Yes! The weather in London in good again! I realise that I am just confirming to British stereotype, going on about how nice/cold/wet/warm it is outside. It’s just that when the sun shines, London is glorious, so we all feel the need to go crazy in the sunshine whenever we get the chance. When you don’t have it all the time, you appreciate if so much more.
Anyway…this sun means it is time to dust down the picnic basket and revisit all of our summer favourites. I’ve started a series called les saveurs de l’été (the flavours of summer) as the umbrella term for all of these dishes. It’s either cute or pretentious. I’m going with cute. Summery, out-doorsy, warm weather foods.
The first feature is elderflower fritters. I agree that this does sound a little strange and, I have to confess, I had never had them before. I therefore come before you with no preconceived ideas of whether this dish is actually any good, or whether my attempt to make them qualifies as good or bad.
As I don’t have a garden, I had to go out and look for elderflowers. They are quite common at the side of roads, but I don’t like to eat things that I find at lying on the side of the street (a rule to live by, I think you would agree). No, for the best flowers, you need to head off into a forest or some other wild sport to find pretty, fresh blossoms. I picked a few in a local park (see below), far away from traffic. Perfect.
With elders sourced, I carried them home in a plastic container. They have a lot of pollen, so I didn’t want this all over my bag. When I opened the tub at home – wow, the aroma was quite something. The scent of summer. I was convinced that these fritters might work very well indeed.
Next issue: the batter. I would go so far as to say I have a fear of frying, so I needed to be sure that the recipe I used would be dependable. I also don’t want to be that person who set fire to their kitchen by over-heating the oil. Anyway, I feel that this recipe should be light as a feather, and just barely cling to the flowers, so that the result is lacy and delicate and ephemeral. I did a bit of hunting for a recipe, and came upon one from Nigel Slater. He writes a column in the Observer, which I read with great enthusiasm each weekend. His recipes are inventive, fresh, dependable and delicious. He writes well and cooks well. I placed my faith in Nigel and followed this recipe.
My first attempt was less than pretty. The flowers were well-coated (i.e. I left on too much batter!) and in the hot oil, the fritter puffed up into a single mass. It browned well, but it didn’t look so pretty. I don’t think that Nigel’s look like brown lumps, time to try again.
For my next attempts, I made sure the flowers were well-coated, but this time allowed a lot of the batter to drip off. I also shook the flowerhead lightly to get rid of any drips. I dropped it into the hot oil, and, like magic, it opened up and I was left with the much-anticipate lacy, fluffy looking result, with the batter forming little “pearls” around the flowers.
Once cooked, they had to be dredged in sugar. I was unsure whether to use caster or icing (powdered) sugar. Icing sugar suggests fun and fluff, but as these fritters are oily, it might just soak up oil and become mush. No, caster sugar was the one to use, as it keeps its integrity and sparkles in the summer sun.
The big question – what did they taste like? When you bite in, there is a combination of clean, crisp batter with the sweetness of the sugar, and then the aroma and flavour of the elderflowers comes through (very floral and fresh). I really liked these, and would happily make them again now that I have an idea of what I am doing. Nigel’s recipe is great, and I would not change a thing. Follow his instructions to the letter, and a great result will be yours!
I would add that elderflower fritters are quite unusual. You need to like the elderflower flavour and this sort to thin, and you need to be in a position to serve them promptly – you ant them to be warm and absolutely crisp. A nice, fun way to finish off an informal lunch or summer supper perhaps.
Worth making? Yes – this really is something that is worth trying once. It is a British summer classic, and if you follow the recipe closely, the result is great.