The essence of an early English summer – elderflower. That warm floral scent entwined with sunny days and the sound of birds singing their praises. Creamy foamy bunches of tiny flowers covered in clouds of yellow pollen release their sweet aromatic fragrance, attracting insects and people alike. And the cordial captures it all. Sweet, scented with highly floral notes from the plant. Zingy and refreshing with citrusy background. Thirst quenching. My all time favourite.
Elderflowers grow freely throughout the country, often on wastelands, in hedgerows along lanes, on meadows edges, in our back gardens. They are in abundance and plentifully available to foragers. But there are few important things to remember:
- make sure you are not trespassing and you have a permission of a private landowner before picking the flowers
- choose trees that are away from busy roads and ones that you like the scent, you’ll get to know the good trees by their smell
- pick the flowers on a warm, sunny and dry day, never when it’s wet
- handle the flowers carefully as not to lose their fragrant pollen and use a canvas bag or a basket to carry them home in
- always leave plenty of flowers on the tree to be turned into berries
- whilst flowers are perfectly safe to use, the stalks and leaves are highly toxic and must be discarded and not used
Choose the right day carefully for foraging, always when you have time as the best cordial is made with freshly picked flowers, preferably few hours old. Sunshine means they will be highly fragrant and dry thus full of perfume. Choose flowers that are bright and freshly opened, some buds may even be still closed, that is okay. Snip the bunches off with a pair of scissors or secateurs and gently place them upright in your bag or basket. Be carefully not to snap any of the branches.
Once home, carefully inspect the flowers for any insects and remove these. Make sure you also discard any brown flowers although if you picked fresh buds, there shouldn’t be any. I have seen recipes that call for the elderflower to be washed – I don’t bother as my method ensures there are no impurities in the final syrup. I also use plenty of lemon as I like the contrasting sharpness of the citrus. The method I use ensures really fragrant cordial that preserves most of the flavour and results in a syrup that is rich, clear and almost deep amber in colour. Here is my recipe.
- 25 heads of freshly picked elderflowers
- 1.5 litres of water
- 4 medium size lemons, unwaxed
- 1.5kg of white sugar
- 85 grams of citric acid
You will also need a large bowl, four x 1 litre preserving bottles as well as a pouring jug or a funnel. A muslin sheet and a sieve will also be needed.
Start by preparing the elderflower. Snip the flowers off their stalks and place in a large bowl. Remove the peel from 3 lemons and add it to the flowers saving the lemons for later. Slice the last lemon and also place it in the bowl.
Bring a kettle up to boil and once boiling, pour 1.5 litres of boiling water over the lemon peel, lemon slices and elderflowers. Make sure all flowers are fully submerged. Cover the bowl with a clean tea towel and leave the mixture to steep for 24 hours at a room temperature.
The following day make the cordial. Prepare your bottles by washing them in a hot soapy water or a dishwasher and dry them in a low oven turned to 130 degrees Celsius for about 30 minutes whilst you prepare the syrup.
Start by boiling a kettle again and scald a muslin lined sieve with the boiling water. Place the sieve over a large pan and carefully pour in the steeping liquid, flowers and all. Let it drain for few minutes before discarding the remaining solids from the sieve. Do not squeeze the contents as you will end up with a cloudy cordial.
Add the sugar and citric acid to the liquid. Squeeze the juice from the remaining 3 lemons and add it also. Now place the pan over a medium heat and whilst stirring slowly bring it up to the boil. All of the sugar should have dissolved by now so let the cordial simmer for a few minutes whilst you remove your bottles from the oven.
Once the liquid has simmered for five minutes or so, carefully pour it into the sterilised bottles either by using a jug or a pouring funnel. Close the cap on each one of the bottles carefully as they will be very hot. The cordial is now ready to be stored somewhere dark and cool for up to 6 weeks – I keep mine in the fridge.
Alternatively you could can the bottles to preserve the cordial for up to four months. Place a tea towel on the bottom of a very large pan filled with warm water – this will ensure your bottles will not crack. Place the sealed bottles into the water bath ensuring they are fully submerged and put the pan onto the heat. Bring the pan up to a boil and keep it there for 20 minutes. Turn the heat off and leave the bottles in the water for further 10 minutes or so before carefully removing. Cool down and store somewhere dark and cool for few months.
Dont have space to store the bottles on a shelf? You can freeze the cordial in plastic bottles instead. Pour it into clean plastic bottles ensuring you leave plenty of space in the bottle for the syrup to expand as it freezes. Place bottles in the freezer and thaw out as and when required throughout the year.
Serve the cordial diluted with water to your taste – I like it with 1 part of syrup to 4 parts of water. Add a slice of fresh lemon and ice on a hot day.
There are many ways to use the cordial. Here are few of my favourite ones.
Add the syrup to some flute glasses and top up with a prosecco or champagne to get your summer party started. Drizzle the cordial over a simple fruit salad to give it some umpth. Use it in icing over cakes and cupcakes.
However you choose to have it, I hope you enjoy it as much as I do right from the point of foraging for the scented flowers through to the final fragrant cordial.