Cherry blossoms of any variety – ‘ornamental’ as well as ‘eating’ – can be infused in boiling water to make a fragrant, almond-flavoured liquid which, when sweetened and soured with lemon juice (or citric acid if you want to store it for longer than a month) can be used as the basis for refreshing summer drinks – or to trickle over a creamy dessert, soak a sponge cake or flavour a sorbet.
To prepare, pick the blossoms on a dry day, including their little bunches of stalk. Shake out any insects and place the blossoms, stalks and all, in a roomy bowl. Cover generously with boiling water, leave to cool, then strain, sweeten and use as cordial.
A degree of almondy bitterness – more marked in some varieties than others, but particularly in the gean, our original wild cherry – makes for a more sophisticated flavour than that of its more famous cousin, elderflower.
Including the stalks, the source of most of the flavour (the flowers deliver the fragrance), tints the liquid a pretty pink. Add a splash of undiluted cordial to a vinaigrette for a salad of mustardy leaves, or use it as the soaking liquid for a fruit salad, or pour over ice and dilute with fizzy water.
The blossoms can be candied like rose petals: separate out the blooms, dip in forked-up egg white diluted with a little water, dust through caster sugar, spread on a rack to dry and use on the day they’re made.
Young leaves can be added to the salad bowl, as can the petals. Sweet cherries – geans, or eating cherries – are descendants of Prunus avium, ancestor of all our eating cherries. They dislike cold and damp but thrive in a temperate climate, while the hardier Prunus cerasus, ancestor of the sour, or cooking, cherry, fruits happily as far north as the Arctic Circle.