This is the time of year when every bar seems to have some spin on the elderflower cocktail. It’s delicious, but there’s so much more we could be doing to appreciate the season of the elderberry itself.
“When summer starts, wild elderflowers bloom like crazy in the prairies by my home. I will go out and literally fill garbage bags with these beautifully fragrant wildflowers — their smell reminds me of summertime,” said Jimmy Papadopoulos of Chicago’s central European-inspired restaurant, Bohemian House.
“Once I get them back to the restaurant, our pastry chef Jessica [Vazquez] will begin infusing the flowers into ice cream bases, honey, syrups for cocktails, and more,” Papadopoulos says. “We have dried them to infuse cordials and we will even make vinegar out of them to preserve that beautiful aroma of summer.”
We rounded up a few great spots around the country doing really fun things with elderberries and elderflowers this season.
Photos courtesy of respective restaurants. Elderberry photo by Andy Rogers CC BY-SA. Elderflower photo by Nick Saltmarsh CC BY.
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Elderberries are a genus of flowering plants plentifully found in the warmer regions of Europe and North America. The tart, tannic fruit is a dark violet-black color and ripens in the summer, usually between July and September.
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Elderberry flowers are pretty little white bunches that bloom in late spring.
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The Rhubarb Tart from Lord Stanley, a new restaurant in San Francisco by husband and wife team Rupert and Carrie Blease, has a wonderfully balancing ingredient: elderflower.
"The elderflower itself is very complimentary to the rhubarb, adding a floral element to the tartness of the fruit. I particularly like to pair elderflower with fruit, which is great in the spring when different fruits and produce are starting to come into season," says Blease.
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Gotham Bar & Grill's Elderflower Parfait is available on their Easter Brunch prix fixe menu and served with grapefruit, St. Germain, and a hint of mandarin sorbet.
"I enjoy using the flavors of elderflower on my menu in the springtime. The flavor is subtle, but very floral and reminiscent of springtime flowers of hyacinth, tulips and daffodils. Typically the elderflower is a spring flower and is in season around mid-May. Pairing this sweet, floral flavoring with the tart, acidic grapefruit makes for a perfect balance of flavor that hits all the right notes that taste like spring."
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Most Americans may be most familiar with elderflower in a cocktail, namely from St. Germain.
"I recently tried elderflower liqueur in a cocktail. I loved it. To me, it tastes of springtime and makes me think of new beginnings. When creating a new marinade for steak, I was looking for a note that would be both a bit sweet and fresh—elderflower liqueur fit perfectly," says Gwendolyn Kestrel, Tindalos House Chef.
In Kestrel's recipe, she uses elderflower liqueur in the marinade for her steak.
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Galliano has this nice, sweet herbal quality, which is a perfect complement to the steamed mussels. Elderberry juice adds a touch of balancing tart berry flavor to the mussels.
"Galliano has well-balanced, aromatic anise, fennel and licorice flavors to it that give a light spring summer brightness to the sauce for the mussels. Since mussels and fennel are a classic match, the Galliano, which basically bottles that fennel flavor (like St. Germain bottles warm, floral notes) pairs perfectly. We like to add the raw liquor to the sauce to really bring those flavors to play."
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With its tart flavors, it makes sense that elderberries would work well with seafood, and Blue Water Grill in New York likes to employ in its Elderberry and Roasted Pepper Montauk Oysters dish.
"Elderberries are great to cook with – they are often used in jams and beverages as have a distinctly tart flavor. I love working with them because they are versatile, but they are notoriously messy! Make sure you have your apron on before preparing anything that calls for them," says Sam Hazen, Culinary Director of Seafood at Blue Water Grill.
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Executive Chef/Owner Adrianne Calvo of Chef Adrianne's Vineyard Restaurant & Wine Bar in Miami admires the elegance of elderflower and used it to create a beautiful dessert.
"I love cooking with elderflower because it's subtle and elegant, and really smoothes a recipe out. That's why I was inspired to create a Panna Cotta with elderflower, because that's another silky and velvety dish so they balance each other well. And the addition of orange is a personal note because it reminds me of my childhood summers on the beach. It's important to keep recipes personal and close to the heart, and the candied orange segments did just that!"
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Elderflower honey ice cream? Yes, please!
"In the middle of June, when both strawberries and elderflowers are both at their peak, they make a perfect match for one another," Bohemian House chef Jimmy Papadopoulos said. He uses both in the Strawberry Kolacky dessert served with Wild Elderflower & Honey Ice Cream. Jimmy Papadopoulos slowly roasts fresh strawberries to cook out their excess water and concentrate their flavor, before stewing them into a jam to fill the Kolacky.
Papadopoulos infuses the ice cream with the elderflowers, and garnishes the dish with ripe strawberries dressed iwth an aromatic elderflower-infused syrup.