Outdoor activities with a healthy dose of curiosity, brought to you by Laure Latham
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Eating flowers, really? Oh, yes. After stinging nettles and wild garlic, elderflowers are yet another reason to get outdoors this spring and eat your wild pickings. Tonight, I was cycling to my Wednesday evening swim practice when I took a wrong turn into a new street. Instead of my usual tree-lined brick-paved route, I cycled past an impressive bush heavy with white flowers in clusters. Elderflowers!? I immediately stopped and picked a handful to bring home for this cooking experiment. I’d read so much about elderflower fritters that I had to give it a try. Back home, I showed the flowers to my girls and said “I’m making dessert!”. Less than 10 minutes later, I brought them a plate of these delicious elderflower fritters. It’s the easiest recipe ever. Try it!
First, obviously, you need to find elderflowers but in late spring and early summer, that shouldn’t be too hard.
Black elderberry trees grow throughout Europe and North America in sunny locations and are quite common. Part of the honeysuckle family, elder (or elderberry) trees produce beautiful white flowers that smell like sugar. The trees’ leaves are serrated with a pointy end and are attached by groups of five. The flowers, instead of growing in tight round clusters, grow in flat umbrella shapes. I immediately smelled the sweetness of the flowers as soon as I got close to the tree. To make sure I had the right tree, I googled a few elderflower images on my iphone and concluded that I was in front of the edible elderflower described in my foraging books. Should you have any doubts, please don’t pick them. For more ID tips on elderflowers, this blog provides good guidance. For my kitchen experiment, I picked a few flower heads that were fully open with sweet smelling white blossoms, put them carefully in my bicycle paniers and cycled home.
The first thing that I did was cut the stem with scissors, wash the stems to remove by hand any of the tiny black flies, and shake the flowers for undesirable insects. Soon enough, the flowers were ready to become food. They looked so pretty and delicate on my kitchen counters. I almost felt bad for thinking about deep-frying them but then, this was all for experimental purposes.
The batter was surprisingly simple. It was just flour, rice starch and baking powder, plus a cup-full of sparking water. I was relieved to realize that I had everything in my cupboards but I did dash out to get a new bottle of vegetable oil at the corner store to make sure that it was “fresh.” I so rarely fry food that I lose track of when was the last time I used this or that bottle of oil.
To make the first fritter, all I had to do was grab a flower by the stem, dip it in the batter, and drop it carefully in a wok of boiling oil. I have to admit, I was afraid that I’d done something wrong as the cluster became lumpy and frumpy as soon as it had been heavily dunked in the batter.
Turns out, my fears were unfounded. Once in the oil, the delicate flowers spread out and became an actual fritter. This was happening! In a few seconds, the fritter turned a nice golden hue around the edges and I realized then that I’d have to act fast for the other flowers.
Dip, fry, dip, fry. It all happened very quickly and less than 5 minutes later, I had fried all the flowers and laid them side by side on a baking tray. You see, I didn’t want them to break and they looked quite delicate, fanned out as fritters on a green stem. I sprinkled them with icing sugar, as I’ve always heard people do with fritters.
Unfortunately, I forgot to drain them on paper towels after they’d fried, which was a mistake. You should do it, otherwise your kids will tell you that the fritter is oily and they might be right.
The verdict? My girls took some convincing before biting into a fried flower but once they took the first mouthful, they went ahead and ate their fritter. I tried a couple and was impressed. Oily, yes but sweet and in fact, extremely interesting. The recipe was super easy and the result yummy, but I didn’t really taste the flowers. Was it worth it? I think yes.
Ultimately, what won me over was the fact that next time that we hike as a family and find edible flowers, we’ll try to fry them for kicks. This worked once, it’ll work again. I hear that lots of flowers make great fritters–acacias, daylilies, maple blossoms. Plus, my girls love it that they can eat foraged foods from our Sunday hikes. Flowers into donuts? Hell yeah.
Now for the actual elderflower fritters recipe.