City foraging 2: elderflower sorbet


It is a hot day in London. For those of you who aren’t that familiar with English weather, that’s a little like saying it’s a cold day in hell. People are freaking out, exposing parts of their bodies that have never seen the light of day, getting good and red before the sun disappears again. The crowds on Oxford Street are stumbling around in a crispy daze, buying teeny weeny clothing that they will have to store for a year until the next hot day comes in 2011.

For me, it feels sort of like summer. Growing up in Georgia, you get pretty used to the idea that for three months of the year you will be breathing through the atmospheric equivalent of a hot wet towel. I never noticed the little details of summer in the American South until they were gone from my life, and here is what I miss: crickets making a constant hum, especially at night; sitting on the back porch at 4 AM in a torrential thunderstorm so loud that you have to shout to be heard over the rain; catching fireflies, then learning very quickly that they don’t live long in a jar with holes punched in the top; eating baked beans with barbecue instead of with breakfast; sitting in the ditch behind our house (waaay back when ditches were interesting places to spend time), carefully avoiding the poison ivy, picking honeysuckle blossoms and pulling the nectar out to dabble on my tongue.

Here, summer offers different charms: daylight until 10:30PM; ice lollies from the Sri Lankan shop across the street; Saturday afternoons spent having a pint or two too many in a pub garden with friends; and an infectious happiness that spreads through the population when the sky is blue, so marked from the usual grumbling that it is almost tangible. Or…you know, not packing away your jackets and sweaters for the season, just in case. This year, I have especially learned to love the smell of elderflower floating through my house on the breeze.


A couple of weekends ago, I spent time with my friends Robbie and Matt in their lovely country house. We walked in to find them steeping elderflower blossoms in lemon juice and syrup to make a cordial, thus confirming my romantic vision of their rural lifestyle. I thought, I’d like to do that, if only I knew how to find elderflowers! Back in the Big Smoke, I looked online for a course or some instruction in urban foraging, and found some very expensive days out along with a reference to elderflowers growing around Blackheath.

‘Let’s go to Blackheath.’ I announced on Saturday.

‘I’d rather not get out of my chair, thank you.’ My sweetie said.

‘But I must hunt the elusive elderflower, and I hear Blackheath is ripe for the picking.’

‘Elderflowers are everywhere. I will stay here in my chair.’

OK, perhaps I’m paraphrasing, but that was about the gist of it. In a huff, I took a walk around my own neighbourhood… and lo and behold… the place is lousy with elderflowers! Parks, gardens, front lawns, the side of the road—they’re everywhere. Once I started looking for them, I couldn’t stop seeing them. I also discovered that there is an enormous stretch of blackberry bushes on the way to the supermarket. It’s as if a pantry of wild food has suddenly materialised in front of me. Amazing what you start to see if you just look.

It being hot (and because I already have a jar of Matt and Robbie’s cordial that I’m sure I couldn’t top), I decided to make the spoils of my foray into a sorbet. It came out more like a granita in texture, but that’s mostly down to the fact that my ice cream maker wouldn’t work. The taste though is perfect—like honeysuckle and ice lollies combined. I think the Sri Lankan shop should consider selling this stuff….

Elderflower Sorbet

200 g/ 1 cup sugar
600 ml/ 2 1/4 cups water
10 fresh elderflower heads
zest of 2 lemons
juice of 1 lemon
1T vodka

Bring sugar and water to a boil, and simmer for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and stir in elderflower heads and lemon zest, and then set aside for about two hours while the flowers steep.

Strain the mixture through cheesecloth or a very fine sieve, and then add lemon juice and vodka to the resulting syrup.

Pour the syrup into your ice cream maker and churn until frozen, then put your sorbet into the freezer in an airtight container until you’re ready to eat it.

If you don’t have an ice cream maker, you can put the syrup straight into the freezer, but take it out every hour or so, break up the partially frozen mix with a fork, and return it to the freezer. Keep doing this until the whole mix is frozen, then cover your airtight container and leave in the freezer until you’re ready to eat it.


Stella said...

Yum! This sounds so special and refreshing. Now if only I could stop being so lazy and make some cold desserts (smile)...

Sue said...

Wonderous! I love the photos, the flowers are beautiful... and your creativity impressive, not to mention very entertaining! Really a fun read.
(I can almost smell the elderflowers!)
Blackberries! Can't wait to see what you do with those...

M. said...

such a beautiful recipe, I love elderflower, the sorbet must be delicious!

Stephfret said...

Thanks Stella, Sue, and M!

rcakewalk said...

This is gorgeous! I don't think I've ever had elderflower, but now I want to try it! I wonder where I could find some...

Stephfret said...

I've tried looking online to see where it grows, and have found reference to it growing 'right across North America' but nothing more specific about which regions. The latin name for the tree is 'sambucus', if that helps...

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