Food for free: Elderflower Champagne

Elderflowers at the cottage

We might be living in town at the moment but there are still plenty of elder trees around, all laden down with platters of fragrant, creamy-coloured flowers. Before the season is over, it’s worth taking the time to pick a basket-full of the blooms for some homemade cordial and champagne. Try – if there’s any chance – to do it on a warm, dry day as you’ll get the most flavour then rather than when the flowers have been soaked with rain.

There’s a recipe for Elderflower Cordial here. After you make it, it’s worth freezing some in ice cube bags so that you can use them both to cool and flavour a jug of water. If you have some sparkling wine around the house (we pick up some cheap bottles in France for exactly this purpose) you can use it to dilute the cordial or, for a non-alcoholic and very refreshing version, use some sparking water.

Elderflower Champagne takes a little longer but it’s not that much work. It always amazes me that you can make such a delightful – and mildly alcoholic! – drink out of such simple ingredients. When you bottle it you can, of course, use plastic water or drinks bottles but I’ve a few of The Apple Farm‘s sparkling apple juice bottles and Lorina lemonade bottles that I keep for exactly this purpose. Both types of bottles have good strong flip-top lids which are perfect for the champagne. Plus, they look good enough to open in front of someone. But beware: always open over a sink or outdoors, glasses to the ready, as it’s difficult to know how much fizz you will have – until it’s too late!

A glass of (homemade) fizz

Elderflower Champagne
Don’t wash the elderflowers but do try to dislodge any stray insects. This mixture is easily doubled: it all depends on how much you think you’re going to drink!

Water – 3 litres, divided
Caster sugar – 350g
Juice and zest of 2 lemons
Elderflower heads – about 10 large
Cider or white wine vinegar – 1 tablespoon

Equipment: everything must be spotlessly clean
Well scrubbed bucket, large enough to take 3+ litres
Muslin (always easy to find in a house with a Little Missy) or tea towel
Plastic or strong glass bottles

Boil some water, use some of it to rinse the bucket, and pour 1 litre into the bucket. Dissolve the sugar in this then add the other 2 litres of cold water to cool it down.

Stir in the lemon juice and zest, elderflower heads and vinegar. Cover the bucket with a muslin. Leave to ferment in a cool, airy place, stirring daily, for a few days. If there’s no sign of fermentation after three or four days – foaming and bubbling is the most obvious one – add a pinch, no more, of yeast that you would use for breadmaking.

Leave to bubble and burble away for about four days. Strain through a muslin lined sieve into sterilised bottles – I soaked them in Milton and rinsed well afterwards – leaving space for further fermentation. As you can see, I was cautious and left about two inches!

Put on the tops and leave to ferment, again in a cool, airy place – I’d suggest in a garage; at the cottage we use the wee piggery outside – for at least another two weeks before chilling, pouring and enjoying.

Makes approximately 3 litres.



Food writer. Broadcaster. Blogger. Author. Married to Eight Degrees Brewing. Member of the Irish Food Writers' Guild, founder of Irish Food Bloggers Association and co-author of Sláinte: The Complete Guide to Irish Craft Beer & Cider (New Island)

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16 Responses

  1. Móna Wise says:

    I have several of those flip top bottles (French lemonade bottles) laying around and really need to do something with them. I have never been a fan of the Elderflower cordial (too sweet) but have yet to meet a bottle of bubbly I do not like!

    Might do a bit of foraging with the kids this weekend.

  2. Caroline Caroline says:

    I used to collect them when I was working in Urru! They were just too sweet-looking to throw away. I was glad to finally find a use for them – the Husband was threatening to “re-house” them, until he tasted the champagne and then there were no problems.

    The champagne, or this version at least, wasn’t too sweet at all. Especially good chilled. Let me know how you get on.

  3. joanne says:

    I Have lots of those lemonade bottles for cordial,how do you sterilise your.I am afraid to put them in the oven as the stopper might melt and they are too big for the dishwasher. Thanks.

    • Caroline Caroline says:

      I just used the Milton method – soaked the lot of them in a big basin of water with a little Milton and gave them a good rinse afterwards. Don’t try boiling water – this really makes a big mess when the bottles explode!

  4. We were looking for Elderflowers today but unfortunately the only ones we could see were in other peoples gardens!

    We’ll continue our search tomorrow, can’t wait to have a go at Elderflower champagne, it sounds lovely.

    • Caroline Caroline says:

      Maybe call into some of those houses and see if they would let you harvest a few flowers. Many people just look upon elder as a weed – I know my Mum does!

  5. That’s a wonderful tip about making cordial ice cubes.

    • Caroline Caroline says:

      They’re great! I always forget to chill things so, with these in the freezer, at least it’s easy to make a cool jug of cordial.

  6. Aurea says:

    ooh! I’ve wanted to do this for AGES! the cordial especially.. i’ll have to file this link away for when I finally get my act together!

  7. Caroline Caroline says:

    Don’t wait too long, Aurea. Those elderflowers will be gone before you realise it!

  8. Martin Dwyer says:

    The Elderberries are particularly good here this year and I am contemplating making jelly from them.
    Have you ever tried this , I am wondering if it will be very bitter.

  9. Martin says:

    I winged it anyway and the results weres surprisingly good. I can send you my recipe if you are interested.

  10. Caroline Caroline says:

    You’re way ahead of me – and your elderberries are too! It’s not that long since the elderflowers fell here so we’re still a bit off the berry stage.

    Sorry I took so long in replying. I kept meaning to dig out a recipe that I used a couple of years ago to make an elderberry jelly but work (and cottage painting!) kept getting in the way. I do remember that it used a sizeable amount of apples, maybe more like an elderberry-flavoured apple jelly depending on your ratios, but it was good, even if a little sharp.

    Are you going to post your recipe on your blog? Would definitely be interested in seeing it!

  11. Max says:

    If you’re going to crown cap I’d suggest you let the chapmagne ferment out a little in the bucket. That way some of the sugar will be used up before you bottle it. When you prime beer for bottle conditioning it’s about the equivalent of one teaspoon of sugar per bottle, more than that and you risk an explosion, so you can let the chapmagne fizzle away in the bucket for a couple of days. I could go on boringly about specific gravities and stuff but 1) I can’t remember the figures and 2) it’s much more fun to live in anticipation!

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