Elderflowers are the epithome of Danish summer. How I love those precious short weeks around midsummer, where it never seems to get really dark and the sunset lasts till midnight, the scent of elderflowers wafting gently through the air and their white flowers scattered over the country like ivory lace on a bright green dress.
Or, as a famous Danish poet once said: “Now the elderflower stretches its cool hands towards the summer moon” (sounds better in Danish).
There is a lot of superstition connected to elderflowers. The vikings believed that the goddess Freja lived in the tree and in christian times the folklore said that a benign fairy or perhaps rather a dryade (hyldemor/elderflower mother) dwelled in it. If you plant an elderflower at your door it will shield you against evil witchcraft. If you make a flute out of an elderflower branch, it can call hither the elfs. It was also used for medicinal purposes: elderflower tea was, among other things, taken against cold.
I try to capsule their sweet taste and summery feeling in some way or other each year. Not that I usually want to eat them in the middle of winter, their taste is too summery for that, I just like to prolong the feeling a bit. Elderflower cordial is wonderful on a hot summer’s day, sorbet also – but my present favorite is elderflower sugar.
And I am not alone in that. A few weeks ago I called my sister, and my nephew (he is 3 years old) picked up the phone. As soon as he heard it was me, the conversation went as follows: He: “We had crepes!” Me: “Wauw, that’s nice!” He: “We ate the last of the sugar!” Me: “Why, then I have to make you some more..” I knew what he meant, because I gave them a glass of elderflower sugar last year, and it instantly became a staple for when they are having crepes.
So the other day I went by bike along the coastal line north of Copenhagen, found some nice sheltered paths by a small river flowing into the sea and picked my flowers from some of the ubiquitous elderflower trees.
The recipe I use is from Danish cookbook author Camilla Plum, and it is very easy.
Gently nudge the flowerheads off your elderflowers until you have about four cups (1 liter).
Mix the flowers with the grated zest of two lemons and 400 grams of sugar.
Put half of the mixture in the food processer and grind.
Put it back to the remaining mixture and let it all dry in a sunlit place for several days.
Store in airtight containers.
The fresh and still moist mixture:
You can scatter the elderflower sugar over ice cream, crepes, add it to tea, or sprinkle it on some simple butter cookies* before they go into the oven.
*Make a pate sucree/sweet pastry dough by mixing 150 grams of butter with 75 grams sugar and 75 grams flour until it resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Gather the dough together with some cold water and let rest in the fridge for app. one hour. Roll it out on a floured surface (work quickly, the dough gets sticky when the butter gets warmer). Using a cookie cutter, make cookies of your choice and sprinkle the sugar over them. Press the sugar gently into the dough with the back of a fork. Bake at app. 200 degrees Celsius until lightly browned. The unbaked dough will keep for several days in the fridge (so you can make the cookies in batches, if you like).
The ice cream on the picture above is this lemon kefir ice cream. Its refreshing, slightly tangy, citrusy taste goes very well with the elderflower flavor. The cookies are also great with a cup of tea. They are of course plain, even homely, nothing fancy at all, really, but sometimes that just seems the right and most comforting thing to eat…and the elderflower sugar does lend them a certain degree of refinement because of the unusual taste it gives them.