Springtime forests abound with culinary delights and elderberry blossoms are one of them. The fragrant cream-colored blossoms of the common elderberry tree appear toward the end of May, turning to small purple berries by late June. Poisonous in their unripe state, the mature berries are used to make wine, brandy, jellies, chutneys and pies. The flowers are popular in teas and cordials, because their balmy flavor lends itself to sweetened beverages. Both the berries and flowers contain an abundance of antioxidants and other beneficial properties.
The 1888 Family Living on $500 a Year: A Daily Reference-Book for Young and Inexperienced Housewives suggests using elderberries, along with sugar and allspice, to make a spicy ketchup. But the elderberry also has associations and uses far more mystical: In England and Scotland, the elderberry tree was thought to possess narcotic properties, and to sleep beneath the shade of its leaves was to court certain danger. Amulets made from the tree’s leaves and bark were used as evil charms. But the elderberry didn’t just lend itself to purposes malign; Hans Christian Andersen’s story “The Elder-Tree Mother” (1845) tells of the elderberry’s ability to ward off evil magic and summon benevolent spirits. And the Tsimshians of British Columbia believed the elderberry bush helped summon mankind itself into existence by coupling with the Raven-god.
Here’s a German recipe for fried elderberry blossoms. It’s a simple dish that costs next to nothing. Serve it as a dessert or an afternoon snack.
Fried Elderberry Blossoms
8 elderberry blossoms, with the stems still attached
9 ounces flour
8.5 ounces milk
2 tablespoons rum
1 pinch salt
2 teaspoons honey
oil for frying
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3 teaspoons sugar
Lay the elderberry blossoms in a dish with water and gently swirl the water around the blossoms. Lay them on a dishtowel to dry. Mix the flour, milk, rum, salt, honey and egg into a thin batter. Let stand 30 minutes. Heat the oil in a large pan to 356 degrees F. Test the heated oil with a spoonful of batter — it should quickly become a light brown. Dip the blossoms in the batter and fry in the oil until golden brown. Then lay them on a plate covered in a paper towel to absorb the excess oil. Mix the cinnamon and sugar and sprinkle over the fried blossoms (you can also use powdered sugar). Serve immediately.