A Short Story of Elderflower Picking

Elderflower Vinegar drizzled on fresh strawberries and Strawberry Ice Cream

A Short Story of Elderflower Picking

We now stock 3 products that use elderflower, an Elderflower Vinegar, an Elderflower Vodka Liqueur and an Elderflower Cordial. However, it was as a result of demand for our Elderflower Vinegar, that was first developed along with Mrs Anne Sinclair at West Craigie Farm near Edinburgh in the Summer of 2005, that we first started picking elderflower each year. Since its introduction, Anne has continued to work her magic on many harvests of elderflower, creating our delicious flavoured vinegar which has become both a staple of our Demijohn food cupboard and a huge favourite of many of our customers the World over.

Uses for Elderflower Vinegar

Elderflower Vinegar can be used for dressing salads with olive oil or infused oils, as in our Elderflower Vinaigrette. It can be mixed with soda, ice and lemon to make a healthy soft drink and used within many inspired recipes, when baking cakes and meringues or included in cocktails such as our Lemon Weegie.

Heading for the hedgerows

By 2006, popularity for our Elderflower Vinegar had increased tremendously and we ran out of the vital ingredient needed to make enough of it. We simply needed more elderflower.

So each year since 2006 we have closed up our shops and, with nearly all our Demijohn Staff or Demijohnnies as they are known, headed to the rural hedgerows to forage for the elusive elderflower.

Our Edinburgh and Glasgow teams picking elderflower in 2012 at West Craigie Farm near Edinburgh

We have picked naturally occurring, organic elderflower, in some of the most beautiful spots imaginable. This is a short pictorial record of the many elderflower picks we have undertaken over the years. They have taken place around beautiful farmland in West Yorkshire, owned by one of our rapeseed oil producers the Kilby family, throughout historic woodlands in and around Edinburgh to the hedgerows of the famous Gleneagles Hotel in Perthshire.

Picking at Gleneagles Hotel

Our Elderflower Vinegar’s popularity increased further in 2018, when both The Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh and The Gleneagles Hotel in Perthshire decided to use it to dress salads within their restaurants. As demand increased, so supply was strained and we realised we would need a new source of elderflower.

So in the Summer of 2019, and after quite a bit of planning, we persuaded Executive Chef Richard Dalgleish and his many Kitchen Staff from The Gleneagles Hotel to allow us to plunder the hedgerows in and around the golf courses and gardens of the hotel.

Some of our York Demijohnnies picking elderflower near Wetherby in West Yorkshire in 2019

Such was the extreme nature of the event we decided to also make a film of our day, produced by ex Demijohnnie and film maker, Callum Downs, our Glasgow Shop Manager at the time. Callum’s film shown on this page, The Elderflower Pick, is a beautiful portrayal of a memorable day, capturing some of the splendour of The Gleneagles Hotel and the fun of an elderflower pick.

It is not always easy..

Arranging the annual elderflower pick has not always been easy. After a record picking year in 2019, it has been a very different story for 2020. The Summer of 2020 has been dogged by movement restrictions as a result of the Coronavirus Covid-19 Pandemic lockdown, and as a result of a very hot Spring the blossom formed early on the elder.

As a result we had to organise our annual pick in mid June, and decided to mobilise our family, rather than our team of Demijonnies from our York shop, to conduct the pick on our own farm, Glenlair, in South West Scotland.

The huge team of pickers at Gleneagles Hotel in 2019

The fruits of our labour mean we will have some Elderflower Vinegar to sell, however our picking were meagre in comparison to previous years. We therefore anticipate an early sell out during 2020 sadly.

The happy news is that we will determinedly continue to pick elderflower for our Elderflower Vinegar in the many years to come.

Such is its continued popularity, our advice is always to buy it as soon as you need it, to avoid disappointment if we sell out earlier than expected.

A Day in the life of an Elderflower Picker

A day of picking elderflower involves getting up early and being prepared for all types of weather, as it could be red hot causing everyone to suffer sunburn or so wet there is even a chance of hypothermia!

Our York team in 2017, elderflower picking in the Wharfe Valley, West Yorkshire

Long trousers and welly boots are a must, as our romantic images may show a gentle activity, but nature has decided elder should grow in areas that are normally full of angry stinging nettles and brambles.

Plenty of energetic activity and fresh air are rewarded by a generous pickers lunch. A healthy homemade selection of food including Elderflower Cake for the Pickers, and of course some of our fantastic Demijohn cocktails and mocktails to wash it all down with. It can be a lovely relaxed piece of the day.

The pick generally ends with a pickers tea during the weigh in, where we calculate how much elderflower has actually been gathered in all the many bin liners. The precious haul is then packed up and dispatched as quickly as possible to Anne’s Kitchen in Edinburgh, to be initially frozen prior to being turned into her now famous Elderflower Vinegar.

Needs must! Angus picking with his children in South West Scotland during the 2020 Coronavirus lockdown

When to pick?

Elderflower is the blossom of the native British Elder Tree and flowers generally in late June or early July in Great Britain. It can normally be picked within a 3 week window, which could be earlier or later in the Summer, depending on how far South one is picking or if we have had a very hot Spring that year. Sometimes a 6th sense, or elderflower nose, is required to gauge the optimum moment to mobilise the pickers.

Elderflower picking is more of an art therefore, than a sport. We wish you the best of luck if you too wish to head to the hedgerows and have a go at picking the elusive elderflower yourself, whether to make Elderflower Vinegar, Elderflower Vodka Liqueur, Elderflower Cordial or Elderflower Champagne.