I love the foamy, scented flowers of elder but on balance, I probably love them more when they’re made into a fragrant summer drink.
Of course you can buy commercially made elderflower cordial, but if you’ve got a spare hour or two and you enjoy foraging in the hedgerows, nothing beats making your own.
This recipe comes from John Wright’s excellent Hedgerow, one of the River Cottage Handbooks. Serious foragers may like to have a look at the courses he offers through his website, wild-food.net. I’d love to go on one of his wild mushrooms forays, especially as last time I picked some mushrooms they turned out to be Yellow Stainers. And no, I didn’t eat them.
A few notes on preservatives: this recipe contains enough sugar for the cordial to last for several months without additions, but if you don’t want it to go mouldy if you’re keeping it for longer, you might want to either heat-treat it or add a bit of Campden tablet.
Campden tablets contain sulphur dioxide and some people react badly to it, but if you add some to this recipe John says the quantities are very diluted and considerably less than that found in many wines.
Campden tablets and citric acid are available from home-brewing shops and online.
To heat-treat, put the cordial into swing-top bottles, put the full bottles, stoppers in place, into a large pan of water, cover with a tea towel to keep the hot water vapour in and heat to about 80C for 30 minutes. If you put an old tea towel in the base of the pan, it stops the bottom of the bottles from overheating.
Blossom from 30 elderflower heads, stripped from the stems with a fork
3 unwaxed lemons (or scrub waxed ones under the tap)
1.3 litres of water
2kg granulated sugar
75g citric acid (or tartaric acid, which is a bit less sharp)
1/2 Campden tablet (optional)
Give the elderflowers a good shake before stripping from the stems – earwigs seem to have an affinity for them.
Zest the lemons and squeeze the juice. Put both into your biggest bowl and add the flowers.
Bring the water to the boil in a large saucepan, turn off the heat, add the sugar and stir until dissolved. Leave to cool for 10 minutes.
Pour the warm syrup over the lemons and elderflowers and stir in the citric or tartaric acid.
If you’re using Campden tablets, add half a tablet now. Cover and leave for 24 hours. Give the mixture a stir, then strain through a sieve lined with a sterilised muslin cloth and decant into sterilised bottles.
Lovely diluted as a summer drink or used in a series of desserts – check out the elderflower pannacotta here.