Deliciously elder

For two years I have been living in the lush and green borough of Fulham without even noticing the abundance of elderflowers around me, but this year I decided to make the most of it. It is incredible how these beautiful flowers appear suddenly all around me, just to disappear as quickly in just a few weeks.

This is why it is important to use the seasonal produce while it is avaliable. Eating seasonal foods is something I am very passionate about. It makes sense ecologically as we by eating this way don’t force Mother Earth to grow things she would not normally be able to grow out of season.
If there are for example asparagus at the grocery store in November, they have a huge carbon footprint as they most likely come from another continent. They will also have been treated with chemicals so as to appear fresh looking when they arrive in Europe after weeks on the road.
Eating seasonal also makes sense from a chef’s standpoint – it’s fun and challenging.

Nature is ingeniously clever by providing us with exactly what we need for the seasons.
During the cold months we have starch-heavy carbohydrates in the form of root vegetables alongside plenty of vegetables that make excellent stocks for soups and stews, while in the summer we find lighter vegetables perfect for hot weather such as summer squashes, peas and light root vegetables.

I was prompted by one of my favourite chefs Yotam Ottolenghi in the last weekend’s The Guardian to go out and look for elderflowers and I found a big bush in my local park.
I jumped the fence separating me from my fragrant prey and after five minutes I happily cycled home with a basket-full of little white treasures.

I made both pickled elderflower (I love the idea of using this in a root vegetable mash or as an addition to salads!) and elderflower cordial more or less following the recipes in the article, both of which I will attach at the end of this post.
As I use unrefined, mineral rich cane sugar (rapadura) instead of white caster sugar my cordial comes out slightly murky, but this is a small price to pay to avoid refined sugar.

However I had been a little too enthusiastic in my foraging and I still had lots of flowers left! So I decided to experiment by making elderflower water kefir. And hit the jackpot.

Elderflower kefir brewing

Elderflower kefir brewing

Water kefir, as I have mentioned before, is a wonderful probiotic drink and a great alternative to regular kefir and kombucha as it is both dairy and caffeine free.
If you feed the tibicos-grains minerals as you brew, you will end up with a mineral rich drink full of good bacteria that can contribute to better digestion, lowering of “bad” LDL cholesterol, clearer skin, a more robust immune system and it can reduce the risk of infections and inflammation in the body.

Water kefir carbonates naturally as it ferments and this is a perfect compliment to the elderflower: you end up with a fizzy, sweet-and-sour drink that is perfect for summery barbecues.

Kefir grains doing their thing

Kefir grains doing their thing

Whatever elderflower idea that tickles you, at least be quick about it! These flowers are in bloom right now and when they are gone in just a couple of weeks you won't get the chance until next year.

Elderflower pickle

18 elderflower heads
200 ml red-wine vinegar
1 tbsp sugar (I use rapadura)
1/4 tsp salt
10 black peppercorns

Rinse the elderflowers gently and press into a 325 ml jam jar. Pour over the vinegar, add the sugar, salt and peppercorns. Seal the jar and put it in a large sauce pan filled with cold water. On a high heat, bring to the boil then turn down and leave to simmer for 7 minutes. Remove the jar from the pan and set aside somewhere cool and dark for at least 3 weeks before using.

Sealing the elderflower pickle

Sealing the elderflower pickle

Elderflower and rose cordial (makes 700 ml)

12 elderflower heads
Shaved skin of 2 small lemons
1 small rose from your garden (or someone else’s garden – just don’t say I told you!)
500 ml water
200 g rapadura (note: the original recipe contains a lot more sugar, but I found this was plenty)
125 ml lemon juice

Rinse the elderflowers and peel the petals off the rose, discarding the hard centre. Put the elderflowers in a large bowl along with the lemon skin and rose petals. Pour over boiling water and press down the florets, making sure they are submerged. Cover and leave to infuse for 36 hours. Strain the infusion into a medium saucepan, pressing the lemon peel, flowers and rose petals with the back of a spoon before discarding them.
Add the sugar and lemon juice to the infusion, turn the heat on high and cook for 3-4 minutes while stirring until the sugar has dissolved and the liquid is starting to simmer. Leave to cool and pour into a glass bottle. Serve 3 tablespoons of cordial per 200 ml of water.
The cordial will keep in the fridge for 1 month.

Elderflower cordial hanging out with Buddah and the beetroots

Elderflower cordial hanging out with Buddah and the beetroots

Elderflower water kefir (makes 1 litre)

24 elderflower heads
900 ml boiling water
70 g rapadura
Half a lemon/1 lime, sliced into boats Egg shells (optional – this will further mineralise the drink)
1 tbsp of dried unsulphured fruit – I used apricots
1 large tbsp tibicos grains
(Take care to use only non-metal utensils when making water kefir as the tibicos grains are not partial to metal)

Rinse the elderflowers and put them in a large bowl.
Pour in the hot water and press down the florets, making sure they are submerged. Cover and leave to infuse for 36 hours.
Strain the infusion into a medium saucepan, pressing the flowers with the back of a spoon before discarding them. Add the sugar to the infusion, turn the heat on high and cook for 3-4 minutes while stirring until the sugar has dissolved and the liquid is starting to simmer.
Leave to cool.
Meanwhile, clean a 1 litre wide mouth jar and rinse it thoroughly as to get rid of any soap leftovers. In it goes the lemon/lime, egg shells if using, and dried fruit and tibicos grains.
When the sweet elderflower liquid is at room temperature or below, pour it into the jar, cover with a muslin cloth or tea towel, secure with a rubber band and leave to ferment for 24-36 hours.

Soak it!

Soak it!

In this warm English summer weather I check mine after 24 hours by smelling and tasting it. Does it taste too sweet? Then it’s not done. What is too sweet? It depends on what you prefer, but it shouldn’t taste sugary anymore. I left mine for 28 hours to get the perfect sweet/sour balance.

Once the brew is done, strain the liquid into a glass bottle, discarding the fruit, lemon peel and egg shells. You may keep the tibicos in a little bit of sugared water in the fridge until next use.
Leave the brew to carbonate in the glass bottle for 8-10 hours. As always, but particularly in the summer temperatures, please beware of exploding bottles! The carbonation may happen very quickly in this weather and this can make the bottle explode – believe me, it happens!
After a few hours you can “burp” the bottle and see how carbonated it is and gauge it from there – it may not need any more time on the counter.
Keep in the fridge and enjoy cold.

Fizzy elderflower kefir

Fizzy elderflower kefir

Viola cake

At the end of March these little violet things started popping up in our garden. A friend told me that they are called viola odorata, better known as sweet violet, that they are edible and even medicinal.
This, naturally, called for a cake.

The viola family contains over 200 species of which 5 are native to Britain and you can find them in gardens or forests from February to April.
They have been used in foods for their particular violet flavour for a very long time: a violet syrup recipe from Warwickshire was found in a seventeenth century recipe book.
During the reign of Charles II, the costume were to crystallise the flowers and enjoy them as a confectionery called Violet Sugar and was also used to treat consumption and other ailments of the lungs such as asthma, congestion and coughs.
The plant’s positive effect on respiratory problems is still one of its main medicinal uses today. The flowers are also said to aid relaxation, relieve menopausal symptoms and digestive issues.

The sweet violet has both edible leaves and flowers and owe its floral sweetness to the honey in the flower as it blooms before there are many bees around to harvest it. The leaves are more bitter and can be ingested, but are better used as poultices for bruises and they speed up the healing of wounds as they are antiseptic. The leaves have also been used in alternative cancer treatment, particularly to treat cancer of the throat.

I decided to make a raw cashew nut cheese cake, incorporating the mixed viola flowers in the middle section of the cake. I expected the cake to turn slightly violet, but this was not the case. After researching a little bit more it seems that they have to be soaked in warm water (or warm coconut oil could perhaps work?) in order to release their colour and so my cake was white with specs of purple flower pieces. Never mind, they still lent a delicious violet flavour to the cake!

The cashew cake recipe is borrowed from My New Roots and I changed the raspberries for blueberries in the top layer. I only added a small handful of viola flowers as I was afraid the flavour would be too powerful, but they were so delicious that next time I will use a proper handful and I recommend that you do the same.

Finally, let me apologise for the blurry cake photography. What can I say, I was hungry.


1/2 cup raw almonds (pecan or walnuts will also work)
1/2 cup soft Medjool dates
¼ tsp. sea salt

1 ½ cups raw cashews, soaked for at least 5 hours, overnight is best
juice of 2 lemons
the seeds of 1 whole vanilla bean (or 1 tsp. alcohol-free vanilla extract)
1/3 cup raw coconut oil, melted
1/3 cup raw honey (solid or liquid.)(Vegans use agave nectar.)
1 handful violet flowers
1 cup blueberries (thaw completely if using frozen)

1. Place nuts and dates in a food processor (or use a hand mixer) with sea salt and pulse to chop until they are to your desired fineness (process a finer crust longer than a chunky one). Test the crust by spooning out a small amount of mixture and rolling it in your hands. If the ingredients hold together, your crust is perfect. Scoop out crust mixture in a 20 cm spring-form pan (if you don’t have a spring-form pan, use a pie plate lined with saran wrap), and press firmly, making sure that the edges are well packed and that the base is relatively even throughout. Rinse food processor well.
2. Warm coconut oil and honey in a small saucepan on low heat until liquid. Whisk to combine.
3. In the most powerful food processor / blender you own (you decide which one has the most torque) place all filling ingredients (except raspberries) and blend on high until very smooth (this make take a couple minutes so be patient).
4. Pour about 2/3 (just eyeball it, you can’t make a mistake!) of the mixture out onto the crust and smooth with a spatula. Add the raspberries to the remaining filling and blend on high until smooth. Pour onto the first layer of filling. Place in freezer until solid.
5. To serve, remove from freezer 30 minutes prior to eating. Run a smooth, sharp knife under hot water and cut into slices. Serve on its own, or with fresh fruit. Store leftovers in the freezer.

Happy picking – and baking!