The delicate scent of Elderflower is very British and always reminds me of picnics and fêtes, then there’s the taste, floral but honey-sweet, as a drink it’s the taste of summer in a glass, perfect on a sunny day with iced or sparkling water. I like it added to sparkling wine.
Elderflower cordial is really easy to make and a refreshing summer drink, yet it can also be used in many desserts, cakes and ice cream. But first you’ll need to get outdoors and gather yourself some free ingredients. Elder is often seen as a weed, cropping up everywhere especially in hedgerows, so it shouldn’t be hard to find enough flowers for a bottle or two of cordial.
It’s best to gather flowers on a sunny morning and they’re perfect right now but it’s been a wet weekend here in the Midlands. But at last I’ve managed to collect a bag of sweet-smelling flowers. Pick the newly opened flowers while they’re still a yellowish cream and just open so they’re nectar-rich. As they mature the flowers fade to white, then go brown and fall. Picking when the sun’s on them in the morning Will mean the flowers are dry but still fresh with nectar. Don’t be tempted by plants on road verges as they may have been affected by car fumes.
Foraging can be a great family activity and you can even make a few pounds by selling their harvest. If you’re picking in an area local to the Belvoir Fruit Farm you can take spare flowers along and get paid for them, you won’t get a lot but it’s a fun way to top up the pocket money. The Belvoir Farm crew will then turn your flowers into one of their lovely cordials. (Belvoir Fruit Farm Bottesford, Mon-Sat 3-6.30pm or Sacrewell Farm & Country Centre on the A47, Mon-Fri 4-5pm throughout June).
To make Elderflower cordial
I like Mary Berry’s recipe:
25 freshly picked flower heads
1 1/2 litres of boiling water
1 1/2 kilo of caster sugar
50g citric acid
2 Campden tablets (optional but will make syrup keep longer)
2 or 3 unwaxed lemons – sliced ( I like to grate or peel and add this too)
I generally just shake the flowerheads and check there are no insects hiding in them first (I don’t rinse them).
Next pour the boiling water onto the sugar and stir to dissolve it. Leave to cool slightly.
Grate or use a potato peeler to peel the fruit and add the peel to the solution along with the lemon slices,stir in the flowers then add the citric acid and Campden tablets. Cover with a clean tea towel and leave in a cool place for 24-48 hours. Strain into sterilised bottles.
It should keep in the fridge for a few weeks (longer if Campden tablets are used) but you can freeze it in plastic bottles – leave room for it to expand and then keep in the freezer for a year or so.
I’ve seen recipes where the flowers are added first, but if you pour the boiling water onto the flowers it burns them and they turn brown. You can freeze any spare flower heads in plastic bags just as they are. Then when you want to make more simply drop the crunchy frozen flowers straight into the dissolved syrup solution.
The large, flat white flower heads can also be used to make fritters, jam, and ‘country champagne’.