The elder tree can appear somewhat scraggy and nondescript except for one period of the year during which it erupts in a bounty of frothy, heady blossom and makes you glad that you have it in your garden after all.
For a few short weeks the tree is bedecked with white umbels of star-shaped flowers that carry that distinct fragrance that, for some people, resembles Muscat, and sadly for others, appears rather too akin to cat pee.
For me their jaunty white blooms tossing in the early Summer breeze more than compensate for any olfactory shortcomings. However, it is owing to their culinary versatility that they have really won their way into my heart. You can easily whip them into a cordial, which is particularly delightful added to a gin and tonic on a hot summer’s evening; or whisk up the lightest of batters to create crisp fritters served piping hot with a drizzle of golden honey; it’s divine in berry jellies; adds a fragrant note to a cucumber sorbet; and pairs perfectly with strawberries, whether topping a genoise sponge, or in a compote served atop Greek yoghurt for a healthy pud. Indeed, it is so versatile that it lends itself to both savoury and sweet dishes.
Here, I have paired it with rhubarb to make a citrusy, sticky relish, and added some of the flowers to my brown sugar cure for trout. I had used whisky previously when curing salmon which worked well, but I rather like the fragrant note that the elderflower lends to this dish.
Note that it does take a couple of days in the fridge for the trout to ‘cure’, so you will need to plan ahead, but I think it’s worth it if you do have the time.
Since the main course was rather time-consuming I have suggested a dessert that you can whip up in 10 minutes- a traditional Scottish Cranachan, which pairs raspberries with whisky-spiked cream and toasted oats. I substituted elderflower cordial for the whisky which lent the dish a floral lightness which complemented the lime zest and tart raspberries.
Ingredients for the cure: 2 trout fillets with the skin left on (total weight 1kg), 4 tbsp brown sugar, 4 tbsp coarse salt, 1 tsp coarsely ground black pepper, 1 bunch of dill, 10 elderflower umbels.
Method: Rinse and pat dry the fillets- check for any remaining bones with tweezers.
Mix together the salt, sugar and pepper and rub this over the fillets.
Place the fillets into a large roasting tin covered in a large sheet of tin foil. Sprinkle with any remaining sugar mix along with the chopped dill and the elderflowers.
Wrap tightly with the foil and cover with something weighty, such as a heavy chopping board.
Place in the fridge for 2 days, turning occasionally.
Ingredients for the Relish: 400g rhubarb cut into 2 inch lengths, 1 banana shallot finely sliced, 200ml cider vinegar, 300g caster, 2 star anise, 1 red chilli, 3 tbsp elderflower cordial.
Method: Put the sugar and vinegar into a pan and bring to the boil, stirring the sugar to help it dissolve as it warms.
Add the chilli and star anise and simmer for 10 mins.
Add the shallot and simmer for another 10 mins.
Add the cordial and rhubarb and simmer for 5 mins, by which point the mixture should be thickened and sticky. Transfer to a sterilised jar.
I served this alongside a new potato and radish salad with a simple vinaigrette.
Ingredients: 300ml double cream, 1 punnet of raspberries, 2 tbsp honey, zest of 1 lime, 100g oats, 1-2 tbsp elderflower cordial or 8 elderflower umbels.
Method: If using the flowers, place the flowers in a bowl with the cream and allow the flavours to mingle for a few hours, then remove the flowers using a sieve before whipping the cream. Otherwise, whip the cream then stir through the cordial.
Toast the oats for about 5 mins in a dry pan until they turn golden and smell fragrant.
Arrange the whipped elderflower cream in a dish and decorate with the raspberries, toasted oats, a sprinkle of zest and a a drizzle of honey.