Our half-acre plot is surrounded by mature trees, including several elders that are currently blossoming in a profusion of heady-smelling, cream-coloured flowerheads. Rather than just admiring them this year and thinking – afterwards, of course – that I should have made elderflower cordial, last weekend I dug out my recipe, buckets and ingredients, made a special trip to the chemist for citric acid, picked a selection of the flowers and had it made in minutes. The recipe I used comes via my mother, who noticed one of her students drinking a bottle of elderflower cordial last summer and got her mum’s recipe for me. Ever since then it’s been sitting on the kitchen mantelpiece, just waiting for some elderflowers – and a little motivation!
There were tastings along the way, random teaspoonfuls here and there, as I tried to gauge the strength of the brew. I eventually strained and bottled the results after three days-worth of steeping. According to the recipe, this keeps well in the fridge for a couple of weeks or, if you don’t think that you will use it up in that time, just freeze it in ice cubes, ready to be landed into a jug of water on a hot day. It’s the scent of summer in a glass even if – as today – the rain is driving down.
You should be able to find citric acid – used here as a preservative – in your local chemists but, if you can’t get your hands on it, then use a tablespoon of white wine or cider vinegar instead.
Elderflower heads – 10
Caster sugar – 1lb 12oz
Water – 1½ pints boiled and slightly cooled
Lemon – 1, washed and thinly sliced
Citric acid – 1oz
Give the elderflower heads a gentle shake to make sure that there are no spiders or creepy crawlies living in them.
Put the caster sugar in a large bowl or small bucket and pour over the still-warm water. Stir well and add the sliced lemon, citric acid and elderflower heads. Cover and leave for 2 to 3 days, stirring occasionally.
Strain through a muslin-lined sieve. Use immediately, diluted with water to taste, or store in clean, sterilised bottles in the fridge for up to two weeks. It also freezes very well. The cordial is particularly good diluted with sparkling water.