Summer began last weekend and on that first lovely day I picked elderflowers. This is something I had never done but for years I had wanted to. A few weeks earlier, I texted my friend Crystie Kisler, the farmwife who heads up all things at Finnriver Cidery in Chimacum just one hour east of me, and asked if she might know where I might get elderflower and elderberries.
Within minutes, she put me in contact with renowned herbalist Michael Pilarski, and later that day, I headed out in my trusty piemobile to meet him at one of the gardens he tends. He was going to show me the elders he grows, both European and North American varieties. Sambucus nigra is the latin name, and I have long taken Sambucas syrup to boost my immune system.
As we walked though his lush gardens, he showed me the two varieties. There is a difference between the two leaves; the European leaves being slightly smaller, and the berries would be, too. For culinary work, I thought I would like the European variety. It would be a while before the flowers were to bloom, but I coud see just a hint of where they were forming.
A week or so later, Michael was passing through Port Angeles on an errand, and stopped by for a piece of pie. As you know, there’s usually one on the counter. We continued to chat about gardens and growing, and found that we have some mutual friends. Small world! Last week, he followed up with an email letting me know that the elderflowers would be ready for harvesting on Friday June 21st, the first day of summer. He asked if I would like to come pick some, and out I went again.
This time when I entered the garden, the elders were full of delicate white blossoms. Michael loaned me a picking basket to wear and some scissors. We approached the largest and most fully covered plant, and asked permission to harvest the umbrels covered with the tiny white blossoms. He showed me how and where to cut, and then we began our work, he on one side of a long row, and me on the other, chatting all the while. Of course we left some for the berries to ripen and harvest later. The work was delightful and the afternoon passed quickly. We weighed the flowers out in the scale and I went home with about three pounds. I know that doesn’t sound like much, but it was nearly three shopping bags full.
Once home, I turned them into elderflower cordials, elderflower liqueur, and dried the blossoms for elderflower tea. One of my favorite recipes is an Elderflower Rose Cordial by Yotam Ottolenghi. I did sort of do a wild variation of it when I added some 100 proof vodka that was supposed to be for the elderflower liqueur I was making. Oops! Well, the short of it is that it turned out beautifully, and is my favorite of the three cordials I made. Maybe I have created a new cordial-liqueur hybrid.
What am I making with them? So far a few delicious things including Elderflower Pastry Cream.
If you don’t have elderflowers available, or the season has passed already passed, you can use D’Arbo Elderflower Syrup.
Below is the recipe for the Elderflower Pastry Cream I came up with. You may find it easiest to make it in a double boiler to make sure it doesn’t curdle on you. Once completely cooled, you can fill a blind baked crust or this easy GF almond meal crust using:
- 2 cups almond meal
- 2-3 tablespoons of sugar
- 4 tablespoons of melted butter
Mix that all together and press into a pie or tart pan, and pop it into a 350F oven for about 8 minutes. Then let it cool. Fill with the cooled pastry cream (see recipe below), and top with sweetened whipped cream flavored with another 1-2 tablespoons elderflower syrup.
ONE MORE THING
While we’re on the subject, you might also enjoy The Drunken Botanist, which is full of all sorts of fascinating lore about botanicals and spirits. Now, I can’t wait for elderberry season!
Enjoy the pastry cream!
Elderflower Pastry Cream
- 6 egg yolks
- 1 and 1/4 cups sugar
- 1/3 cup cornstarch
- A tiny pinch of salt
- 3 cups half and half
- 5 tablespoons D'Arbo Elderflower Syrup
- Separate the egg yolks and place them in a medium size bowl. Add the elderflower syrup and whisk into the yolks for a minute or so until the eggs are smooth. It’s fine to do this with a fork. Set aside.
- Place the sugar and cornstarch in a medium size saucepan, and mix together with a whisk or fork.
- With a whisk in hand, turn the heat to medium under the saucepan, and pour the half and half slowly and steadily into the dry ingredients while whisking constantly. Keep whisking until the mixture thickens and you see it begin to bubble. You may find this easiest to do in a double boiler. It will take a little longer, but it works well.
- Remove from the heat momentarily, and pour 1/3 of the hot mixture into the eggs in the bowl. Whisk together in the bowl until it looks blended in. This won’t take long.
- Pour the now hot egg mixture from the bowl, into the saucepan and return it to the stovetop. Turn the heat back to medium, and whisk the mixture constantly until you bring it to a boil. It will be thick and coat the bake of a spoon. Remove from the heat.
- Turn the hot mixture into a bowl, and cover with parchment paper to prevent a skin from forming as it cools. Chill in fridge for at least 2 hours.