Monday, 24 June 2013

Elderflower Cordial

Elderflower Lemon & Lime

It's the scent of muscat grapes which attracts me to elderflower.  Leave it too late in the season to pick the blooms and the aroma will be closer to cat's pee - and no one wants that.  It's not just when you pick elderflowers but where also matters; well it does to me.  I know how lucky I am to have an allotment and to have access to elders growing well into the centre of the plots so I'm not about to lecture you on harvesting.  All I will say is, I'd think carefully about where I picked blossom and wouldn't gather from trees close to the pollution contamination of busy roads.

Elderflower  is one of those cordials made for generations in family kitchens.  Like 'blackberrying' it connects us to a time when foraging was the norm.  Then, knowledge of free food was widespread and its harvesting, often, necessary.  The flowers and the berries of the Elder are high in vitamin C so were a valuable addition to the diet.  There is a C17th reference to the drink by John Milton, and the blessed Mrs Beeton offered recipes for cordial and wine.  It wasn't until the mid-80's that commercial brands of Elderflower Cordial began appearing on supermarket shelves.  I have to say, there are some good brands out there, but I love to 'cook' the seasons so, for me, at this time of year it has to be home-made.

This year I managed to harvest elderflowers early in the season when the white flowers were just beginning to open and their scent was fresh and sweet with none of the mustiness which develops later in their flowering.  So, don't delay.  Picked just before yet another deluge and wrapped carefully in an improvised cone of newspaper, I raced home with my free booty.  Fresh muslin-wrapped elderflowers added to soft fruit during cooking can be lovely but, to preserve your harvest of blossoms for weeks to come, you can't beat elderflower cordial.  Last year I left it far too late to make mine.  Although I did grab a fistful of overblown blossom heads, and managed to make a couple of bottles, the taste really wasn't up to the mark.  The proof of the wisdom of picking early is in the drinking.  This year's cordial is sweetly aromatic, fresh-tasting and vibrant and bears little resemblance to last summer's drink.

There are plenty of recipes for elderflower cordial around but it's simply water, sugar, elderflowers and citrus so you can't go too far wrong.  I don't like it too sweet as I find it detracts from the flavour so you'll find this recipe uses less sugar than most, but there's no reason why you shouldn't add a bit extra for a more syrupy result.  I know a lot of people add oranges and lemons but I love limes and much prefer to use them in place of orange.  If you want the cordial to keep beyond a few weeks, add a heaped teaspoon of citric acid (available from shops that sell home-brew kits) at the end and sterilise the bottles in a water bath after filling and sealing.  Alternatively, pour your cold cordial into small plastic bottles, freeze it and defrost a bottle when you want it.

To drink; a ratio of 1:5 cordial to sparkling or still water is about right.  To flavour fruit; add 2 tablespoons to around 500g of fruit.  Elderflower goes particularly well with gooseberries, apricots, cherries, strawberries and raspberries.

Elderflower Cordial
(makes about 2.5 litres)

20-25 just-open Elderflower heads
2 large unwaxed lemons (pour boiling water over and scrub well if not unwaxed)
2 unwaxed limes (pour boiling water over and scrub well if not unwaxed)
1.75 litres water
1kg granulated sugar

Cut any excess stem from the flower heads, shake well to release the inevitable bugs.  Put the heads in a large bowl and grate the zest from all the lemons and limes over the top. Bring the water to the boil  and pour over.  Leave to steep overnight. Keep all your fruits in the fridge to juice the next day.  

Next day, line  a sieve with muslin.  Sterilise the muslin by pouring boiling water over it. Strain  the flower head infusion through it into a stainless steel pan.  Add the reserved citrus juice and the sugar.  Bring slowly to the boil, stirring occasionally to ensure the sugar dissolves fully.  Bring to the boil then simmer for 2-3 minutes.  Use a funnel to pour into hot sterilised swing-top bottles.  

The cordial can be used straight way but the flavour develops more after a week or two kept in a dark cupboard.  It will keeps for about 6 weeks.  Poured, cold, into plastic bottles and frozen it will keep for several months.

More recipes using elderflowers:
Gooseberry Elderflower Syllabub