Friday, 17 June 2011


For weeks I've been watching other bloggers, twitterers and friends enjoying elderflower season. Elderflowers are a foraging staple - a treat that many look forward to each summer and preserve for the year ahead. Yet I've never picked any!

But seeing the flowers start to turn brown on the trees last week, I figured it was time to give it a go. Elder trees (bushes?) are a common sight across Britain and there are plenty near me - in fact there are four or five on our allotment site, as well as dozens along a footpath I use regularly. Of course, it's best to avoid picking them on roadsides and in town centres, where they may be polluted with car exhaust and the like.

I had to be selective when picking, as it's right at the end of the season now and some flower heads are starting to discolour. Choose the brightest, whitest ones; just snip the flower heads off the plant with scissors (some of the stems can be a little tough, and you risk breaking branches if you pull too hard) and give them a good shake to get rid of any bugs.

There are plenty of things you can do with the flowers; our 'wild food night' chef makes a syrup to add to ice-creams, brulees and other desserts all year round; wine and champagne are of course popular; 'The Cottage Smallholder' Fiona has even been having a go at elderflower vodka! In fact, I notice the plant's latin name is Sambucus Niger - is this what Sambuca is made from...? Anyway, I kept it simple and made elderflower cordial - thanks  again to Monica!

It's dead easy. Rinse 25ish large elderflower heads (the sizes vary enormously, so use more if they're tiny!) and put them in a large bowl or pan with 50g citric acid (less than the recipe said purely because that was the size of the pack, but I don't think it mattered), the pared-off peel of a lemon, and the lemon itself in slices. Then put 550g sugar and 1.2 litres of water in a separate pan, simmer until the sugar is melted, and pour over the elderflowers. Mix well, cover, and leave to stand for 24-48 hours, stirring occasionally.

After that time, taste-test the cordial (mixed 1:5ish with water, still or sparkling) and add more sugar if you feel it's needed (I didn't). Then strain through scalded muslin.

At this point I had to stop and wonder how sterile the cordial was. Of course, the hot syrup would have killed some germs, but I didn't add it at maximum temperature for fear of scorching the flowers, which I read can damage the flavour, and it has sat at room temperature for a day and a half since then... Would it be a good idea to simmer the strained cordial just before bottling? Or process the bottles in boiling water like when canning certain things? The acid and sugar content should do a pretty good job of keeping nasties down I suppose, and I'll keep the cordial in the fridge, but if anyone has any advice or reassurance to offer in this area I'd be interested to hear it.

So anyway, I washed my bottles and funnel in very very hot water and ladled in the cordial. I reused bottles from other products, which isn't really ideal - I must buy myself some proper preserving bottles for next time!

The result? It's lovely! Sweet and tart in perfect proportion, fragrant and refreshing. And Eddie loves it!

I am wishing I'd made some syrup to experiment with in desserts though... Or is the cordial syrupy enough for this anyway, do you think? And next, year, who knows? Champagne has got to be tried...

A quick note on citric acid; it can be quite hard to come by these days, but some health food shops stock it (or should at least be able to get it in), Indian grocers often have it, and you can find it in some smaller independent chemists (ask - mine was under the counter). If all else fails, you'll be able to find it online.


Sue@Green Lane Allotments said...

We have a black elder and it has lovely pink flowers which if used for a cordial apparently gives it a rose look. The flowers are too pretty to pick though!

Martin and Amy said...

I'm going to harvest the remains on our local tree/bush tomorrow.

Looks great though!

Have a good weekend.

Martin :0)

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