The elder flowers are in bloom, it took a while but the large creamy-white blossoms are ripe for the picking. For the past few weeks I’ve been passing by, looking in anticipation at the large bushes near my home, waiting for the right moment. The moment when I could harvest these wonderfully aromatic flowers to make my favorite summer beverage – elderflower cordial. Summer just wouldn’t be complete without a long cool glass of this refreshing drink. So this year I got my self organized and set about making my own.
Two glorious weeks of sunshine, blue skies and warm weather has marked the start of summer. Unfortunately, here in Holland it never lasts for long. So pruning shears in hand, I set out to pick my elderflowers before the rain clouds returned. Elderflowers must be gathered on a warm sunny day, as it’s the powdery pollen on the flowers that gives the cordial its flavor. It’s also worth giving the flowers a good sniff and only select the most fragrant blooms. It may seem odd, but the aroma of the flowers can vary from tree to tree, so be selective. Although the berries and flowers are edible, the leaves and stems are not: apart from tasting awful, they’re also toxic. Lastly, don’t plunder the bushes; be sure to leave enough flowers to grow into berries, particularly if you’re planning to make some elderberry wine in the autumn. Thirty large flowers will be more than enough to make a liter of cordial.
This recipe is based on Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s from the ‘River Cottage’ books. It’s sharp, lemony and makes a truly thirst-quenching drink. You can adjust it to your own taste by adding more or less sugar. The cordial will keep for several weeks as is. If you want to keep it for longer add some citric acid and sterilise the bottles, or pour into plastic bottles and store in the freezer. Serve the cordial, diluted with ice-cold sparkling or still water, as a summer refresher – or mix with sparkling wine or Champagne for a boozy alternative.
Tip:River Cottage Elderflower Champagne click here for the recipe.
Makes approximately 1.5 liters
About 30 elderflower heads
Finely grated zest of 3 unwaxed lemons and 1 orange, plus their juice (about 150ml in total)
1.5 liters of water
1kg unrefined cane sugar
1 heaped tsp citric acid (optional)
1. Check the elderflower’s carefully for insects. Place the flower heads in a large bowl together with the orange and lemon zest.
Bring 1.5 litres water to the boil and pour over the elderflowers and citrus zest. Cover and leave overnight to infuse.
2. Strain the liquid ideally through a piece of muslin (however I managed with a fine chinois sieve) and pour into a saucepan. Add the sugar, the lemon and orange juice and the citric acid (if using).
3. Heat gently to dissolve the sugar, then bring to a simmer and cook for a couple of minutes.
4. Use a funnel to pour the hot syrup into sterilised bottles. Seal the bottles with swing-top lids, sterilised screw-tops or corks.