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.
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.