By Charlie Clapp
Hooray – it’s elderflower season. It’s very unlike me, but I’d forgotten all about it until I recently spotted a bush of those beautiful fronds of heady-scented blossoms. I didn’t pick them then and since that fateful day I’ve spotted them hanging out on every pavement and railway track, taunting me – much like when you hear a new and trendy word and suddenly it seems as though everyone’s using it. Anyway, with elderflowers obviously on the brain, I took the opportunity to pillage a bush-full last week while on a trip filming for FoodTube. “Back in a minute!” I yelled, as I crept off with a ladder, some blunt scissors and an old vegetable box.
See, the good – no, wonderful – thing about elderflowers is that they not only have such a delicious scent and flavour, but they’re absolutely free! Like my favourite things in life (wild garlic, wild strawberries, blackberries and kisses) they cost nothing to find and give you so much in return. Thank you to all those little blossoms, berries and flowers growing so hard to please us humans (and the birds and the bees… actually my dog is pretty partial to a blackberry too, and delicately nibbles them straight from the hedgerows, how clever).
I digress… half an hour later, I had my winnings and, with twigs in my hair and pollen all over my forager’s fingers, I made my way back to the camera crew and a few odd looks. But I didn’t care – I knew that as soon as I got through my front door I’d be making a beautiful batch of elderflower cordial.
MAKING THE CORDIAL
Find the largest pan you have and fill it with equal amounts of caster sugar and water – I used 2kg sugar to 2 litres of water. Gently heat it, stirring until the sugar is completely dissolved, then bring the syrup to a simmer and turn the heat off. Some people allow the sugar syrup to cool completely before adding the elderflowers, but I don’t – it tastes just as good if you add them when it’s hot. Rinse 15 to 20 blossoms and add them to the syrup with the zest and juice of four to five lemons, leaving the whole lemons in the pot to release all their citrusy flavours. Cover with a clean tea towel and leave for 24 hours.
The next day, lay a piece of muslin over a sieve, then rest it on a large enough bowl or jug and carefully pour in the cordial. You may need to do this in batches because it takes a while for the liquid to pass through. Once you’ve got the all clear, it’s time for the important part – give it a taste. Remember, it’s a cordial so it’ll need to be diluted with water when you drink it anyway, but if it’s really too sweet, just add a bit of water, or if it’s not lemony enough, add a squeeze of lemon. The flavour will be far richer but probably not as sweet as the stuff you buy in the supermarkets, which makes it infinitely better! Decant your cordial into sterilised jars or glass bottles and label your vintage. It should last for about 6 or so months.
So now you have your cordial, what can you do with it? Well, you could give little bottles away to your friends and family as presents, or you can use it all yourself for some gorgeous summery treats.
The classic way – ice, a couple slices of lime and a glug of your cordial topped with lots of fizzy water. Aaaaaaaah refreshing.
When it gets to the evening, why not make a cocktail from all that elderflower goodness? Simply add it to a glass of bubbly for a delicious aperitif or, my favourite, make it into an apple and elderflower Collins – classically English and the perfect refreshment for watching the Wimbledon final or the Ashes. Find a tall elegant glass and fill it with ice, then add a measure or two of your favourite gin, followed by a measure of elderflower cordial and a measure of apple juice (the real, cloudy type), stir well and squeeze in a few lime wedges, then top up with soda water. It’s summer in a glass.
And what to eat, I hear you ask? Loads, I say! Pour it over ice cream if you fancy, or turn it into a posh summer jelly – just gently heat it up and add an extra splash or two of water or a little booze to quell the sugariness, then add in a couple leaves of gelatine (remembering to add extra gelatine if you’re using alcohol) and stir until dissolved. Take it off the heat and leave until it’s at room temperature, then add a handful of your favourite summer berries. Pour the mixture into glasses or moulds and refrigerate until set, then serve.
You can also add your cordial to cake batters (it works wonders in a victoria sponge mix), truffle mixtures, custards and meringue fools – you can’t go wrong.
And there we have it – an ode to the elderflower, such a lovely thing. When it comes to cordial, I’m pretty much set until next year, which is a relief! I hope you enjoy having a go at making your own, just make sure you do it soon as the beautiful blossoms are coming to the end of their season and are on the turn. And don’t forget to post your recipe ideas below!