Elderflower has been an ever present flavour throughout my life. When I was younger it was always such a treat when we had a bottle of elderflower cordial or pressé in the fridge. I would relish the flavour trying to make it last as long as possible. I remember making ice lollies in the summer; orange juice, blackcurrant squash or lemonade but it was always the extraordinary elderflower lollies that got eaten first. Elderflower seemed rare, elusive and exclusive.
Every patch of cow parsley set the heart racing, it does look very similar. There was much cycling, stopping, sniffing and looking and finally I found some, not quite where I remember it, proudly bursting forth in flurries of white. After carefully sidestepping the nettles, running away from bees and avoiding the inhalation of small insects I picked three nice blooms.
Elderflower can be identified firstly by its appearance; if you're not sure the leaves have a jagged edge. Secondly by the smell of faint elderflower and slight yeast. If you're still unsure (I'm not saying this is advisable) eat one of the flowers, it should taste of elderflower! I ate one just to make sure but I'm not convinced you're meant to.
I had my elderflowers which were making the kitchen smell wonderful and I also had a few sticks of rhubarb. They are both available at the same time of year so it makes complete sense that their flavours would work together. I wanted something elegant and uncomplicated where each individual flavour could shine. Crumble would be the vehicle to celebrate these two great flavours.
You will need:
Rhubarb (I had four small sticks)
Two large elderflower heads divided into smaller sprigs
50g golden caster sugar and a little extra
First of all put the rhubarb in a saucepan, cover and cook for 10 or 15 minutes until soft but not broken down. Sprinkle in a little sugar and check the sweetness. When it's ready put it into an oven proof dish. While the rhubarb cooks make the crumble. Rub the butter and flour together until you have breadcrumbs and then mix in the sugar. Normally I use muscovado or demerara sugar for the crumble topping for a more caramel flavour but I used caster for this as I wanted a lighter taste.
When it comes to preparing the elderflowers it is essential that the flowers are shaken to within an inch of their life; not so ferociously that all the flowers fall off but not so gently that the insects can cling on and make their way into your crumble. What your guests may think is an elderflower stalk could turn out to be the legs of an unwanted arachnid. No one will thank you.
Put the crumble into a preheated oven at 180C for 30 to 40 minutes or until lightly golden on the top and the divine pink rhubarb juices are bubbling through the crust. Allow to cool a little before serving with cream, custard or ice cream. I always opt for cream.
It was glorious, a celebration of classic flavours and textures. The rhubarb gave tang and acidity, the crumble delivered sweetness and biscuity crunch and the elderflower seeped into the crumble to give it all a beautiful floral piquancy. I was concerned that I had put in too much elderflower but it was just right; the perfect balance of fruit and flower.
The elderflower was subtle but it was enough to bring back the memories of long summers and of the flavour I craved. I have many more plans for elderflower, but, if I don't get round to them or mother nature is not on my side I have the elderberries to look forward to.
P.S. I have since learnt that the stems can be toxic. I only put in small florets, no big stem pieces and after having a look around the toxins are destroyed by cooking. Do be careful!