Food for free: Elderflower Champagne
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!
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.