I love elderflower cordial. I drink it ice cold with sparkling water and mint for a refreshing pick-me up in the heat of summer and add a splash of vodka to perk it up come evening. It’s also a great substitute for wine when I feel I need to lay-off drink for a night or two. Surrounded by parks full of elderflowers trees in full bloom I decided to channel my inner Martha Stewart and make my own elderflower cordial.
I didn’t get off to a good start. I planned to make it over the bank holiday weekend but failed to purchase citric acid in advance and had to admit defeat after trying every chemist and supermarket in Islington. Realising that there was a bit more planning needed I decided to flesh-out Jane Hornby’s recipe (BBC Good Food) and post about my own experience – an urban guide to elderflower cordial.
2½ kg granulated white sugar
3 unwaxed lemons (the original recipe said 2 but I like mine sharper)
20 fresh elderflower heads
85g citric acid
This list of ingredients sounds simple enough – but beware! Firstly you need to make sure the lemons are unwaxed. If you buy ordinary lemons they will probably be waxed and this makes then impossible to peel with a swivel peeler. I know because I took off a nice slice of finger trying to do just that. Posh supermarkets like Waitrose sell unwaxed lemons.
Next problem was the citric acid which the original recipe indicates can be purchased at a chemist. Pharmacies no longer sell it in my neck of the woods because it’s used to cut drugs. Mmm. I presume that my innocent enquiries were considered suspicious enough to be assessed as Breaking Bad material. In the end I bought mine from the Indian emporium that is Taj Stores in Brick Lane and you can also buy it from the less exotic Wilko.
Lastly, and most essentially, you need beautifully open and ripe elderflowers. Depending on the weather they will be at their best in late May and early June. I picked mine in the evening after a hot day and the smell was divine, rich and ripe. I found a park sheltered from traffic fumes where the elderflowers were more like bushes and therefore easier to reach. Some of the bigger trees require a step ladder (or very high heels) – so do a recce first and go prepared.
You will also need a very big pan, 3 litres worth of glass bottles with tops or stoppers and a funnel.
Put the sugar and 1.5 litres of cold water into the pan and gently heat, without boiling, until the sugar has dissolved. Stir occasionally. It will take longer than you think to dissolve so meanwhile peel the rind off the lemons then slice them into rounds. Fill a sink with cold water and swish the flower heads around to remove bugs. Don’t worry that a few insects remain – they will be strained out later.
Once the sugar has dissolved, bring the pan of syrup to the boil, then turn off the heat. Put the lemon (rind and slices) into the hot syrup along with the citric acid and the elderflower heads. Stir well, then cover the pan and leave to infuse for 24 hours.
Sterilise the bottles – either run them through the dishwasher or wash them in hot water, rinse and dry in a warm oven. Remember to let them cool slightly before handling.
Place a colander over a large jug and line it with a clean tea towel or fine muslin cloth to filter the syrup. Ladle the syrup into the colander and let it strain through slowly through the filter. Once you have filled a jug use the funnel to pour the contents into the bottles and seal. You’ll have to do this in a few batches until all the syrup is strained. Squeeze out every last precious drop and throw away the used contents. That’s it!
The elderflower cordial can be drunk straight away and it will keep in the fridge for up to six weeks. You can also freeze it in ice cube trays and pop a cube into a glass of wine or sparkling water. I wrote out a few fancy labels and tied them round bottles with raffia ribbons to hand out as gifts – the first will be to the pub where I borrowed the pan!