Gloriously sunny weather continues in the UK and the garden is giving back. Elderflowers are in full bloom but they aren’t around for long and there’s just a small window of opportunity to pick them at their best. I’m ashamed to admit when I planted mine, I didn’t realise it was an elder. Only after a parent fail during which one of my then toddlers announced that she’d eaten some berries, did I discover that the worst a few uncooked elderberries were likely to cause is a mild tummy ache. What a relief! However, when cooked, the elderberries and flowers are in fact edible and delicious, even having reported medicinal properties.
Mine is a variety with pink buds that open up to delicate lacy flowers that turn whiter before developing into berries. They give a gorgeous colour cordial – but the method is the same if you are foraging for white elderflower common in UK hedgerows. There’s plenty of similar recipes out there but after a few years of tweaking, this is what works for me.
First of all, some picking advice:
- Check your variety is edible. Some are mildly toxic or have a less desirable flavour. Varieties of Sambucus Nigra which is the common native elder are generally used for cordial.
- Avoid roadside bushes that may have higher levels of toxins from exhaust fumes.
- Folklore says that you should ask permission from the bush to pick from her. You should probably ask the owner of the bush too!
- You want the stems that have freshly flowered. If there are any dry-looking brownish tinges at all, leave these for elderberry recipes later in the year.
- Pick on a dry day, preferably in the late morning when dew is gone but it still has best aroma and fewer bugs.
- Be ready to use elderflowers straight away as they don’t store well.
Planning on making about 3 litres, I picked about 40 flower heads. It may seem a lot but this means you need less cordial (therefore sugar) to get that distinctive musky floral flavour. You’ll also need:
- 2.5kg White Sugar
- 2 or 4 Lemons*
- 50g Citric Acid (optional)*
- Empty Bottles
- Bottle Cleaner & Sterilizer
- Large Pan (I used my 9 litre jam pan)
- Straining Bag or Sieve
- Strainer Funnel
*Citric acid is a preservative found naturally in many fruits. It also balances the sweetness. I always use it and would recommend it if you’re giving cordial as a gift to make it longer lasting. If you intend to drink your cordial within a month though, you can get away without it if you are really careful with your sterlilising. Also use 4 rather than 2 lemons.
I found what I needed in Wilko’s Home Brewing section fairly cheaply. You might also find citric acid in pharmacies and health food shops. Be clear what you want it for though as you might get questioned if you look like you’ve had a hard day and they suspect it’s for dubious purposes!
Heat 2.5kg white sugar together with 1.5 litres of cold water very gently in your large pan. Stir occasionally until the sugar dissolves then remove from the heat. Don’t let it boil.
Meanwhile, plunge the elderflower heads into a sink of cold water and give them a gentle shake to remove any dust and little bugs. You might need to do this in two batches. Snip all but the thinnest stems off as you drop the elderflowers into the pan.
Pare the lemon rind, slice the rest and add to the pan with the citric acid.
Pack it all in, give it a stir, then cover with a clean tea towel and leave it all to infuse for a day or two.When you’re ready to bottle up, sterilize any bottles and tops. Stir the powder into a clean sink full of cold water, submerge the bottles for 10 minutes until the powder has risen to the surface then rinse the bottles. I also dried them by standing them in a deep baking tray and putting them in a cool oven for 20 minutes.
Strain the cordial through a jelly bag or sieve into a clean pouring pan or jug. If you’re using a sieve, you might need to repeat this. This sticky part is always easier with an extra pair of hands!Funnel the cordial into the sterilized bottles and admire!Label up your bottles. Last Christmas I received LG Pocket Photo Zink Printer and I had the idea to use it to print my labels onto 2×3″ stickers. I intended to stick them onto plain tags to hang around the neck but discovered they stick directly to glass really well. Using the LG Pocket Photo App you can format and add text to your photo before printing too. I’m really pleased with how they turned out. It’s not a cheap way to label but it does make them look more special if you are giving them as a gift.The cordial really is delicious. I find it really refreshing with sparkling water. Even better, last night we enjoyed a splash in a G & T which was a lovely reward on a warm summer’s evening after a day working in the garden. Apparently both gin and elderflower are good for reducing hay fever symptoms as well. Ooh I’d better pour another!I don’t expect it to last long, but for me, like strawberries and cream, it really is the taste of summer.