Since the warm weather arrived my family and I have been going for walks around the village every evening after dinner. A few nights ago we were strolling down a country lane when I smelt a sweet perfume smell coming from a nearby bush dotted with clumps of tiny white flowers. It turned out to be an elderflower bush. Oh this would be perfect in some apple jam, I thought, and so I set about picking all the flower heads I could find. Unfortunately on a lot of the bushes we found the flower heads were over and the beginnings of the elderberry were starting to form. However, with the help of my dad I managed to collect quite a big bunch. It was actually rather fun as the bushes were often buried the midsts of a nettle patch or surrounded by prickly bushes, so it was a team effort to forage for the flowers.
Elderflowers look surprisingly like cow parsley (it may have another name) but be sure not to pick cow parsley as to my knowledge it’s not edible. The easiest way to tell is that elderflowers grow off the ground on a big bush, whereas cow parsley grows on a long green stem that grows directly out of the ground. Another good identifier is that elderflower smells sweet and fragrant whereas cow parsley is quite revolting with a smell of dirty farmyards, so they are easy to tell apart once you get close.
I stripped the flowers off the stems and secured them inside a muslin bag and adding them to my pan along with lots of Bramley apples to allow the flavour of the flowers to steep into the apple during cooking. Within a few minutes the aroma coming from the flowers mixed with the sharp fruity smell of the apples was wonderful. If you’ve ever smelt elderflower cordial it smelt very similar to that.
Once my jam was made and cooled I was eager to taste it. I adore the golden amber colour it turned, it almost seemed to glow. The jam itself was softly set with small lumps of apple still remaining which gave it a nice texture and appearance. The initial flavour was sweet and slightly perfumed and then the sharp tanginess of the apple came in and it ended with a lingering elderflower flavour – delicious. Jams usually call for an equal quantity of sugar to fruit but I like my jams softly set and still a little sharp so I reduced the amount of sugar, but if you want a sweeter jam then just increased the amount stated below to the weight of the prepared apple, around 750g. I’m going to go back in a few weeks and try and collect some of the elderberries – it’s so rewarding making use of things from the hedgerows.
Apple & Elderflower Jam
1kg Bramley apples (about 5 apples, skin and core still intact)
500ml jug full of elderflower heads, stalks removed
500g jam sugar (sugar with added pectin)
Rinse the elderflower in water to remove any dirt or tiny bugs and shake dry. Pull the flower heads off the stalks and place inside a large piece of muslin cloth, make into a bag shape and tie securely with string.
Peel, core and dice the Bramley apples (you should end up with around 750g prepared weight) and place them into a large saucepan along with the bag of elderflower heads.
Add the water, bring to a simmer and allow to cook for about 20 minutes, until the apple is soft and pulpy.
Meanwhile, wash and dry 4 jam jars and place on a baking tray, with their lids on the tray next to them. Heat in the oven to 120C for 15 minutes to sterilise them. Leave the jars in the oven until ready to use. You don’t want the jars to cool before filling them with hot jam, as this may cause them to shatter.
Once the apple is softened, pour in the sugar and stir until all the granules have dissolved. Leave to bubble for 20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes to prevent the fruit from sticking. It should start to thicken and turn sticky.
Test the jam for readiness by spooning a small amount of jam on a saucer and placing it in the fridge for 2 minutes to cool. If you are then able to run your finger through the jam, leaving a clear track, then the jam is ready. If not, then allow to cook for a few minutes more before repeating the test.
Once ready, remove the jam from the heat and take out the bag of elderflower heads. Place the bag in a sieve and use a spoon to squeeze any remaining flavoured juice back into the jam, stir.
Take the jam jars out of the oven and use a ladle to divide the hot jam between the jars, filling right to the top. Be careful as the jam will be extremely hot!
Screw the lids on tightly, wearing rubber gloves to protect your hands from the heat and to give you a good grip. Leave the jars to cool completely at room temperature before storing in a cool dark place until required. The seal button in the lids will suddenly click back down as the jam cools when a vacuum is created within the jar. They will give a loud ‘pop’ when this happens, so don’t be alarmed.
Once open, store in the fridge.
Makes 3 – 4 jars of jam.