We only buy inexpensive bottles of wine from Starmore Boss, that friendly little shop on Sharrowvale Road, Sheffield. That doesn’t stop us looking at more expensive booze. And I had my eyes on a bottle of elderflower infused gin in their window.
We love gin and make our own damson and sloe gins (which have a few blackberries thrown in) so surely, now the elders are blossoming, I could rustle up an elderflower one? By the way, I have solved my elderflower problem mentioned in a previous post – I was looking too early and they are just coming into flower.
Recipes online told me I would need about 20 heads of blossom to a bottle of gin so I set off on what proved to be a profitable morning’s foraging.
I found a couple of trees in a Sheffield park and collected the required amount of blossoms. Most city elder trees are by the sides of roads and you wouldn’t want to pick them because of traffic fumes. Then I had a scout around.
I discovered a couple of cherry trees I had not noticed before but it will take about a month for them to ripen. I have cherry trees staked out across the city. Three gooseberry bushes were full of fruit, tart but well worth picking. I didn’t overdo it, collecting about a pound. Then it was off to a branch of Aldi for a bottle of its Oliver Cromwell London Dry, which beat the much more expensive Bombay Sapphire and Hendricks gins at the 2013 International Spirits Challenge. It got a silver. At £9.99 it’s a bargain.
Back home I shook the blossoms to eject any bugs and cut off most of the stems. The green parts contain cyanide so get as much as you can off. It shouldn’t be a worry: people have been making elderflower drinks for years but you don’t want to be the one who tempts fate.
The blossoms filled a two pint basin. I put four tablespoons of caster sugar in a large, sterilised Kilner jar and poured in all the gin, swirling it in the jar to dissolve the sugar. I packed the blossoms into the jar with a sterilised wooden spoon so they were all submerged. I’m worried if the blossoms are exposed to air they will go bad.
The recipe advises shaking the jar once a day for a week before straining* but if you do this the blossoms will be in the air again (I tried). I’m still thinking about this. Currently the blossoms are being kept submerged by a plastic ‘paddle’ from a large jar of gherkins. I boiled it to remove any lingering pickle taste.
Then I made a gooseberry pie. The fruit goes well with elderflower but I wanted them all for the gin so used a few spoonfuls of elderflower cordial from the bottle I didn’t turn into granita to cook them with first.
The pie was lovely. So, I hope, will be the elderflower gin, ready a lot quicker than sloe or damson gins. I’m looking forward to a glass or two to toast a foraging summer. I’ve just had a thought. Anyone out there made gooseberry gin?
GIN UPDATE: The top layer of blossoms rapidly browned as I was unable to successfully keep them totally immersed. The brown bits were removed (losing some gin in the process) but the problem was back the following day. I think next time I will put the gin in a wide bowl and keep the blossoms immersed with a plate. The gin was strained off after two days, having become a greeny-yellow colour. The verdict is still out on this one, the smell is not unpleasant but not particularly rewarding. I suspect oxidation is the problem. Plan to try again next year!
2016 UPDATE: The elderflower flavour is quite pronounced and the taste is more acceptable. I think my original recipe advising the flowers to steep for five days is a little excessive. This time I’m going to try 24 hours.