June 2016

Foraging for Elderflowers

Bottle of cordial

Elderflower marks my first time truly foraging for food. The fantasy of foraging through the woods on a hot summer day has played around in my mind for years. I originally toyed with the concept before making the seaweed salad, but due to zero experience, I ended up purchasing it. A safer route for the inexperienced. You can buy elderflower cordial at many European style markets.

Foraging is a great deal more complex than it first appears. Make sure that you do not forage for anything the first time without an informed guide. Elderflower is quite similar to White Hemlock (poisonous, I believe) so I decided to enlist the assistance of a more knowledgable friend. Maria from NH Home Grown Eats was glad to show me the ropes. She also makes a mean elderflower cordial so proved invaluable to the learning process. We picked the elderflowers first thing in the morning when first in bloom. The end of June is a great time in New England to find it.

Maria picking elderflowers
Maria from NH Home Grown Eats picks elderflowers

Elderflower cordial developed into a bit of a habit during the recent trip to Ireland. After purchasing Ballymaloe Cookery School’s cordial at Midleton Farmer’s Market, and pairing it with Highbank Orchard’s Gin, the drink turned into a ritual on the trip. It was a sad day when the gin and cordial reached the last drop. Upon returning to the States, I was excited to try my hand at making my own cordial.

Imen McDonnell has a lovely sounding recipe for elderflower/honeysuckle cordial and Darina Allen has one for a more straightforward cordial. Both recipes are helpful to read as an overview for the general steps involved. In the end, I decided to go a slightly different route after looking over a few more recipes and talking with Maria. My final recipe worked well with my schedule and turned out quite nicely (it takes a few days to make – but fairly easy).

Basket and lemon jug
Elderflowers in a basket, next to a jar of Maria’s fermenting Elderflower soda

Elderflower Cordial


  • 25-30 Elderflower heads
  • 5 cups of cold filtered water
  • 3 large lemons (washed, organic, non-waxed are preferable)
  • 4 cups of cane sugar
  • 1 tsp of citric acid

Shake off the flowers to discard any insects. Remove the flowers from the stem (pull off just the flowers, otherwise, the stems can be toxic) and place in a large jar with a decent seal. Slice up the lemons and put them in the jar. Boil the water and pour into the jar. Close it, let it cool for about 30 minutes. Put the jar in the fridge for three days.

After three days, strain the infused liquid into a large saucepan (my ceramic coated, 5 quart dutch oven worked great). I used a fine mesh sieve to strain it, but a cheesecloth is recommended. Next, add in the sugar and citric acid. Slowly heat the mixture over medium heat, stirring often. Bring to a very gentle simmer (needs to bubble), cook for a few minutes, then using a funnel, pour into a flip top soda type bottles. 1 liter bottle, plus a smaller .5 liter bottle did the trick. Complete this step in the sink since it will spill. I poured my mixture into a smaller bowl and then bottled it – the dutch oven was rather heavy for pouring. However, I still managed to spill the sticky cordial in the oddest of places. Finding sticky spots days later and the fruit flies are having a field day- but worth it!

Allow to cool a bit and then store in the fridge. The citric acid helps preserve the cordial, so it should keep up to a year.

Elderflower “head” partially in bloom. Only use the ones in full bloom.

I am also trying my hand at elderflower soda, following a recipe from Darina Allen. The soda can take up to two weeks to ferment, so I will keep you posted!

After making the cordial, it is fun coming up with ways to include the lovely stuff in recipes. So far, drinks have been the focus (tough, I know!). My favorite non-alcoholic beverage is simply seltzer and cordial in a glass with ice (add gin for the adult version). My favorite alcoholic creation uses orange as the focus. Elderflower cordial is often made with oranges; since I did not use orange in my cordial, it seemed a wonderful mixer.

Elderflower cordial in a glass

Summer in a Glass


  • 1 oz Elderflower Cordial (either homemade or store bought)
  • 1 oz Vodka
  • Club soda
  • Juice of half a medium organic orange
  • Orange slice
  • Ice

In a shaker mix the cordial, gin, and orange juice. Shake gently. Pour into a glass with ice, top up with club soda (or tonic water). Garnish with an orange slice. Tastes like summer in a glass!

Edlerflower shrubs

Maple cinnamon scones and whipped cream

Maple Cinnamon Scone-served

One of the greatest pleasures in life is tea and scones — the lightly sweet buttery crumbliness of these traditional cakes is proof that there’s a reason classics endure. But how do you improve on a time-tested winner?

A recent meal at McCambridge’s in Dublin provided the answer for me. My breakfast was served with fresh maple syrup and I realized maple and cinnamon would blend perfectly into a scone, so I created my own version. Along the way, the concept of maple cinnamon whipped cream seemed to fit the bill for an accompaniment and I set about putting it all together.

Ingredients (makes one cake)

For the scones

  • 1½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon + more for sprinkling
  • ⅓ cup currants
  • 6 tablespoons cold butter
  • Scant ½ cup buttermilk
  • ¼ cup minus 1 teaspoon real maple syrup + more syrup for drizzling
  • 1 teaspoon table sugar

For the whipped cream
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 2 tablespoons real maple syrup
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon

For the scones
Preheat oven to 425° Fahrenheit. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or lightly grease.

Combine flour, baking powder, salt, baking soda and cinnamon in a bowl. Stir in currants.

Cut in butter with pastry blender or two knives until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add buttermilk and maple syrup and stir until the mixture forms a soft, sticky dough that clings together. With wet hands to prevent sticking, form the mixture into a ball and pat into an 8-inch round on prepared baking sheet. Cut into 8 wedges and sprinkle with teaspoon of table sugar.

Bake 15-18 minutes or until lightly browned. About 7-8 minutes into baking, carefully line the edges of the cake with tin foil to prevent burning. Maple syrup browns more quickly than sugar, so keep a close watch.

For the whipped cream
Chill a high edged bowl in the freezer. After a few minutes, place whipping cream into bowl and beat at high speed using an electric hand mixer until the cream starts to thicken. Add the syrup, vanilla extract and cinnamon and continue whipping to desired consistency.

The scones may need to be recut after baking. Drizzle maple syrup on a plate, place a scone on top, dollop a spoonful of whipped cream next to it and sprinkle the plate with cinnamon. Scones served warm are delightful, but room temperature is nothing to scowl at.

Storing note
The scones will keep for up to a week in the fridge if they last that long. If you have leftover whipped cream, dollop individual servings onto a parchment lined baking sheet and freeze until solid. Then place into a freezer bag for longer term storage. (Try it on top of hot chocolate.)

Scone dry ingredients
The mixture with butter cut in.

Maple Cinnamon Scone-raw
Ready to bake.

Maple cinnamon scone-baked
Out of the oven.

What do I feed my visiting Irish relatives?


There are a couple ironclad rules:

  • Under no circumstances serve them tea from the microwave,
  • Nor any form of instant potatoes.

Beyond that it gets more complicated with the safest answer being to ask them. Chances are they won’t be looking forward to “a slice of home,” so forgo the Irish meal. If they’re visiting for the first time, they’ll probably want to “eat American.”

But I want to surprise them
The unfortunate reality, as you already know, is that food preferences vary widely. Your best bet will be to make an estimated guess based on what you know about them. A general rule of thumb is that the older they are, the more likely they’ll prefer meat and potatoes. Your 20-year old nephew might get more excited about a trip to Taco Bell.

There are a good number of Irish who watch what they eat for health reasons or just as a preference. Ask about allergies and aversions to certain foods. I’ve heard it said that seafood turns off a higher percentage of Irish than most other cultures, but I haven’t really seen much proof of that. And increasingly, they are turning to sugar substitutes for their tea or coffee, so perhaps have a few packets of Splenda available.

Unless you have reason to believe otherwise, you can assume they’ll occasionally treat themselves on vacations – as you do – indulging in less than healthy grub to the possible detriment of their blood numbers and waistlines. If you have fresh, local food that’s especially good, by all means introduce them to it. Quality trumps everything else.

In the warmer months, you’ll rarely go wrong with a barbecue: burgers and dogs, corn on the cob, spare ribs, pulled pork, all of which would be considered atypical American – something for them to experience.

Some other ideas for the “American” culinary experience: lobster; clam chowder; chili; Philly cheesesteaks; corn bread; non-pureed soups with chunks of goodies in it; gumbo; crawfish; breakfast burritos; bagels with cream cheese; pancakes with real maple syrup.

And don’t forget the wicked U.S. desserts: Boston cream pie; whoopie pies; Twinkies and Devil Dogs; cookies. Apple pies (though considered American) and the like are readily available in Ireland, though they seldom disappoint.

An area to avoid might be chocolate bars from the grocery store. Most of our run-of-the-mill stuff doesn’t measure up too well on a European scale, though the specialty chocolates that tend to be pricier are a good bet.

What about restaurants?
Local diners would probably make for a successful outing with their homey charms and extensive menus. It’s been my experience that Mexican food is improving, but still lacking in Ireland – something to mark as potential, though advise them to steer clear of the extra spicy fare.

Their Indian food is top notch; no need to deliver them curry unless you know they like it. Chain restaurants like Outback and TGIF would be considered experiences for them. Their Chinese is similar. Italian offerings would be quite similar as well. Thai food wouldn’t be overly easy to find in Ireland, so it might be a nice switch for them.

Tea or coffee?
You can’t assume that tea is the hands-down preference anymore, though it’s still likely the leading hot drink there. Coffee has taken hold of the Emerald Isle and people enjoy it there as much as they do in America. Try offering them a choice between the two.

I’ll assume you know your way around a cup of coffee, but you should have a basic tea station on hand for your relative’s visit, starting with a real mug or a teacup. They might be too polite to ask what went wrong in your childhood that you would even consider offering tea from the microwave, but they’d likely be thinking it.

A cup of tea for the Irish generally includes strong teabags, sugar (or sugar substitute) and milk (once again, they may prefer low fat milk for health reasons). The water should be at a rolling boil when it’s poured and warming the cup beforehand by swishing some of the hot water around and emptying it beforehand is a good practice. So, in short: tea in boiling water, sweetener and milk poured into ceramic mugs will usually suffice.

Biscuits or cookies are well loved with a good cup of tea. It’d be a good idea to have some on hand.

A last word

These are all just suggestions. Obviously everyone is different and it’s possible none of the above will be a hit. Some visitors might want to stick with the tried and true beef, pork, lamb or chicken, potatoes and vegetables. Some may not give a hoot what they eat and could want to experience aspects of our culture other than culinary.

If anything I’m just trying to give general ideas to someone who truly doesn’t know what a visitor from Ireland would want. Whatever you decide, good luck with it.