It’s the time of year when the sweet scent of elderflower fills the air – and the time to make a delicious drink
The delicate elderflower is Mary’s treat for May
May is one of my favourite times of the year. It’s a time when, especially of an evening, you can happily just sit and watch what’s going on around you.
If we have a warm spring the garden, which is full of roses, will be starting to burst into colour, and the adult blue tits seeming to spend forever flying back and forwards as they feed their young. We have a family of little owls who perch in the fruit trees; you only just notice them when the light catches them.
And then the visitor I am not quite so happy about, (although I admire its sheer audacity), are the muntjac deer; if they can get in they will leisurely graze the flower beds!
The hedgerows go mad, and everywhere there will be an explosion of elder flowers, a real hedgerow treat. These sweetly scented, creamy white flowers will soon be at their best, and all but ready to be gathered to make a winters supply of elderflower cordial. Elderflowers are best picked on a sunny day, just as the many tiny buds are beginning to open and some are still closed, because then every flower in the spray will be full of pollen; and therefore have the cleanest, freshest flavour.
When the petals start to change to a dull white colour and look tired, the pollen will have dropped and the flavour will be much less intense. Don’t pick the flowers when they begin to turn brown because, apparently, the syrup will have a faint taste of cat’s pee!
It’s best not to shake the flowers as you pick them. I know it’s tempting to try and get rid any creepy crawlies that may be lurking in the buds, but the downside of doing this is that you are also shaking out the pollen and with it that wonderful summer flavour. You will strain the cordial when it’s made, which will remove any foreign bodies, later in the process.
I have many different recipes for elderflower cordial, all very
similar. Some use citric acid, but you can equally use a little white wine or cider vinegar. I tend to use a little citric acid and the cordial keeps through the winter. I use a mix of lemon and limes, the fragrant taste of lime works well with the delicate elderflower flavour.
To every 20 elderflower heads put 1kg of granulated sugar in a pan with 1.25 litres of water, dissolve the sugar then bring the pan to the boil. Put the flower heads in a large bowl with one heaped teaspoon of citric acid and the zest and juice of a lemon and lime, pour over the hot syrup, cover and leave for 24hours. Strain through muslin and bottle in sterilised jars.
It’s so easy to grab a bottle of cordial when shopping but once you’ve made your own, bought varieties will never taste as good. When making your own, the most expensive ingredient is the sugar and with a bit of your time on a warm summer’s day, the result is fantastic. Find out more about Mary Kemp’s cookery theatres, demonstrations and more recipes at marykemp.net
ABOVE: You can easily make your own refreshing elderflower cordial, says Mary