Respect your elders. Amid the kaleidoscopic plethora of often contradictory mottos to inspire and safely guide us purposefully through life, few have the capacity to ground us so deeply in a shared past that determines our collective future, while simultaneously threatening such deleterious consequences if ignored.
Scratch only gently below the surface of this phrase and Mother Earth, the supreme Elder, accumulates beneath the nails. We realise, locked into a symbiotic dance with her myriad offspring, the whole web of life, that we are kith and kin to the core. Respecting our ancestors, our full biological inheritance, is to learn from them the secret dance of symbiosis, reciprocity and natural balance. Foraging is my dance, and Lady Ellhorn, Hylde-moes, Old Gal, Lady Elder, Sambucus nigra the best dance partner I know.
I want to celebrate the elder tree and the accompanying veil of springtime warmth and light she uses to cover her shy beauty by sharing a recipe with you. And yet, in trying to select just one elderflower based recipe, I have been racking my brains until the little white flowers danced before my eyes – not for want of recipes but, on the contrary, because there are almost countless possibilities.
Elder gives so generously of its flowers, berries and superficially defunct yet fungi-laden branches that the scope for creativity in the kitchen is enormous. Speaking of the flowers alone, used fresh, raw, cooked, whole, dried or powdered these fragrantly clustered sunny miracles can be used for wine, champagne, cordials, salads, fritters, sorbet, ice-cream, cakes, biscuits, milk puddings, jellies, jams, sweets, tea, vinegar, sweet and sour meat dishes or simply placed in the hair as you dance naked around the Beltane fire!
Then, remembering once having made delicious shortbread biscuits using entirely conventional ingredients except for 30 per cent powdered elderflowers for the flour mix, I wondered how one might make such a common food item if all conventional food supplies could no longer be taken for granted, while at the same time endeavouring to create as little negative environmental impact as possible. Here is the result – a taste of the kind of things I’ll be up to throughout my 100 per cent wild food year and a dedicated exercise in learning not to take food for granted.