Every day at the moment as I walk past the elderflower bush near our flat I take a little peek to see how the flowers are doing. They’re getting there. A few are temptingly near looking ready for picking. In a fortnight’s time we might be able to pick a few but I know it’s really June before we’ll have the proper crop.
Hawthorn blossom is my interim measure. The beautiful, heady-scented flowers that are so synonymous with May that they often take its name. The ‘may’ in the old saying is thought to mean the blossom rather then the month. The point being don’t even think of going out without a jacket until you start to see the may flowers on the trees – then you know it’s really Spring.
And they don’t half make a cracking ice-cream.
Hawthorn is found all over Britain. You might see it as a tree or as a hedge. The smell will give it away. It’s heavy, sweet and bit aniseedy. The flowers come in clusters. Usually white, sometimes pink, with five petals and pink or purple in their stamens. You can spot the leaves by their deep lobes and slight toothiness. Try to pick the blossom on a dry, warm day and early in its season. Their scent can get a bit too old-lady’s-perfume as Spring wears on.
Hawthorn Blossom Syrup
This syrup is from Pamela Michael’s ‘Edible Wild Plants and Herbs’ book and which she based on an 18th century recipe. With some sparkling water and ice it becomes a lovely drink for a hot day. It can also be used as a sauce over tarts and ice-creams and it is in fact the basis for Pamela’s hawthorn flower ice-cream recipe below. So if you want the ice-cream you’ll have to make this first.
For 1l syrup:
enough hawthorn flowers to fill a litre jug – stalks snipped away and given a good shake to get any insects out
800g granulated sugar
6-7tbsps lemon juice
4 sterilised jam jars
2 x 500ml sterilised bottles
1. Put an inch worth of flowers into each jar and then sprinkle over a tsp of the sugar. Layer them up like this until you’ve used all the blossom.
2. Heat the rest of the sugar with the water and lemon juice until the sugar dissolves. Boil for a couple of minutes, leave to cool and then stir in the rosewater.
3. Pour the sugar syrup evenly amongst the jars. Screw the lids on loosely and stand the jars inside a saucepan with newspaper between the jars to stop them touching. Fill the pan up with water but make sure the water doesn’t cover the jars. Bring to the boil and then leave to simmer for an hour.
4. Take the jars out and tighten the lids. Leave them to cool. Once they are, strain the liquid out and then pour into the bottles. The syrup will keep for a month or so in the fridge.
A few blossoms strewn on top will make a gorgeous garnish for this or other summery drinks.
Hawthorn Blossom Ice-Cream
Lightly whip 250ml double cream and then add 6tbsps of the syrup above. Keep whisking as you add each spoonful. Once you have soft peaks of cream spoon it all into a tub, cover with its lid or foil, and then just freeze until it’s firm. There’s no need for extra beating. Lovely with more of the syrup poured over as you serve it and maybe a few extra flowers to decorate.