Foraging for the Essence of Summer
The heat is unrelenting and the humidity is kicking up a notch. It’s a typical summer day in northern Indiana. As midsummer’s night approaches, I am trying to feel comfortable in the season. Light eating and plenty of fluids make my body happier these days. Today, though, despite the heat, I am off on my bike to explore. I’m looking for elderflowers. Every year, I concoct some type of liqueur as a way of capturing summer in a bottle. If I can find them, elderflowers will become my next project.
First, I bike out to the Pumpkinvine trail, hoping to see some elderberry bushes. There are zillions of flowering plants, and many of them with lacy flowers but I do not see the large dainty flowers of the elderberry. Poisonous hemlock is in abundance and I know I can’t touch that. So I pedal down the Millrace bike trail, looking right and left as I go. It’s getting hot and I am getting sweaty. All of a sudden, along the bank, I see several bushes with larger open flowers but they are in someone’s yard. I know Amy lives here so I park my bike and knock on the door. Before I get eaten alive by mosquitoes, Amy opens the door and invites me in. “I have a strange question. Any chance I can pick some of your elderflowers?”, I ask. She and her husband, Greg, planted those bushes. They know all about the different strains. They pick the berries and make jams and juice, which they are having for breakfast this morning. Greg points me down the millrace. “I think you will find some further down. But if you don’t, please come back and get some.” As I leave, he offers me a jar of jam. With that gift in my backpack, I feel lucky.
I pedal on and, all of a sudden, I see elderberry bushes everywhere. You know how that goes. When you are thinking of something, it shows up. I let down the kickstand on my bike, grab my scissors and pick just enough flowers to make a small batch of liqueur. The large flowers are made up of small clusters and even tinier flowers. They are delicate and beautiful. They smell a bit like a field in summer. I go home, pluck them and plunge them in alcohol where they will sit for several weeks. For another batch, I plunge the flowers in a hot sugar syrup and let it infuse. Then later I will add some alcohol.
Later, this winter, when summer is just a dream in the middle of icy temperatures, I hope to taste a little bit of summer, captured from those delicate flowers.This morning, though, I already break into the jam jar. I butter a slice of sourdough and spread on the elderberry jam. Such goodness grows out in the wild. I plan on foraging and gathering more. I know the mulberry trees are bearing berries and soon the linden trees will be flowering and ready to pick for linden tea. Summer, with its sun and rain, makes all these things grow. It’s time to take notice and live out the season to its fullest!
Back in the day, when we lived out the country, we also used the flowers in cooking, just as you would zucchini flowers. Dip them whole in an egg batter and fry them in a skillet for an appetizer.