Capture the long days in a bottle
IT has been said that summer starts when elder trees burst into flower and ends in late August when their berries are ripe. The appearance of these lacy, headily fragrant blooms is therefore always a welcome sight and they are now making a debut in our hedgerows. If you’re close to the countryside you won’t be far from a plentiful supply and at this time of year I regularly appear home from a dog walk with a couple of freshly picked sprigs to add when cooking fruit for pies or desserts – I find they’re especially good with rhubarb, which in my garden at least, is also abundant.
The distinctive flavour of elderflower, floral and fragrant, subtle yet heady, must surely be one of the iconic tastes of summer and by making cordial you can capture summer in a bottle for year round use. It’s really quick and easy to make – and never cheap to buy – so with elderflowers ripe for picking, free and readily available in local hedgerows, why not give it a go?
First gather your elderflowers. Try to find a hedgerow away from roads to avoid pollution and if you’re on a footpath it’s probably a good idea to pick from high enough on the plant to avoid possible contamination from passing dogs. Select flower heads with newly opened flowers – older ones become tainted with bitterness – and use them fresh.
Once home gently rinse them to remove any dirt and bugs – but don’t overdo it as you want to retain as much of the intense perfume as possible for maximum flavour.
Try dipping them briefly into cold water and spinning them in a salad spinner.
For a couple of bottles of cordial put a kilo of caster sugar into a large bowl, pour over 800ml of boiling water and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Stir in a 50g packet of citric acid (you can buy this at the chemist’s) and add 15 large elderflower heads and two sliced lemons. Cover the bowl and leave to stand for five days, stirring daily. On the sixth day strain the cordial through a muslin-lined sieve or jelly bag and pour into clean bottles. On the seventh day dilute one part cordial to two or three parts water, add ice and lemon and relax, preferably in your garden in the sun.
The cordial should keep for up to a year, so repeat day seven as many times as you feel the urge.
Gather the abundant blooms to to make elderflower cordial