25 May 2016

Elderflower Glory

It is claimed that the oldest memory trigger is smell. One particular example of that experience in my life is everytime I walk by a blossoming elder bush (Sambucus nigra), in Spring. It reignites a nostalgic journey down memory lane. Not only does the sight of this old-fashioned hedgerow favourite and its tiny off-white flower clusters (corymbs) get my full attention but so does the delicate honeydew-like aroma that pervades! Watching with the eyes gets superseded by watching with the nose!

I get closer and bury my nose in the lacy inflorescence and the sweet balmy jasmine-like aroma envelops me into a comforting embrace and transports me back to my childhood days, when my friends and I used to venture on the edge of our small housing estate, eastbound of a sunken path that used to wind down past a bosquet and remnants of pasture and orchard, a surviving testimony of the countryside that was being fragmented into suburbia as my hometown of Saint-Quentin was expanding.

Back then, you could still notice those vestiges of mature, bucolic cottage gardens that were standing still in their semi-neglected state, rife for development in what had become an encompassing suburbia, yet still within walking distance from the countryside. And my most vivid memory is that hedge of closely-knit elder bushes that thrived on an elevation, our perfect adventure ground, vantage outpost and hiding place as kids. We loved it when the bushes were blossoming, less so after the flowers had wilted, and their swollen bases had turned into those clothes-staining dark berries!

Later, life took each of us kids down its wondrous and less wondrous ways, and off a tangent from those dreams and ambitions we had woven under the comforting canopy of those elder bushes. With higher education, relationships, marriage, family commitments, work, milestone achievements, celebrations, and some disillusions, losses and dramas along the way.

I moved 300 miles away from home to University. Then I moved to England. When I did come back to Saint-Quentin a handful of times a year, it was with joy and a pinch in my heart, always to witness things that used to be and were no more, people who used to be and were now gone. One day, I drove down the road and the land where the elder bushes once stood had been flattened. And in their place stood a rendered breeze-block wall that hedged a newly-built property. And that flattened landmark at that very moment defined in my mind the joylessness - and flatness - of suburbia.

Elderflower Cordial by Things {We] Make

Many years later, I found myself reacquainted with elderflower, this time in Britain, my country of adoption. I got to taste their fabulous elderflower cordial, the drink that I have been fondly associating with Albion ever since. Smell might be the oldest memory trigger but sight and taste are a close second!

Elderflower-scented Custard Tart by Belvoir Fruit Farms

P.S: Take the proverbial pinch of salt and read the fun elderflower facts compiled by Belvoir Fruit Farms.

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