As June dissolves away into the first humid and hot days of July, the elder flowers start to bloom. They are everywhere. Along every roadside, looking up from every moist ditch, surrounding the borders of every pond and every lake. Everywhere. Cloud like sprays of cream-colored blossoms ablaze in the strong summer sunshine, filling the still sticky air with the breath of their sweet honeyed perfume. A smell that is of summertime. A smell that is magical.
The elder flowers are a sign to me, one of those subtle markers that signify a certain time of year, that mark out the sensations that belong only to one small stretch of time in the calendar. Now the elders are blooming I think to myself, it is that time of year. It seems more revealing, more elucidating, somehow, than saying it is the first week of July.
Up close, they are like sprays of tiny, delicate stars woven together as fine as any lace. They make one think of moonlight. There are stories, legends, that if you were to fall asleep in the shade of an elder, you would dream of fairies and elves and magical things – and if you happened to sit under the elder on the eve of midsummer’s night, you might see the fairy king march by himself.
It is easy to believe these stories, when you are filling your basket with those lacy blooms on a hot summers day, your fingers dusted with golden pollen, breathing in their sweetness. You really feel you might get whisked away to another world.
We picked for sometime, this past weekend, my friend Shari and I. We picked until our baskets were full and our legs and arms scratched up by the brambles that surround the elders. Then we walked out into the little lake that they grow by, splashing ourselves with water and watching the sunlight glinting off the lake’s rippled surface. It was such a lovely day.
I brought my harvest home and set about thinking what I might do with it. Some I set aside to dry for tea, which I like to put in cold and flu blends for the winter time. Some I mixed into a little jar with sugar, for making elder scented cakes. Some I packed into a tall jar full of water, to gently infuse overnight in the fridge, for drinking cold on these hot days (an idea I got from Lucinda).
And some I used to make these delicately flavored Pots de Crème – little jars of baked custard that I topped with rhubarb compote. The result was just what I was hoping for – light, creamy, delicately perfumed with the scent of the flowers and just sweet enough to oppose the tart rhubarb. A perfect desert for this very time of year. The elderflower time.