A Wild Harvest or Cream Flower Soda

A few months ago I caught an article about the West’s DIY Food Crafters.  Among them was a soda maker named Emily Ho who made sodas out of wild and fresh ingredients. As a likeminded soda hater but carbonation lover I had an instant hero. Life only got better when it turned out we were in the same Master Food Preserver Class (Graduates Tonight!), and just as I suspected she is awesome.  Like all great friends, she has introduced me to a new vice: Elderflower Syrup.  I have been hooked since she brought it in to share one night. I am fairly certain I was responsible for drinking half the bottle, which amounts to 5-6 glasses of a floral fizzy dream.

Unfortunately I don’t have Elderflowers in my neighborhood.  But I had something that very much looked like Elderflowers growing rampant in my neighborhood.  I asked gardening and foraging peers and no one could quiet decide.  But the honey bees seemed to love it, the scent was divine and I am a brave sort. How else will you discover things? I also had a good lead that even with toxic stems, leaves or roots, blossoms are rarely toxic hence the bee love.  In the end all I know is this little bud combined with sparkling water is the best cream soda I have ever had.  And it keeps delighting all those I bring it too.

If you decide to be similarly bold,  I encourage you to ‘gather ye flower buds while ye may’ I have already begun to see these tiny white flowers begin to wilt. Take this opportunity to have a wild harvest by following some simple guidelines:

1) Forage away from high traffic road ways to avoid contamination from pollution and exhaust.

2) Follow the 5% rule or 1 in 20.  Harvest only 5% from a single plant, or 1 out of every 20 plants you see.  This allows for the plant to continue to thrive and yield new riches soon.

3) Respect private property but don’t be scared to ask.  Many people will be likewise unaware they have this treat in their yard and are very happy to share.  I have found this to be true of most owners of fruit trees when they ripen, if you offer some help you are more than likely to be rewarded with arm loads of delicious produce. In fact, Food Forward is a Los Angeles non-profit that uses the abundant produce around us to fight urban hunger and promote food justice by connecting property owners, volunteers and communities.

4)  If in doubt, don’t…OR watch for signs of other wildlife (i.e. bees, birds, etc) around it.

Ok GO!

Cream Flower Syrup

Note: There are countless ways to this Syrup with fierce loyal fans, and after trying them all obsessively this is my favorite as I feel it preserves the brightness of the flower and has the least amount of sugar. Do not reduce the amount of sugar any further as it necessary as a preservative.  Makes eight 12 oz jars a years supply. 

What you need:

6 large bunches, should almost fill a large soup bowl when you’ve pulled off all the flowers

2 meyer lemons, sliced thinly crosswise

12 cups  filtered H2O

6 cups sugar

What you need to do:

After you have gathered, shake flowers gently but firmly over the sink to shake out any possible bugs.  You can also rinse very quickly under cold water, but I have not found the flavor loss worth it.  Work carefully and slowly to remove all the blossoms from the main branch and the green stems.  THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT.  Place lemon slices, water and elderflower in a container large enough. Stir, seal and place in a warm sunny spot for two days.

I like to flip it on it’s top for the second day to ensure all the blossoms get infused.  If you also put yours outside, feel free to bring it in at night.

If you are planning on canning: On the second day, preheat the oven to 250.  Place eight 12 oz jars and lids in oven and bake for 30 mins.  Meanwhile, strain out the blossoms and the lemon.  Bring to a boil, slowly raising the temperature.  Add the sugar stirring constantly till it dissolves.

Once dissolved, pull the pot from heat and pour into jars leaving 1/4 inch headspace.  Seal jars, return to oven and bake for an additional 15 minutes.  Removed jars to cooling rack or kitchen towel on counter and allow them to come to room temperature undisturbed.  Jars will pop musically as they seal.  Store in a dark cupboard away from heat, will last 1 year. Place Syrup in fridge after opening.

Cream Flower Soda is made by combing Cream Flower Syrup with Sparkling Water to taste.  ENJOY!

Note: You can add fresh herbs to the fizzy drink to add depth, or combine it with another syrup for a soda mixture. With stonefruit  in season we’ve been sipping a lot of plum elderflower soda on these hot California days.

Note: If you do not want to can, this recipe is easily divisible by three.  Resulting in roughly 24 oz of Cream Flower Syrup.  Transfer to the fridge and use in one month.  But I promise you will regret making so little in less time!

Note:  You can do this with many flowers, be sure to remove the center of the bid and any steams. These parts are the most likely to contain bitter imparting flavors.

HAD I HAD Elderflowers in my neighborhood I would tell you this:  Elderflower grows all over the world but especially well in places that are very sunny. Throughout history people have used it as a beverage (especially popular in Victorian England as a cordial) and for medicinal purposes (very high in Vitamin C and used as a modern day antiviral and anti inflammatory for the respiratory system).  So Elderflower is free, has health benefits and is delicious? Yup.  But Elderflowers only bloom from May till June, so I suggest you go outside today with a pair of scissors and a basket and see if you spot these beauties in your area.  Also I will be very jealous.  Share?

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