Quickly, before all the elderflowers are gone!
Unfortunately, the weather may be against us. Rain is no good for elderflower gathering. Apart from the obvious issues with soggy nettles and shoe-stealing mud puddles, the pollen is what gives elderflower cordial its lovely scent and flavour, and this doesn’t last well in a downpour.
If we are graced with a sunny afternoon in the next few weeks, though, I really recommend an elderflower-hunting expedition. Take a bag, and some sturdy scissors, and maybe wear wellies as well if you’re going on the more rural, nettle-rich kind of route. It’s a lovely way to spend an hour or so, and homemade elderflower cordial is so far from the kind you buy in the shops that it’s definitely worth the tiny amount of effort needed.
Recipe after the jump.
You’ll find that this recipe is a lot less harsh-tasting than commercially made cordial (and a lot of homemade ones, too) – this is because it doesn’t include citric acid, which is usually used as a preservative. This means that it’s several times more delicious, but also that you’ll need to keep your opened bottle in the fridge and the rest in the freezer. Trust me, it’s worth it.
Regarding elderflowers: as with all these things, make sure you know what you’re after (take a picture with you if you’re not sure), and go for fresh, good-looking flowers with a lot of their creamy pollen still attached. Pale, faded ones won’t taste so nice.
The recipe’s from John’s mum, and makes just over 2 litres.
20-30 heads of elderflower
zest of 2 lemons and 1 orange
up to 1.5kg granulated or caster sugar
up to 200ml lemon juice (3-5 lemons’ worth)
Gently shake the insects off the elderflowers, put them into a large bowl with the orange and lemon zest and cover with 1.5-2l of boiling water, however much is needed.
Leave for at least 4 hours, or overnight, then strain into a large saucepan through muslin, cotton, a pair of tights – anything will do, so long as it’s clean (I’d probably choose tights I hadn’t worn yet, though, you know).
For every 500ml liquid* add 350g sugar and 50ml lemon juice, then heat gently to dissolve the sugar. Bring the liquid to a gentle simmer, then let it cool and strain again through muslin into clean bottles. Remember to leave a few centimetres at the top of the bottles you’re going to freeze.
Dilute 5:1, or add a splash to a gin and tonic.
*I measure this by weighing the empty saucepan, then weighing it again once filled – 500ml = 500g – but you can strain into a measuring jug then empty into your saucepan if you prefer.