The small sunny apartment gradually became dark as the cool summer night stepped in. A big brown grocery bag was waiting by the door for the girl to come and take it to their next late night adventure. This time the brown bag was filled with a pair of scissors and a box of cookies. The girl looked at the clock – it was time. She got up, put her sandals on and grabbed the bag. They walked for about 20 minutes until they reached the neighbor’s house the girl had spotted earlier that evening. The location of the house was perfect – quiet, far away from the never sleeping apartment windows and most importantly, it had a big elderflower tree in the yard with lush, white, fragrant flowers that were filling the air with sweet honeydew aroma.
The girl looked up to see if the house was sleeping. One of the windows still had the light on although it was almost 2am. The girl hesitated for a minute but then decided to continue as she planned. She reached for the scissors and begun clipping the elderflower bouquets from the tree and placing them in the brown bag. She worked quickly as her eyes kept glancing at the house window with the light – she didn’t want to be caught. Twenty minutes later the brown bag was filled with sweet aroma and more than 30 heads of elderflowers. She thought is was enough.
She reached for the box of cookies she had taken out of the bag earlier and walked to the front door of the house. She kneeled down, placed the box of cookies on the door step and slowly disappeared into the dark city streets. As she walked back to her apartment, she was happy and thankful for the chance and the people who owned the elderflower tree. It was very unlikely for this time of the season to find still fresh elderflower flowers and she did.
My grandmother used to make elderflower syrup. It was one of the most cherished moments of my early childhood as we spent our summers in the mountains. Sometimes, in the early summer days, she would go for a walk and come back with an apron full of elderflowers. We would watch her as she shook the flowers from the bugs and placed them in a pot full with water and sugar. A day later the syrup will be ready and my sister and I would wait impatiently as our glasses were getting filled with the sweet treat. We would drink the glasses as quickly as possible and we would beg for more.
Elderflower syrup is very easy to make. All you need is fresh elderflowers – they should be white, not yellow and when shaken the individual tiny flowers should stay on the stem. Depending on where you live in the world, elderflower bushes/trees bloom in June (this year the winter was so cold in Minnesota and I picked mine in late June). Then the flowers are soaked in water with sugar and lemons for 24 hours. The elderflower pollen is what makes the syrup, washing the flowers before soaking them will remove some of the pollen. That is why it is better to shake the flowers to remove bugs and other particles instead of washing them. When the mixture had steeped long enough, it is strained, heated and bottled and can be preserved for several months.
Makes 10 cups (2.5L) syrup
• 30-40 elderflower heads
• 4 lemons, 2 sliced and 2 juiced
• 5 cups (1 kg) granulated sugar
• 10 cups (2.5L) water
• 2 teaspoons citric acid
1. Shake the elderflowers to remove any insects or particles. Using scissors cut the flowers off the clusters. Try cutting close to the flowers, leaving as little of the green stems as possible. Drop the flowers into a large pot that has been filled with the water. Add the sugar and the sliced lemons. Stir until most of the sugar is dissolved. Cover and let it stay in the refrigerator for 24 hours. Stir from time to time to completely dissolve the sugar.
2. Squeeze the juice out of the soaked lemons back into the syrup mixture and discard the lemons. Strain the mixture through a cheesecloth-lined strainer. Add the juice of the remaining 2 lemons and the citric acid. Heat the syrup over medium-high heat until it starts to simmer. Decant into sterilized bottles*. The syrup will keep in the refrigerator for up to 1 year.
*Sterilize bottles by running them on the hottest cycle of your dishwasher and then put them on a foil lined baking tray in the oven at 300F for 20 minutes. Make sure bottles are not touching each other. Swing tops should be removed beforehand and kept soaked in hot water while the bottles are being sterilized. If you don’t have a dishwasher, wash the bottles with hot soapy water. Fill them with hot water, let them stand for 10 minutes, empty them and repeat this process 3 times before placing the bottles in the oven.
Makes 7-8 glasses
• 1 lemon, sliced
• 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
• 1/2 cup (packed) fresh mint leaves
• 2 cups fresh lemon juice (about 8-12 lemons depending on size and juiciness) (roll on counter to make them juicier)
• 1 1/2 cup elderflower syrup (see recipe above), this amount will vary if using store-bought elderflower syrup (you can buy it from IKEA, for example)
• 6 cups cold water
1. Using a cocktail pestle or a potato masher, mash the lemon slices, sugar and mint (this will release the oils form the lemon skin and the mint which contain lots of flavor).
2. Add the elderflower syrup, the lemon juce and the cold water. Stir and let it sit in the refrigerator for 30-45 minutes to further enhance the flavors.
3. Strain the lemonade and remove the lemon slices and the mint leaves. Store the lemonade for up to 2 days.
Pour over ice and enjoy!