On Picnics and Elderflowers

It was the elderflower that started it all. Last weekend, as we explored the Italian market in Philadelphia (a market which is much less a market than it is a street full of shops, and much less Italian than it is just Mexican) my friend Moe and I spotted a chalkboard across the street advertising elderflower soda. Lugging bags filled with imported flours, bulk spices, and black truffle polenta, we dragged our respective gentlemen companions into yet another store in search of one final treat. Pushing into the crowded shop, we flagged down one of the attendants who pointed us toward the bottles.

They were larger than we expected and, at $10.99 a bottle, much pricier too. Moe decided to skip it, but I was already smitten with the idea and couldn't resist. I grabbed one and then a second of the ginger soda that stood right next to it. Back home in New York, Eugene started pestering me.

"Can we have elderflower soda today?" he'd ask as we sat on the couch eating dinner in front of the television.

"No," I'd say. "Let's save it for a special occasion."

"Well can I just have a sip of it?"

"No. It'll lose all its fizz."

He'd sigh and pour himself a glass of water before trying again a couple hours later.

"You know, I'd could really go for some of that elderflower soda," he'd say casually while I worked on a post.

"Well that's just too bad now, isn't it?" I'd reply barely looking up from my screen.

Finally I conceded. "Let's plan a picnic. A romantic picnic for just us two and we'll take the elderflower soda along."

I've got to say that I've never seen Eugene so excited for a picnic.

We decided to do it on the 4th. A picnic of our own to celebrate our nation's independence. I packed a ridiculously extravagant spread of freshly baked breads (sourdough and whole wheat pecan), peppered salami, sliced prosciutto di Parma, pickles and cornichons, a small wheel of brie that I drizzled with honey and sliced almonds, a wedge of Truffle Tremor [amazing!], and some fresh figs. I also brought along a single-layer chocolate cake, a pint of fresh berries and some lightly sweetened mascarpone to dip it in. To drink, I filled a large water bottle with cucumber-infused water and layered my wine-carrying tote with ice packs. Inside I tucked a bottle of champagne and (of course!) the elderflower soda.

Off to the park we went, with our blankets and a tote filled with food. I wore a gingham dress and my new handmade straw hat (purchased spontaneously from a quirky milliner I encountered the previous afternoon as I strolled along the Upper West Side).

We settled under a willow tree just by the pond at 103rd street (my favorite Central Park picnic spot) and I arranged our food on wooden trays while Eugene cradled the bottle of elderflower soda in his hands.

"OK," I said. "Open it."

"It's probably going to be so disappointing," he said as he poured the crystal clear liquid into our cups.

Oh but it wasn't disappointing. In fact, it was wonderful. Refreshing, crisp, with light floral tones. Just a hint of sweetness and a sprightly tickle from the bubbles. Fellow St. Germain fans will recognize the similarities (minus the alcohol).

"This is so good!" we exclaimed, as we refilled our glasses and toasted. "To America," we said. "And to elderflower."

We finished the bottle much too quickly, never even bothering with the champagne. And then, after having had our fill of the food we'd brought, spread out in the sun on the lumpy ground each with a book in hand.

God bless America!


Now for the irony. This incredible soda? The one purchased in minutes from Independence Hall and sipped on the Fourth of July?

It's British! Bottled far, far away in lovely Leicestershire, England.

Which explains the $11 price tag and why it's practically impossible to find around here. Something which has made me intensely sad as I would love to drink this every day for the rest of my life. Not only that, but a quick browse through the Belvoir Fruit Farms website has me convinced that I must try every single one of their flavors. Like the "Summer Cooler," which has cucumber (!), mint (!), and geranium (!!!). Or the "Pear Elderflower" presse which I already suspect I will likely want to marry once I taste it.

Speaking of marriage, I'm now determined to hunt down a local distributor for these because I MUST SERVE THESE AT MY WEDDING. How perfect would these fit in with my whimisical vintage theme?

The research has already begun. Emails have been located and will be sent. Stay tuned as I am determined to make this happen. Until then, I'm hoarding the bottle of ginger beer until I have something to celebrate. (Let's hope it's the local arrival of that gorgeous elixir.)

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