I am calling this number 1 because I had such a nice Sunday that I know there will be plenty more trips like this one still to come. We combined our walking book with our foraging book and had a day full of fresh air, exercise and free food. The pleasure of collecting your own ingredients in your own garden is extraordinary, especially when you’re lucky enough to have a garden in central London, BUT going for a walk in the countryside far away from everything AND at the same time being only 1h away from home AND coming back with bags full of edible treats…that is truly incredible. Believe me, my husband and I did it, and let me show you what we brought back…
We did the walk from Garston to St Albans and our foraged treasure were Elderflowers, Watercress and Watermint.
June is the month for the Elder tree to produce one of its many edible treat: Elderflowers. Indeed the Elder tree does have many qualities. An Elder tree planted in your garden will protect your home from evil spirit. An Elder tree planted close to your house will protect it from lighting. And a branch from the Elder tree will make you the most powerful wizard of the world with the Elder Wand from Harry Potter of course. So many legends and stories, but I decided to stick to the edible ones, such as Elderflower Cordial, and Elderflower Syrup.
The best way to treat these precious flowers is to collect and cook straight away. But I picked them throughout the whole day, and travelled back to London, and then processed them. The results were still outstanding so as long as it is not too hot on that day you should be fine. And the more you collect, the longer it will take to prepare them. It took more than 1 hour for both of us to remove the tiny flowers with a fork trying to remove as much of the green stalks as possible to avoid a bitter aftertaste.
- 30 big Elderflower heads (flowers removed with a fork)
- 2kg granulated sugar
- 125ml lemon juice (to replace 75g of citric acid)
- 3 unwaxed lemon sliced
Place the flowers, the sliced lemons and the lemon juice in a big pan. Boil 1.3L of water and mix with the sugar in a bowl until it has dissolved and leave to cool for 10 minutes. Add the syrup to the pan with the flowers and stir well. Cover and leave to infuse for 24h.
Strain the liquid through a colander lined with muslin and fill sterilised bottle with a swing top. Close the bottles and sterilise in a pan of water at 80C for 30 minutes. Or keep in the fridge for a few weeks if you know you will use it all. Or you can also freeze a whole bottle if you prefer. I found online the idea of freezing the cordial in ice cube containers, which in theory is a great idea. But because of the high sugar content it won’t freeze hard solid and you end up with a bit of a sticky mess. Add a few fresh Elderflowers to each ice cube to have a nice effect when you use them in cocktails.
Elderflower Syrup- Recipe from the foraging book by John Wright
Layer the flowers and the sugar in a jug and cover for 24h. The next day, pour everything in a big pan and add 275ml of boiling water. Stir well and heat gently until all the sugar had dissolved. Strain the liquid and fill hot sterilised bottles with the hot syrup. It will keep for a few months.
I used the cordial and the syrup to make Gooseberry and Elderflower compote, which is perfect for a summery dessert such as Gooseberry fools, or simply mixed with yogurt for breakfast.
Foraging the Elderflowers was an all day activity, picking flowers here and there. You don’t want to take them all and miss out on the Elderberries later in the year! Things got really exciting when we reached the river and had to follow the riverbank for quite a while: Watercress and Watermint absolutely everywhere!! Unfortunately you’re not supposed to eat Watercress raw when it grows on a muddy bank with grazers around because of a fluke that could cause some dangerous digestive problems. I am yet to find a clean and clear patch, growing in fast flowing water far away from cows…so we had to cook this batch and decided to add it on top of our homemade pizza that evening. The fresh Watercress dried while cooking on the pizza and didn’t look as appetising as raw. But it kept its peppery taste and had this dried algae crispy texture which added a crunch to our pizza.
The last but not the least is the Watermint. The leaves reminds me of the dark basil my grandparents used to grow in their garden. They served it tossed with other leaves in a salad which was very summery. I should investigate and find out if I can forage any of that basil. Of course mint is a complete different family of herbs and this Watermint smells like peppermint but lighter and with a floral twist. Really subtle and truly gourmet. Wait until you try the Lemon and Watermint sorbet I made.