Last night as I walked the dog I caught the unmistakeable scent of ripening elderflowers. It’s that time of year again when I prepare to make elderflower cordial. I love the fresh summer taste which makes a great substitute for wine or pimped up with a splash of vodka.
This post is an urban guide to making elderflower cordial based on Jane Hornby’s recipe (BBC Good Food). It’s one that I repost annually at the end of May but this year I have a little warning. When you pick too many elderflowers it leaves nothing to turn into berries for birds later in the year. By all means take from nature’s bounty but please leave plenty for others.
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! First you need unwaxed lemons. Ordinary waxed lemons are 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 purchasing citric acid. The original recipe suggests buying it at a chemist. Pharmacies no longer sell it in my neck of the woods because it’s used to cut drugs. Mmm. No wonder my innocent enquiries were mer with suspicion. In the end I bought it from the Indian emporium that is Taj Stores in Brick Lane. You can also buy it from the less exotic Wilko.
Last, and it’s essential, elderflower cordial requires beautiful, open and ripe flowers. 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. Pick them away from pollution and traffic fumes. Leave anything out of reach for the birds.
You will need a very big pan, 3 litres worth of glass bottles with tops or stoppers and a funnel.
I borrowed a huge pan from the local pub and picked flowers in the park on the way home.
Steeping the flowers
Put the sugar and 1.5 litres of cold water into the pan. Heat slowly, without boiling, until the sugar dissolves giving an occasional stir. It will take longer than you think. Meanwhile peel the rind off the lemons and slice them into rounds. Fill a sink with cold water and swish the flower heads around to remove bugs. Don’t worry if a few insects remain – you will strain them out later.
Infuse the sugar syrup with lemon, citric acid and elderflowers for 24 hours
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.
Straining the Elderflower Cordial
Sterilise the bottles. You can do this by running them through the dishwasher or washing in hot water, rinsing and drying in a warm oven. Remember to let them cool before handling.
Place a colander over a large jug and line it with a clean tea towel or fine muslin cloth as a filter. Ladle the syrup into the colander and let it strain through. Once you’ve 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 to strain all the syrup. Squeeze out every last precious drop and throw the remaining mess into the compost. That’s it!
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 made a few fancy labels and tied them round bottles with raffia to make gifts. The first was a gift to the pub who loaned the pan!
Is it as good as shop-bought elderflower cordial? It’s better – so fresh and delicious, it’s the essence of summer. But you will only know how good it tastes if you have a go yourself…