In the last decade, two edible wild, or semi-wild, plants have seen a huge comeback in Germany: ramsons (Allium ursinum, “Bärlauch” in German) and elderberries, especially their flowers. Maybe I should not call it a comeback because I doubt that ramsons, the European cousin of ramps, was ever so omnipresent as it is today. Walk into a German supermarket in the spring and you will find ramsons in every possible form, mixed into cheeses, breads, or sausage. And almost every restaurant has something with ramsons on the menu.
Ramsons are not available in the United States but I planted an elderberry patch almost ten years ago because I just love elderberries. Fortunately the tiny, deep purple, almost black berries have started to appear at some farmers’ markets in the United States in recent years. This encouraged me to include my grandmother’s recipe for Elderberry Soup with Farina Dumplings in the new edition of my cookbook.
Elderflowers, however, are a rare find. Not only are they hard to come by in the first place but you also want to make sure they are absolutely free of pesticides, and not growing near a busy road. The bloom, between late May and early July depending on the local climate, is short, and the flowers are best picked in sunny weather. You have to be at the right place at the right time, and process them quickly.
We moved our elderberries to a different location with more moisture last fall (elderberries love wet feet, and in the wild often grow along streams and embankments). So we barely had any flowers this year but I called friends and neighbors and was able to beg my way through to a basket of the delicately fragrant, creamy white large umbels.
As in previous years, I made elderflower vinegar and elderflower jelly. I also tried some new recipes: elderflower cordial and elderflower liqueur. After I still had some flowers left, I made elderflower fritters, a specialty from the south of Germany. Since I am not a big fan of fried foods, I had never made them before. But I understand now why they are viewed as a delicacy – they were very tasty. Just watching the flowerheads in the hot oil turning into those filigree, whimsical shapes was already worth it.
Elderflower Fritters (Hollerküchle)
When foraging elderflowers, please make sure you have the right kind – American elderberries is what you want. For identification, see the post on my gardening blog last year. Also note that the flower stems are poisonous and should not be eaten, but they can be safely left on during frying for convenience.
12 large elderflower heads, with stems at least 3 inches (7.5 cm) long
½ cup (70 g) all-purpose flour
1 large egg, separated
½ cup (120 ml) milk (I used 2%)
2 teaspoons sugar
Pinch of salt
Oil for frying (I used corn oil)
Confectioners’ sugar for dusting
1. Shake the elderflowers to remove any insects. Immerse the flowers in a large bowl filled with cold water. Swish around and place in a colander to drain.
2. Whisk the flour with the egg yolk, milk and sugar to a smooth consistency. In a separate bowl, beat the egg white with a pinch of salt until it stands in stiff peaks. Fold the egg white into the batter. It should be a thick liquid. If too stiff, add a bit more milk, a tablespoon at a time.
3. Pour oil about 1 inch (2.5 cm) high in a small heavy pot and heat it to 370 degrees F (190 degrees C), or until the oil is hot enough to sizzle a breadcrumb.
4. Dip one flowerhead at a time into the batter. Move it around to coat evenly, then shake it gently to remove excess batter. Holding it by the stem, or with tongs, immerse it into the hot oil flower side down, and fry until golden. Transfer to a plate lined with paper towels, and proceed the same way with the rest of the flowers.
5. Dust lightly with confectioners’ sugar and serve warm. Do not eat the flower stems.
Makes 6 servings