Sweet, vanilla, and peppery. Rodger Lenhardt used this odd combination of flavors to describe the tasting experience of elderflower. He explained that elderflower “makes a drink that is like no other.” To understand this fragrant and delectable flower more, I spoke with Rodger about the harvesting and drying process and future elderflower products.
The Harvesting Process
In June 2014, Rodger returned to the family farm in Missouri for eight days to harvest the blooming elderflowers. The harvesting process is not a mere walk through the fields plucking flowers from their stems. Elderflowers can only be harvested during an eight-week period, contributing to their mystique. Once the 2014 harvest runs out, those flowers are gone for good. Rodger compared this limited quantity to a vintage wine. Besides their fleeting presence, elderflowers are delicate, growing in clusters of thousands of tiny blooms. To collect the elderflower requires both hands – one to carefully clasp the blooms and the other to snip the cluster free.
This hand harvesting takes days. Thankfully Rodger and his collecting compatriots devised a method to free both their hands to carefully collect the delicate flower clusters. Using flowerpots with the bottoms cut out attached to pillowcases and lined with easy to remove garbage bags – the harvesters crafted a container for the collected elderflowers. They fastened them to their body with a strap around their neck like a stadium concessions seller hawking drinks and hot dogs. This homemade contraption allowed Rodger and the others to be hands free in order to carefully and properly harvest the elderflowers.
These ingenious harvesting containers, though made from light materials, quickly became heavy. Rodger estimated that a full garbage bag could weight about five pounds and take approximately 30 minutes to an hour to fill before exchanging it for an empty bag. Elderflowers may appear to be light, but five pounds of blooms handing around your neck continuously for hours would be exhausting.
After hours in the hot summer sun collecting the elderflower blooms, the job is far from over. Next, the elderflowers must be de-stemmed and dried out to prevent browning. “Timing is paramount,” Rodger explained. There is a 36-48 hour window in which the flowers can be de-stemmed and dried, but when you have over 100 pounds of wet elderflowers the task seems daunting.Before the drying could begin, the harvesters had to build tables of benches and screens for the flowers. These drying tables created 250 linear feet of drying space. Rodger told me there was a learning curve with this process. The idea of harvesting elderflower had been tossed around before, but actually harvesting on such a large scale was a new experience.
Elderflowers, like nothing else
In the end, the Norm’s Farms harvest yielded 15 pounds of dried elderflowers and there is no limit the product possibilities. Rodger detailed to me that Norm’s Farms intended to package two-ounce bags of the dried elderflowers for sale. This item is intended for the DIYers who want to make their own elderflower syrup, tea, etc. For those who are not so crafty, like myself, Norm’s Farms has plans to make and bottle elderflower syrup. Given the vivid description of elderflower flavor Rodger articulated, everyone will want to try this. Try Norm’s Farms Elderflower Syrup in our store.
Rodger beautifully illustrated the taste of elderflower syrup a buyer can expect. The first aroma that strikes you is citrus, as that is the base used for the syrup. Then, sweetness tickles your tongue as the syrup first encounters your taste buds. Vanilla hints come through as you move to swallow, and the peppery component surprises you as the syrup goes down your throat. Upon exhale the floral bouquet of the elderflower opens up and “finishes off that whole complex flavor of the elderflower.” With an experience that involves your sense of smell, multiple flavors and “excites the taste buds,” I’m sure we cannot help but agree with Rodger – “elderflower syrup makes a drink that is like no other.”
Overall Rodger described the harvest as “a big success.” He plans on returning to Missouri this summer to spend three more weeks harvesting elderflowers. With the planned Norm’s Farm line of elderflower products and on-going conversations with local businesses to use elderflowers in their products, another big harvest seems necessary. This unique and flavorful flower has surely excited everyone’s taste buds with anticipation this summer.
Have you harvested elderflowers? Is there an elderflower recipe you are looking forward to trying? Do you have an elderflower recipe you would like to share? Send your elderflower stories to firstname.lastname@example.org.