Was it my impatience or did the elder bloom quite late this year? A month ago I had suddenly set my sights on fried elderflower screens. Oh my gosh, how I was in the mood for that. I wanted them right now, right away! And elderberries bloom from mid-May, right? So for two weeks I cycled through the city with a pair of scissors and an empty shopping bag in my bicycle basket, constantly peering for something creamy white glimmering among the exuberant greenery around me. Nothing.
Finally, at the end of May, I found the first blossom screens on the quay near my house. But there were only about five of them on a very small bush, and I couldn’t bring myself to take all its splendor from this young crop right away. So I paused my appetite for a while. Fortunately, many things only get better when you have to wait for them.
By the way, they were indeed late, confirmed the woman with whom I ended up robbing a large, adult elder growing along the dune edge of its exuberantly blooming, creamy-white screens in early June. She clearly understood. She was born in Croatia, a country where wild picking is more common than in the Netherlands. Many Croats, she said, go out during the summer to pick not only elderflowers, but also elderberries and all kinds of other berries, rose hips and wild figs.
While we were so sisterly tinkering with our scissors and shopping bags, she explained to me how her family cooks the most delicious syrups and jams from the harvest. I, in turn, told her that I wanted to go fry the screens. She had never heard of that before. How did I do that? I chuckled. “I don’t know exactly myself yet.”
In my memory they were a great treat, the Elderflower fritters which my German boyfriend’s mother used to serve. Summer captured in a crispy jacket. I read somewhere that it would be an Austrian dish, but I can’t say for sure here. Anyway, after that boyfriend broke up, I never ate them again. Let alone made it yourself. (Why did I suddenly get such an uncontrollable craving for it last month? Really no idea.)
On the internet I discovered that there are actually two versions: fried or fried in a frying pan. In the first case you make a kind of beignet batter. In the latter, the batter is more like that for pancakes. I wanted to fry, did a few tests and came up with a thin and airy batter of flour, icing sugar, lime zest, salt, egg and sparkling water. The egg whites are beaten separately to a foam and folded in, which ensures that airiness.
We could argue about the lemon zest. It is certainly not necessary per se. After all, elderflower is so fragrant on its own, and you don’t want to overpower those luscious floral aromas. That’s why a batter I tried with tonic and a dash of gin instead of sparkling water also fell off. But I think that such a touch of lime, which comes out especially at the end – read: if you have almost swallowed your bite of elderflower fritter – add something nice. Call it a hint of extra summer.
A few elderflower picking tips before we get started. First, only pick what you really want to use. This way you also leave something for others and we can also enjoy elderberries again this autumn. Second: preferably do not pick right next to a busy road. Because of the exhaust fumes, you get the idea.
It is also often said: pick in the morning, because that is where the blossom screens have the most aroma. I never bothered to verify that, so do what you want with this tip. What I would like to emphasize in any case: do not rinse the flower heads under the tap after picking, nor do they soak them in water. With that you also immediately wash away the fragrant, tasty pollen and that would be a waste of your elder pleasure.
For 4 persons:
12 beautiful, large elderflower umbels;
125 g flour;
1 tbsp icing sugar (+ extra for dusting);
1/8 tsp salt;
zest of 1 lime;
350 ml of cold, sparkling water;
peanut or rice oil for frying.
Was the elderflower umbels, but check them carefully for bugs. Cut off the green stem from each screen, but leave a handle of about 5 centimeters.
sieve the flour and icing sugar in a mixing bowl. Add the salt and lemon zest. Separate the egg and drop the yolk into the bowl. Add a splash of sparkling water and stir with a whisk until smooth, thick. Gradually add the rest of the sparkling water while beating with the whisk.
Bench in another bowl, beat the egg whites with an electric mixer. First mix a third of the egg white foam into the batter and then carefully fold in the rest with a spatula.
heat a good layer of oil in a wok – say about 500 ml – to 180 degrees. (If you don’t have a cooking thermometer, do the bread crust test. Drop a bread crust into the hot fat; if the oil immediately begins to bubble and the bread crust turns colour, the oil is hot enough.)
Then an elderflower screen bit the stem and dip in the batter. Let the excess batter drip off immediately; we want to bake thin, elegant fritters and not plump oliebollen.
Leave lower the elderflower screen on the stem into the hot oil and push it very lightly against the bottom of the wok, so that the screen fans out nicely. Bake the beignet for about 1 minute until golden and cooked through. It goes very quickly because it is such a thin and light batter. Suppress the urge to fry several fritters at once, because that won’t work.
serve the fried elderflower screens dusted with a little bit of icing sugar. For the record: you hold them by the stem and bite off the blossom. You do not eat the green stem itself.