Elderflower wine

So this recipe is shamelessly poached from my brewing guru, Basil. He is a medical herbalist, and knows pretty much everything worth knowing about making your own booze at home. More than once I’ve left his house far too wobbly to ride my bike after far too much (just enough?) elderflower wine, so I’ve decided to try the recipe for myself.

A note on brewing…

Now normally I’m keen on writing up recipes that require no specialist ingredients or equipment. It’s all very well saying that ‘this random ingredient you’ve never heard of and can’t buy ANYWHERE’ is the best thing ever, but well… you can’t buy it anywhere. However, brewing is different and does require some reasonably specialist equipment and ingredients.

You will need:

  • A fermentation bin – the best ones have a small hole in the lid for a fermentation lock
  • Fermentation lock – basically a little water chamber that lets gas escape, but doesn’t let anything get back in
  • A demijohn – a glass or heavy duty plastic jar to ferment it in
  • A hydrometer – basically a thermometer without the mercury. It measures the alcoholic potential, and then the actual alcohol produced.
  • LOADSA sterilising stuff. Sterilise everything like it’s covered in zombie virus during an outbreak of the undead.

The recipe

  • 1/2 pint of elderflowers.
  • 3 1/2lb white sugar, a little less if you don’t want it too sweet. This is like a dessert wine.
  • Zest and juice of 2 lemons.
  • A strong cup of tea (no milk!)
  • 1lb sultanas, rinsed under a kettle full of boiling water, chopped
  • Yeast nutrients are a good idea, follow the instructions on the box – usually 1 tsp per gallon
  • Wine yeast (don’t use your bread yeast… it will die off way too soon!) again usually 1 heaped tsp per gallon
  • Water to 1 gallon.

Mix all together in a fermenting bucket and add yeast. This is often referred to as ‘pitching’ the yeast.

Check with your hydrometer the alcohol potential. Bear in mind most yeast will die by 16%, super yeast may live to 18%, so you want a reading of around 1130 – 1140 for the sugar.

Ferment for 5 days then strain into a demijohn. Keep it in the demijohn until there are no more bubbles in the fermentation lock.

Have a taste, and test with the hydrometer for alcohol content, then start bottling!

Make sure that your bottles and siphon tube are fully sterilised and then begin siphoning. I tend to do this with a partner – you don’t want to drag up the sediment at the bottom, so do it slowly and carefully. Once bottled, stopper up or cork your bottles (screwtop is fine if you have them) and don’t forget to label them. It should be fairly drinkable pretty much straight away, though I would recommend keeping it for a few months, or even a year or so.

EDIT: I drank a good proportion of my elderflower wine the following New Year’s eve. The wine was delicious, I drank plenty, had a great time… and had a dreadful hangover to prove it. ‘Nuff said!

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Elderflower Cordial

It’s my guess that most people in the UK will stroll past an elderflower bush at least once on a day to day basis. It’s an absolute nuisance to get rid of (you can cut it back and basically watch it regrow) but extremely useful to the home cook and brewer. At this time of year the bushes are flowering producing strongly scented white flowers, and they are amazing for making both cordial and wine.

I have based my recipe on the BBC one by Lotte Duncan – I personally add a little less lemon and a bit more citric acid, and make it in bulk, so the recipe below is a slightly customised version!

Picking your elderflowers

Most advice is to do it on a warm, dry day. Fewer bugs about on the plant, nice dry flowers, and you can get a better whiff of the pollen to see if it is a good healthy plant. Alternatively, if like me you get dreadful hayfever, do it on a fairly miserable wet day and spare yourself the sneezing! You want to pick fresh flowers –  no buds, and no brown bits. Equally, don’t strip out each bush – you’ll want to leave some flowers for elderberries later in the year! Don’t pick them in advance – you will want to use them straight away.

A quick note on citric acid…

Citric acid is advised in most elderflower cordial. It acts as a preservative and is found naturally in citrus fruits. I personally find to get enough citric acid into the cordial to preserve it, it tastes overpoweringly lemon-y, so a tub of citric acid is very useful. Having said that – it’s a pain to get hold of. I have been reliably informed that it is used as an ingredient for class A drugs, so where it used to be easily bought from a large Boots store or chemist, it’s now much more restricted. If you’re lucky enough to have a brewing shop nearby, you should be able to buy some, but don’t be surprised if they don’t allow you to ‘stock up’! Wilkinson’s stores often stock it as well.

The recipe

Makes 9 pints cordial (if you’re not a piggy for cordial like me, then just half this!)

– 60 good-size elderflower heads

– 6 pints water

– 1.8 kilos sugar

– 4 unwaxed oranges

– 4 unwaxed lemons

– 100g citric acid

– 1 campden tablet (optional)

  • Boil up the water and add all the sugar. Stir constantly, and simmer for 5 mins. Leave to cool.
  • Gently rinse off the elderflower heads to get rid of the bugs. Then strip the flowers from the heads into a bowl. I find it’s easiest to do it with a fork.
  • Once the sugar mixture has cooled, chop up all your citrus fruit, and tip it in with the citric acid, and stir thoroughly. Add the elderflowers, and stir.
  • Leave for about 24-36 hours, and stir every few hours when you think of it.
  • Strain out the cordial through a sieve, and then squeeze the flowers for the last of the cordial. Pour into sterilised bottles. Drink it up over a few weeks, or add 1 powdered campden tablet – this should mean that it will keep somewhere cool pretty much indefinitely.

Water down the cordial to taste, and enjoy with sparkling water, lemonade, white wine, or ice cold water.