Late spring brings elderflower. Every year my Mum makes countless bottles of elderflower cordial, but the fact she is annoyingly generous with it and always giving away bottles to people combined with my family unrestrained greed for it means that our supplies rarely last until the autumn, but it does sustain us through the long and lazy hot summer days. Whilst elderflower is making a seasonal appearance in this post, it is mint that takes centre stage…Ovid reveals the origin of mint with a reference to the story of the nymph Menthe in the lamentation of Venus before she transforms her beloved dying Adonis into an anemone:
Persephone, you were allowed to alter a woman’s body, Menthe’s, into fragrant mint: shall the transformation of my hero, of the blood of Cinyras, be grudged to me?
– Metamorphoses 10.728
According to Strabo, Menthe was a Cocythian nymph who was seduced by Hades, only to be discovered by his wife, Persephone who trampled her underfoot as she transformed into the pungent herb, mint. As well as being used in funerary rites, mint was an essential element of kykeon, the drink used by initiates in the Eleusian Mysteries (you can pop over to Circe’s Kitchen for the kykeon recipe). Because of its numerous gastronomic and medicinal properties as well as its use in ritual, mint was a favourite herb in the Roman garden and remained a popular garden herb in the Italian Renaissance.
For Scappi, mint wasn’t just to be used as a flavouring or accompaniment to dishes, but as a food in its own right, the case for which is proved by his fritters recipe:
To prepare fritters.
Get a pound of fine flour, two ounces of cooled melted butter, two ounces of sugar, two ounces of rosewater, a little saffron, salt, eight eggs and a beaker of goat’s milk, with all that make up a batter like well beaten glue. Let it sit in the same pot in a warm place for a quarter of an hour. Beat it again. Make fritters of it in the way described above. In that mixture you can put elderflower or mint and marjoram.
– The Opera of Bartolomeo Scappi, Book V, Recipe 137
25g melted butter
splash goat’s milk
5 elderflower heads*
5 mint stems
oil for frying
* elderflower usually blooms from the end of May to mid June (depending on the weather) – the flower heads should be collected fresh when the buds have just opened and no bitter smell can be detected
- Heat some oil in a frying pan
- Rinse the elderflower heads and trim the stems, but leave them long enough to hold whilst frying
- Combine the flour, melted butter, sugar, milk, rosewater and saffron and beat together until it forms a batter, then fold a beaten egg white into the mixture
- Dip the elderflower heads one-by-one into the batter and hold by the stem in the oil
- Fry until the batter is crisp and golden, then immediately dip into caster sugar and place on a piece of kitchen roll
I REALLY loved these, they were unlike anything I’ve ever tasted before and the only thing I can compare them with is the crispy fried texture of churros, but with a wonderfully aromatic hit. The cool, freshness of the mint worked so well in the warm, crunchy batter and the leaves darkened to a rich green as they fried and crystallized beautifully. I was worried the frying would cause the delicate taste of the elderflower to be lost, but if anything it preserved it and the gently floral, aromatic flavour complimented the crisp sweetness of the fried batter perfectly.
I really recommend people try these – they are so simple to make, plus they look and taste truly fantastic!