Red faces, roof-top picnics, fires and sea swims. Early summer often enough seems to bring with it a spirit of decadence. Reaching beyond one’s means to celebrate and indulge, before…well, no need to look ahead when the fleeting sun shines.
This will be my final early summer within the academic calendar – one that admittedly does so much to heighten the sense of release, perhaps beyond that experienced in the early summers of the muggle world of constant responsibility. Summer day-dreams having become vivid enough to burst, the damp inhibitions of school are flung off with a blind eye.
Make sure to pick your elder on a dry day and to avoid any growing on busy roadsides.
For the lovely elderflower cordial, which brings with it endless possibilities:
For a litre of water use 20-25 elderflower heads, a kilogram of sugar and two lemons.
Give the flowers a check for any lingering insects.
Heat the water and the sugar to a syrup. When at a boil pour over the elder. Add slivers of the zest of one of the lemons (if its not unwaxed give it a good wash in hot water). Leave to infuse for 24 hours, giving it the occasional stir.
Then add the juice of the two lemons. Have a taste at this point, to check that it couldn’t do with more lemon juice (their acidity is irregular). Then strain and bottle.
Three decadent recipes for early summer:
Oyster, cucumber and elderflower fritter
Use big and freshly picked elderflower heads, give them a quick bug check but be real delicate with them so to keep all the fragrant pollen in the flower.
For enough batter for about ten fritters mix 125g of flour with a pinch of salt, two tablespoons of olive oil, a tablespoon of sugar and a tablespoon of rum or kirsch. Then whisk in water – just enough to bring it to the consistency of thick paint – and let it stand for at least half an hour in the fridge.
Peel a cucumber and cut it into inch-and-a-half lengths. Doing the best you can, cut into shapes of matchsticks discarding the seeds.
Heat a couple of inches of oil in a pan.
Meanwhile, open your oysters and pour out the initial juice (they say the secondary juice is plenty sweeter), sever them from their shells and flip them over so their smooth side is facing up.
When a small cube of white bread turns golden in a minute in the oil then the temperature is good. When ready, turn down the heat to steady the temperature.
Whisk two egg whites until they form soft peaks and gently fold through the batter. Carefully dip in the elderflower heads in, let any excess batter drip off and fry three at a time. When puffy and golden, take them out onto kitchen paper, lightly salt, and leave in a very low oven until all have been fried.
Serve the oysters in their shells, with a little squeeze of lemon juice, a couple of the cucumber matchsticks and a elderflower fritter.
Raw halibut, courgette, elder and sun flower dressing
The first Irish courgettes of the season will be emerging in their polytunnels early June and being picked for market. They’re used raw here, so small ones, which are especially nutty and sweet, will be best.
Pour just a little boiling water over plenty of elderflowers. Give them a shake and leave to infuse overnight and then strain. The dressing should be about one part lemon juice, two parts elderflower water to four parts extra virgin sunflower oil. Also shake a little of the buds and pollen of some elderflowers in. Water and oil don’t emulsify but this dressing seems to work well here as a ‘split’ one – giving soft, varying bursts.
Ask the fishmonger for some boneless halibut fillet rather than the usual steaks. Slice at a bias half an inch thick. Then put the portions in between baking paper and bash them gently with a hammer (or the back of a small pan) somewhat evenly, until they are half their original width. This will give them a more playful texture in the mouth and will give the dressing something more to cling too.
(If you’re preparing halibut in advance, give it a couple of minutes outside the fridge before serving. No matter how fresh, it has got little to say when it’s cold.)
Slice the courgettes as thinly as possible, though some being thinner than others is no bad thing.
When ready to eat, sprinkle some flakey salt over the halibut, then some courgette slices and then the dressing.
Elderflower, champagne jelly and mint
First of all make the jelly. Whether using gelatine in powder or sheet form, the ratio needed to make jelly will be on the packet. Use half of the suggested appropriate amount of gelatine so to end up with a quivering mess of a jelly that will melt instantly in the mouth. Use just a little of your champagne to dissolve the gelatine in, give it a good whisk and then mix gently through the rest of the champers so that it stays thoroughly bubbly – and so they will eventually pop in mouths. Let the jelly set in the fridge in one big bowl or portion it into smalls bowls.
For the elderflower, mix some cordial and water half and half.
When ready to eat, plate the jelly, either taking big spoonfuls from the big bowl or overturning the small bowls. Roughly make a crater in the jelly with the back of the spoon, pour over the elderflower, and sprinkle some small or sliced mint leaves.
Image by Fiona Hallinan