Thursday, June 9, 2011

Elderflower Cordial and Cheesecake

Well, as the woods and hedgerows are bursting with fluffy white Elderflowers right now, I'm going to write my first ever post on the glory of Elder. It's a tree enveloped in much mystery and folklore both good and bad and is often referred to as the witches' tree. Some examples of its magical associations:
  1. Drivers of hearses used to carry whips made of elder wood to protect themselves from demons and death.
  2. Elder wood was often buried with the dead to protect them from evil spirits - if an elder planted on the grave blossomed, it indicated a happy soul underneath.
  3. Trees were often planted near cottages to protect them from lightening and witchcraft.
  4. The Elder Mother that lives in the tree takes revenge on anybody that damages it - "Elder be ye Lady's tree, burn it not or cursed ye'll be" (Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall automatically apologises to the Elder Mother if he breaks it in any way - I might start doing the same!)
  5. If Elder was used in the fireplace, death in the family would soon follow.
  6. Judas was reputed to have hanged from the Elder.
It gets the big thumbs up from me for being seriously interesting then. I won't talk about the medicinal virtues of the elder although it does have many - there are many more qualified to refer to for that.

A quick word about gathering elderflowers. They say it's best to collect the flower heads on a sunny morning because they smell like cat's pee in the afternoon. I haven't found this to be the case, but maybe my palate is less sensitive than others'. If you plan on feeding your elderflower delights to your family and friends, and want to remain on speaking terms with them, it's probably best not to gamble and just pick them at the right time of day. I tend to use scissors and cut of the healthiest looking heads at the place where the green umbel joins the stem. For some recipes the flowerhead can stay intact, for others it's best to strip the flowers from the umbel using a fork. Regardless, always use elderflowers fairly promptly after picking or else dry them.

So to its uses. I've tried many elderflower recipes including fritters, cordial, muffins, champagne, tea and sorbet. There are still countless recipes I've seen that I've yet to attempt, but the two I'm desperate to try this year are elderflower pancakes and turkish delight.

Yesterday, I made an Elderflower cheesescake using Elderflower cordial. It was sensationally good! I found both recipes at and she's kindly agreed for me to duplicate them here.

Elderflower Cordial
1.8 kg sugar (any kind)
1.2 litres of boiling water
4 unwaxed lemons, zested and sliced
15 - 20 elderflower heads (shaken but unwashed)
50g of citric acid (I get mine in the local homebrew shop but if you can't get it, skip it)
  • Heat the sugar and water to make a syrup.
  • Pour the water over the lemon zest, slices and elderflower heads.
  • Add the citric acid if you have it.
  • Leave to steep for 24 hours.
  • Strain through a sieve, or better still a cheesecloth.
  • Briefly boil the remaining liquid being careful not to burn it and pour immediately into sterilised bottles.
Stupidly easy to make but packed full of flavour. This is easily the best recipe for cordial I've tried.

Elderflower Cheesecake
150g digestive biscuits, crushed
75g butter, melted
100g caster sugar
225g cream cheese
1 vanilla pod, seeds scraped out or a few drops of vanilla essence
50ml elderflower cordial
225ml whipping cream, whipped
Elderflowers, to garnish (optional)

  • In a bowl, mix together the crushed biscuits and melted butter.

  • Press this mixture into the bottom of each of six glass ramekins or a suitable sandwich tin. 

  • Bring the sugar to the boil in a pan. Let it cool. 

  • In a separate bowl, beat together the cream cheese vanilla, cooled sugar mixture and elderflower cordial. 

  • Fold in the whipped cream. 

  • Spoon the mixture into the ramekins or tin.

  • Chill in the fridge for an hour.

  • Garnish with a sprig of elderflower.

  • I'm not going to say anything about the cheesecake, you'll just have to try it for yourself ;0)