This week-end we are going to have elderflower party to celebrate the profusion of elderflowers in the hedges. You’ll find them in city gardens, along railways embankments as well as down country lanes. Just look out for the fluffy white umbelliferous blossoms with the distinctive musky aroma. The European variety is called Sambucus Nigra – its flowers are edible and of course so are the American version Sambucus Canadensis.

Elderflowers are only in season for four or five weeks in the year so if you want to make a batch of cordial get out there immediately and collect enough to make a decent quantity – it will keep perfectly until next year’s crop is ready.

We also have the first of the broad beans, I love them in so many ways and more than anything I love to see the grandchildren racing up and down the rows choosing the best pods and then picking out the beans and gobbling them up raw. They must be so good for them.
For a grown up version try New Season Baby Broad Beans with Olive Oil and Orla Sheep’s Milk Cheese with a little sea salt and olive oil or as a puree on grilled bread or par cook them and add them to risotto or pasta. If I’d been invited to cook for the Queen I’d have given her carrageen moss pudding with green gooseberry and elderflower compote, I bet she’d have loved it – it’s a marriage made in heaven – enjoy it while you can.

Grilled Bread with Broad Beans

Serves 2 as a first course
Serves 4 with an aperitif

One of my favourite ways to serve young broad beans, I sometimes serve this as a nibble with an aperitif but it also makes a wonderful first course.

4 slices of really good bread white bread cut 1/3 inch thick (we use Arbutus Biggie from Declan Ryan’s Artisan Bakery)
1 clove garlic peeled
extra virgin olive oil

1 peeled clove of garlic
4oz (110g) of really fresh small raw broad beans, weighed when shelled
sea salt
a squeeze of lemon juice
6 – 8 fresh mint leaves
6 – 8 fresh basil leaves
a generous tablespoon of freshly grated Parmesan cheese
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

A rough stone pestle and mortar

First make the topping. Pound the peeled clove of garlic with a little sea salt in the pestle and mortar. Add the broad beans and continue to pound to a coarse puree. Add the mint and basil leaves, continue until they are incorporated. Finally add the parmesan and extra virgin olive oil. Taste and correct the seasoning. Heat a pan grill on a high flame until very hot. Char grill the bread on both sides. Rub each side with a cut clove of garlic, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil. Spread some of the broad bean topping over the hot grilled bread and serve immediately.

New Season Baby Broad Beans with Olive Oil and Orla Sheep’s Milk Cheese

Serves 6

450g (1 lb) new season broad beans – about 1.8kg (4 lb) in the pods
Extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt
Orla Sheep’s Cheese or Pecorino
Crusty white bread – Ciabbatta

Bring the broad beans to the table, have a bottle of your best extra virgin olive oil, a bowl of sea salt and a piece of sharpish sheep’s milk cheese, we use Orla made from the milk of Friefland organic Sheep on Manch farm near Ballineen in West Cork.
Pecorino would of course be delicious or also a good Feta.

Let each person have the pleasure of removing the beans from the furry pods. When you’ve accumulated a little pile on your plate, dip one by one, first into olive oil then into sea salt. Enjoy with the tangy cheese and warm crusty Ciabatta.
Thin slices of Parma ham (prosciutto) or very good Italian Salami would make a more substantial feast.

Elderflower Fritters

These are very easy to make, very crispy and once you’ve tasted one, you won’t be able to stop!.

Serves 4

110g (4oz) plain flour
pinch of salt
1 organic egg
150ml (5fl oz) lukewarm water
8–12 elderflower heads
caster sugar
sunflower oil for frying

Sieve the flour and salt into a bowl. Make a well in the centre and drop in the egg. Using a whisk, bring in the flour gradually from the edges, slowly adding in the water at the same time. Heat the oil in a deep-fat fryer to 180°C/350°F. Hold the flowers by the stalks and dip into the batter. Fry until golden brown in the hot oil. Drain on kitchen paper, toss in caster sugar and serve immediately with gooseberry and elderflower compote.

Elderflower Champagne

This magical recipe transforms perfectly ordinary ingredients into a delicious sparkling drink. The children make it religiously every year and then share the bubbly with their friends.

2 heads of elderflowers
560g (11/4lb) sugar
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
4.5L (8pints) water
1 lemon

Remove the peel from the lemon with a swivel top peeler.  Pick the elderflowers in full bloom.  Put into a bowl with the lemon peel, lemon juice, sugar, vinegar and cold water.  Leave for 24 hours, then strain into strong screw top bottles.  Lay them on their sides in a cool place.  After 2 weeks it should be sparkling and ready to drink.  Despite the sparkle this drink is non-alcoholic.
Top Tip:
The bottles need to be strong and well sealed; otherwise the Elderflower champagne will pop its cork.

Elderflower and Green Gooseberry Jam

Makes 6 x 450g (1 lb) pots

In season: late spring

The gooseberries should be tart and green and hard as hail stones – as soon as the elderflowers are in bloom in the hedgerows search for the gooseberries under the prickly bushes or seek them out in your local greengrocer or farmers market.

1.6kg (3 ½ lb) green gooseberries
5-6 elderflower heads
600ml (1pint) water
1.57kg (3½ lb) sugar

Wash the gooseberries if necessary. Top and tail them and put into a wide stainless steel preserving pan with the water and elderflowers tied in muslin. Simmer until the gooseberries are soft and the contents of the pan are reduced by one third, approx ½  hour. Remove the elderflowers and add the warm sugar, stirring until it has completely dissolved. Boil rapidly for about 10 minutes until setting point is reached (220F on a jam thermometer). Pour into hot clean jars, cover and store in a dry airy cupboard.

This jam should be a fresh colour, so be careful not to overcook it.


West Cork Food and Drink Fair is on Saturday 18th June to Sunday 19th June  at Mannings Emporium, Ballylickey, Co Cork. Peter Ward of Country Choice in Nenagh is the Guest of Honour and will do a Back to Basics Bread Making demonstration and Carmel Somers of the Good Things Café will do a cookery demonstration on Sunday. Phone 02750456 www.manningsemporium.ie

The West Cork College of Sustainable Food Production is blasting off with a Five Day Summer School starting on Monday 13th to Friday 17th June. It will be based at Glebe Gardens in Baltimore, but will include many sessions at the farms and gardens of growers who make a living from growing. The course is aimed at people who want to produce significant amounts of food either for themselves and their families, or as a business and costs €300 including lunch. To book email westcorkcollege@gmail.com

There will be a tutored wine presentation and tasting by Anne-Claude Leflaive in the afternoon of Saturday 11th June, 3.30pm, in The Grain Store at Ballymaloe. Afternoon presentation and tasting – €35 per person Ballymaloe House, Shanagarry, Co. Cork,
Tel: 021 4652531 -  res@ballymaloe.ie

About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen


Past Letters

  • Recipes