There are three items that many Slovaks forage for, even if they aren’t the ‘in harmony with nature’ type of person: ramsons/bear garlic, mushrooms, and elderflowers.
Elderberry bushes with their characteristic large head of small white blossoms are a common sight throughout the western part of Slovakia in the spring, their strong scent filling the air. It’s common to see someone walking by with a basket, or even a huge bag.
What do Slovaks make with elderflowers? Elderflower syrup. I made this recipe with 2 litres of water, but most people make huge batches of 10 or more litres.
If you find the idea of fermenting elderflower wine or cordial intimidating, then this simple syrup is the recipe to try. Instead of juice concentrates, in Europe people buy syrups to make ‘juice’.
The syrup is used to mix with water for a refreshing summer drink, or you can add it to any number of dessert ideas (ice cream, panna cotta, whipped cream…). I made some popsicles with it, but it needs to emulsify better (perhaps a high speed blender?). The heavy syrup sank to the bottom while freezing, so that the popsicles were very sweet on top and basically water at the bottom.
I’ve also made elderflower honey. Mixing herbs or flowers with honey is my favourite lazy way to preserve them, like making spruce honey.
And I’ve used this basic method to make other types of syrup drinks. Commonly made ones are mint, lemon balm, lavender, and I’ve also used them to make black locust blossom syrup.
I have to admit, I felt kind of conflicted putting this recipe up. I try to avoid sugar, and this calls for a whole lot of sugar. I’m trying to consider myself a conveyor of Slovak practices rather than a health food nut I tend to be. This is, by the way, why there aren’t many Slovak sweets on my blog.
There are a number of different kinds of elderflower depending on the area where you live. The flowers of all of them are edible, although not all the berries are, as far as I know. Also, the plant itself has some toxins, so avoid adding leaves or extra stem to the syrup.
Try to pick flowers that have been out for a few days but haven’t been rained on yet, as they will have much more taste.
Elderflowers are profuse in Slovakia, and are also picked to make this simple floral syrup, usually mixed to make drinks.
- 20-25 large elderflower florets
- 2 litres/quarts water
- 3 lemons
- 1.5 kg /3.3 lbs sugar
Pick elderflower florets, preferably ones that haven't been rained on as more pollen will make a stronger tasting syrup. Cut close below the main stem.
Fill a large container with water and the juice from three lemons (this replaces the citric acid many use as a preservative). Put in the flowers, and let sit covered for between 24-48 hours. Mine sat about 36 hours.
Strain the water through a sieve into a 4 litre pot and stir in sugar. Warm the liquid over medium heat until sugar is dissolved. You can thicken the syrup by letting it reduce (evaporating the water) but don't let the syrup boil.
While hot, you can can the syrup to preserve it. You can also let the mixture cool, then freeze it. It also keeps in the fridge for a number of weeks.