Saturday morning there was a a two-word e-mail from Anthony Boutard at Ayers Creek Farm. Under the subject line "Elders" it read "In bloom." That was enough for me to cancel my plans for the day, gather up my nine-year-old nephew—who was staying with us while his parents had a well-deserved getaway at the coast—and hit the highway.
Arriving at the farm, Carol handed over the key to the Gator along with a bucket—my nephew asked if there were seat belts and I hollered, "Nope! Hang on!"—and we bounced along the track Anthony had mowed to a back field. I knew from previous trips that the elderberries were scattered among an eclectic collection of trees on a west-facing slope overlooking the farm's wetland. And sure enough, pretty soon I could see the white clusters of blossoms glowing against the bushes' dark foliage.
Pulling up to the nearest shrub, the flowery perfume of the blossoms enveloped us, and I set to clipping off the most mature clusters. Trundling through the tall grasses, flitting from shrub to shrub gathering blossoms like bees collecting pollen, the bucket quickly filled and we headed back to the house.Picked and ready to infuse for three days.
Back in the city that afternoon, I spent a good two hours pulling the blossoms from the stems, a tedious but necessary job since the dark stems of the flower clusters are toxic, though the tiny green stems attached to each flower aren't a problem. Last year I'd infused vodka with the flowers to make a liqueur similar to St. Germain, the artisanal French product. Since, after a year of aging it had just begun to be drinkable, I decided to make syrup this year, which only takes about three days to be ready to use. (Here's the basic recipe.)
I'd made the simple syrup earlier so it could cool while I picked the flowers from the stems, then I stirred the blossoms into it and covered it with a clean dish towel. Three days later, I strained it through a fine mesh sieve and it was good to go. Dave immediately started trying it out on cocktails, which you'll find below. With almost two gallons of syrup stashed in pint containers in the freezer, I've got plenty to experiment with, so I'll keep you posted as more uses come to light.
Elderflower Gin Spritz
2 oz. elderflower syrup
1 oz. gin
Sprig of mint
Strip of lemon zest
Fill Collins cocktail glass two-thirds full of ice. Add elderflower syrup and gin, then top off with soda water. Stir briefly to combine and add mint and lemon zest. For a non-alcoholic but very refreshing drink, simply omit the gin.
2 oz. gin
1 oz. fresh-squeezed lime juice
3/4 oz. elderflower syrup
Fill cocktail shaker with ice, add ingredients, shake very well and strain into martini glass. Garnish with lime wedge.