Darina Allen is a true celebrity in Ireland. Her cookery shows have been televised and her books are a staple in
most Irish homes. She is the founder of Ballymaloe,
a successful cookery school in East Cork which she runs with her husband Tim Allen.
Darina has kindly agreed to provide a weekly recipe on the site, so get out that apron and start cooking!
For those of us fortunate enough to live in the country, this is one of the
most magical times of the year. Everything is still fresh and green and the
yellow blossom of the furze illuminates the whole countryside. The country lanes
and hedgerows around us (where farmers have left them intact) are full of hawthorn
and best of all elderflowers. Just as soon as I see the elderflowers coming
into blossom I know its time to make a foray into the fruit garden to search
for gooseberries. Weeks too early to harvest gooseberries you might think, well
take your courage in your hands and pick off the hard tart green gooseberries,
don't dream of eating them raw, or 'you'll have a pain where you never had a
window' as we were told by Pad the gardener when we were children.
However, if you poach them with a few elderflowers they will have a most exquisite
muscat flavour and fragrance and will be quite transformed from just stewed
gooseberries to something magical. This is always a great mystery to me because
the uncooked elderflowers smell rather nasty and musky and I am greatly indebted
to the adventurous person who discovered this combination. As children, we were
always rather wary of the elder tree because ancient legends linked it with
magic, one generation of children to the other passed on the message that if
someone hit you with a branch from an elder tree you wouldn't grow another inch,
a very terrifying prospect as a child!
The elderflowers eventually turn into juicy bunches of purplish black elderberries
in the Autumn. The flowers last about a month so make the most of them. We use
them to flavour jams and jellies, to make syrups for fruit salad, sorbets and
ice-creams. They make wonderful fritters and flavour wine vinegar in a most
delicious way. Apart from having a particular affinity with green gooseberries,
they are also very good with rhubarb.