Sweet and fair, she craves not Spring for herself alone,
To be the harbinger of Spring she is content.
When the mountain flowers are in full bloom
She will smile mingling in their midst.
As a prairie ex-pat, the early spring blossoms of the Pacific Northwest never fail to amaze me. Flowers in February? Madness! The first trees to burst into blossom are the plum trees—wild, cultivated and ornamental alike. The plum blossom is one of the most important emblems of the Chinese New Year. Because it blooms at winter’s end, often among frost and snow, it symbolizes perseverance, endurance and rebirth. Plum Blossom is the only flower in the “Three Friends in the Cold”(岁寒三友:Sui Han San You) along with Bamboo and Pine Tree. These three plants are highly praised in Chinese literature and arts as three friends who gracefully survive and thrive in the winter.(source)
More delicate than the showy pink puffs of the soon-to-burst cherry trees, the flowering plum is almost ethereal with her pale, fragrant finery. And how about that fragrance? If you haven’t stood under blooming plum tree at dusk…well, you should make it a point to do so! Of course, any time of day will do. Plum blossoms warmed by the midday sun are a sensory sensation. But for me, the plum tree reigns over the in between time—between night and day, between winter and spring. That’s when you’ll find me under her boughs, inhaling greedily, dreaming of ways to preserve her springtime magic.
And I’m happy to report that not only can you capture that heady scent in a bottle—you can drink it, too! Yup. A plum blossom cordial is simple to make and can be used in all kinds of recipes to impart that gossamery flavour of spring. And yes, you can taste gossamer. You’ll see.
First, collect your plum blossoms. They’re fairly easy to identify. The shape/profile of the tree is roundish and the bark is dark. Plum blossoms can be pink (with purple leaves) or white (with green leaves) and have smooth oval petals. The buds are round with only one blossom coming out of each bud sticking straight out from the branches on a short thin stem. The blossoms are plentiful, but take only what you need. Bees rely on the gorgeous nectar as one of the first foods of the season.
Snip the blossoms into a measuring cup, taking care to avoid adding leaves which contain trace amounts of the toxin which produces cyanide. A nibble won’t kill you, but excess consumption could be harmful. Two cups of loosely packed blossoms will get you about a cup of syrup.
Plum Blossom Cordial
2 cups of plum blossoms loosely packed (ornamental, wild or cultivated)
1 cup organic cane sugar
1 cup water
In a small heavy saucepan, combine sugar and water. Stir sugar and water over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Increase the heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer 3 minutes.
Remove the syrup from the stovetop and allow it to cool a bit. I let it cool to hot but not boiling. Say, cuppa tea hot.
Pour the cuppa-tea-hot syrup over the blossoms and cover with a cloth. Now, if you’re using the pink blossoms wit purple leaves you can let the blossom steep for an hour and taste. I find that the pink blossoms get a little bitter if they infuse for too long. While the last batch I made with wild plum blossoms (white with green leaves) I left overnight with no bitterness. Play with it a bit. When you like the flavour, it’s ready to strain.
Pour the blossoms and syrup through a cheesecloth lined colander into a measuring cup. Now, if you don’t care about clarity, you’re good to go. I like to add vodka to my cordial and like it to be as clear as possible. So, I heat my plum blossom syrup gently until warm and then strain through a coffee filter-lined funnel into the bottle I plan to store it in.
The syrup will keep in the fridge for at least 2 weeks. Add it to sparkling water or vodka for a positively ethereal beverage or use the syrup to flavour everything from marshmallows to meringues. Oh, the gossamery goodness of it all!
*To make a plum blossom liqueur, stuff blossoms into a mason jar and fill with vodka to cover. Seal and store in a dark place for a couple of days. Strain and combine equal amounts plain (or even plum blossom) sugar syrup and infused vodka. Pour into a bottle and share it with your very favourite visitors.