Scott Paton, head chef of Àclèaf in Plymouth, shares a few tips on how to make the most of seasonal elderflower
The South West countryside is full of elder trees and, at this time of year, the scent of their dainty fragrant flowers fills the air. It’s a brilliant foraged find, which can be used in lots of ways to distil a flavour of late spring in your dishes.
We’re lucky enough to have a couple of elder trees in the grounds of Boringdon Hall, so it’s not unusual to spot me or one of the other chefs foraging for the flowers on a spring morning.
The elder tree is quite short and shrubby, but its main giveaway is its sprays of tiny white flowers. Their perfume is pretty powerful, so you should be able to detect that signature elderflower scent.
Look for them along hedgerows and around parks. Snip the sprays at the stalks, making sure to leave enough of the plant so that some will mature into elderberries – these are great to pick in autumn and pair with red meats such as venison.
The teeny flowers are very delicate so, instead of cleaning them under running cold water, I submerge them in iced water. At the restaurant, we line up three buckets of iced water and by the time they come out of the third they’re brilliant-white and squeaky clean.
At Àclèaf we use elderflower throughout the menu – from predinner cocktails to finishing-touch vinaigrettes.
One of the easiest ways to distil the flavour of elderflower is by making a simple syrup – I use the ratio of 1:1 water:sugar and finish it with a squeeze of lemon. Try adding the syrup to sparkling wine or use it to zhuzh up a G&T. It’s also great in jellies and other sweet dishes.
At the restaurant I like to steep elderflower in apple vinegar to make a floral vinaigrette. It’s super versatile: one of my favourite pairings is roasted duck, but it also works well drizzled over a simple summer salad.
The best bit about flavouring syrups and vinaigrettes with elderflower is that they last, so you can add a touch of spring sunshine to your dishes throughout the year.