The birds alerted me that the tree was there. I could hear them squabbling from my bedroom. I opened the window and climbed onto the roof, and there it was: elderflower, in full bloom. I went back in to get my scissors.
I’ve always been a neighbourhood scavenger. Growing up in Melbourne, I’d pick passionfruit that grew in the alleyways around my house. The old Italian and Greek women who lived nearby taught me where to find wild herbs by the river, and my Dad showed me which mushrooms to pick. When I first moved to London, I lost that instinct a little. But now that I’ve found a neighbourhood again, I’m learning what to look for – and where to look.
One thing that grows well in this city is elderflower, and one place to look for it is balanced on a high brick wall behind my flat under the bemused gaze of the ladies next door. In May and June these lacy blooms cluster in our alleys, parks and gardens, saturating the air with their musky, grapey scent. It’s the stuff of British folk tradition, associated with Midsummer celebrations and said to ward off both witches and colds. (It turns out it’s loaded with vitamin C, which explains the latter use if not the former.) I like to make it into elderflower syrup: it’s simple, summery and delicious with gin. We’re going to be drinking my batch at Happy Hour – so drop by and have a taste.
Terry’s Elderflower Syrup
Most recipes call for citric acid, but this proved impossible to find. I choose to believe that an elderflower syrup-making mania had swept Peckham. I wouldn't worry; it turns out beautifully without it.
Ingredients: 20 heads of elderflower blossom; 2 kilos granulated sugar; 1.2 litres water; 4 unwaxed lemons
- Bring the water to a boil and dissolve the sugar in it to create a syrup. While you are doing this, clean the elderflower heads and grate the lemon rind into zest. Cut the zested lemons into slices.
- Put elderflower heads with the lemon slices and zest into a large jar. Pour the syrup over the top and screw on the lid. Find a dark corner to put the jar in, and leave for three days.
- Strain the liquid through muslin and bottle – ready for Happy Hour!