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As spring turns to summer, lace-like flowers begin to bloom throughout the hedgerows of the British countryside and a sweet, intoxicating scent fills the air. This can only mean the elderflower season has begun, and it is simply one of my favourite times of the year.
First appearances can be deceiving and this delicate looking flower that grows abundantly throughout the UK is proof of that. I have been foraging for elderflower since the day I could walk, and every year my family and I would bring out the large metal saucepan, the muslin cloth, and empty jars in preparation for this season’s batch of elderflower cordial. I have always used my grandmother’s original recipe as a base for the cordial, but over the years, my mother and I have reduced the amount of sugar, so instead of the thick, sweet syrup I was accustomed to growing up, our version is definitely not as thick and syrupy—but nevertheless, just as delicious.
The elderflower season runs from May to June, but don’t put it off as time flies in our ever-busy lives. Before setting off, I prepare the ingredients I need for the cordial—mainly sugar, lemons, and citric acid, which can be bought at most pharmacies. While I now do not own a large metal saucepan or muslin cloth, I have a blue bucket and thin tea towel for the making process—nothing fancy here!
To collect the elderflower, all you need is a bag or basket—again, nothing fancy here. When picking the elderflower itself, I try to avoid hedgerows near busy roads and always a few of the flower heads on the tree itself, so as not to remove the entire tree’s crop of berries that will come later in the year. You can use scissors to remove the head or simply break the stem with your hand. Try and remove the flower head with as little of the main stem as possible, as the stem can be quite bitter. Normally, I pick between 50 to 100 heads depending on how many jars and empty bottles I have collected.
Though the picking itself is a quick endeavour, I often try and make a day of it and choose a nice trail to walk along. This also helps to not over pick one area.
The prospect of making your own cordial can seem quite daunting, but it really is as easy as A-B-C. There are no fancy ingredients, no complicated brewing/fermenting processes, and it takes hardly any time at all. In the vessel of your choice, place the flower heads, citric acid, sugar, lemon zest, juice, and boiling water, and stir vigorously. Once the sugar has dissolved and all the ingredients are mixed together, simply cover with a tea towel and leave for 24 hours.
Now comes the slightly more messy part: I always do this outside, as I am prone to making a mess. Steralise your jars and bottles with hot water and place them within easy reach. Next, using a muslin cloth or another alternative cloth, slowly begin to filter through the cloth into another pan/bucket (or whatever it is) to hand. Once you have filtered all of the liquid, place the flowers in the cloth and squeeze the remaining liquid—but try not to squeeze too hard for this part, as you do not want the cordial to become too bitter. I often filter the liquid again, just to make sure it is as clear as possible. Next, decant into your jars and bottles, secure the lids, step back, and admire your first batch Elderflower Cordial.
The cordial goes great with some sparkling water and a slice of lemon, and it is a perfect accompaniment to the coming summer months. My personal favourite is to add the cordial to a gin and tonic—something that I cannot get enough of and my friends and family all love.
Recipe (to taste, so feel free to add more sugar, less sugar, etc.):
- 1.5 litre boiling water
- 2 lemons—zest and juice
- 25 flower heads
- 30g citric acid
- 500g sugar