During this time of year I can be found in the hedgerows with a pair of scissors and a basket full of frothing clouds of white elderflowers. On a warm day, nothing is as refreshing as a cold glass of homemade elderflower cordial. Somehow the shop-bought varieties can’t quite compete, but the real stuff is the perfect drink: cooling, sweet, tart, syrupy, fragrant and filled with heady, floral, honey-like aromas. It’s the taste of summer.
My love for elderflower goes back to helping my mother fill Mason and Cash with flower heads and steeping them in water and slices of citrus fruit. When I once enjoyed a glass of elderflower cordial on a hot day, I now am more likely to enjoy a glass of champagne with a splash of elderflower whatever the temperature.
You can use elderflowers to make jam – with gooseberries or strawberries – or you can use it as a cooking ingredient; It works well in salad dressings, drizzled into cocktails or as a syrup for desserts or cakes.
The best time to pick elderflowers is on a warm, sunny summer day, in the early afternoon when the blooms are fully open. Don’t pick if there has been recent rain, as lots of pollen gets washed away. Ensure you pick from a high bush, away from any roads, for the cleanest flowers. Cut whole heads off, using scissors at the base where the stalk begins to branch.
Make your cordial as soon as you get home so the flowers are fresh, not wilted, and don’t wash them or you’ll rinse away the floral flavour. Getting hold of citric acid can be tricky, but the best place to get it is online or in a pharmacy, where you have to ask for it over the counter. Be aware that if you want to make a huge quantity of cordial, you might have to visit several pharmacies, because there are sometimes rules about how much citric acid you can buy in one go.
You will need: 30 elderflower heads, 1.5L water, 2kg white caster sugar, 85g citric acid powder, 2 lemons (sliced), 2 oranges (sliced).
Method: Dissolve the sugar in the water and bring to the boil in a large saucepan. Pour the hot syrup over the flowers in a large bowl or jam pan. Add citric acid, lemons and oranges. Stir well, cover with a tea towel and leave to steep overnight somewhere cool. The next day, strain through muslin cloth and bottle (in sterile glass or plastic bottles). Label and keep refrigerated until needed, or frozen (in plastic bottles only) for future use. Dilute with water to serve, or mix it with Champagne for a cooling cocktail, garnished with mint and cucumber.