parks and open spaces.
i have spent the last two years intending to make my own cordial and perhaps even elderflower liqueur. but i am a reluctant forager, hampered by unfamiliarity and a fear that i may pick the wrong blossoms. this year i made it to clattinger farm to see m and together we made a batch of cordial and light and feathery fritters. we picked the elderflowers from what she calls the giving tree, its boughs bent downwards to allow for easy picking.
once home, m set the cordial to boil filling the air with a wonderful aroma. meanwhile i made a batter using nigel slater’s recipe for classic elderflower fritters. the sparkling water along with a brief resting period is what aerates the batter. the architecture of elderflowers - a thick stem supporting a network of fine veins, holding a cloud of creamy white flowers lends itself perfectly to fritter making. i dipped the flowers into the batter and used the stem to press them into the hot oil, colouring the batter deep biscuit. m and i drizzled them with honey and served them to o. he ate them swiftly, almost as swiftly as their season.
|the giving tree|
from nigel slater's recipe
six elderflower heads
one hundred grams plain flour
two tablespoons sunflower oil
one hundred and seventy five ml sparkling water
one tablespoon sugar
one egg white
oil to fry
honey to drizzle
sift the flour into a mixing bowl. add the oil and sparkling water and beat the mixture into a thick paste. add the sugar and stir through. allow to rest for thirty minutes.
clean the elderflowers by dipping them in a clean bowl of water and shaking them gently.
place a wok on high heat and add enough oil to allow the fritters to fry comfortably. place a plate with a paper napkin near the wok to blot the fritters before serving.
finish the batter by beating the egg white into soft peaks before folding it into the batter. i must confess that we did not whisk the egg white but i am sure that following nigel’s instructions would make for an even lighter batter.
test the hotness of the oil by dropping a little batter into it. the batter should sizzle and colour instantly. take a hold of the thick stem of the elderflower and press into the batter. add it to the oil using the stem to press down into the oil. the fritter is ready when it is golden brown.
blot the fritter and serve immediately with a drizzle of honey. nigel dredges his with sugar but both m and i prefer the drizzle of honey as suggesed in this twist on the recipe. are best eaten hot and crisp.