Our latest venture into the culinary world has been to add to our supply of preserves with some elderflower cordial. I think this is the third or fourth time we have made elderflower cordial and this year the fruits of our labour have been particularly sweet (if I say so myself) . Elderflower cordial, whether homemade or bought, is invariably delicious, I have never found one that I didn’t like. I find the idea of drinking bottled flowers an attractive one, especially such pretty flowers as elderflowers. They have a beautiful and irresistible scent that transfers intact from the flower to the drink. The taste is usually sweet although it can be sharpened if you introduce citrus fruits into the mix. Our own cordial this year is slightly tangy due to the two oranges, two lemons and three limes that were infused along with the flowers.
Recipes for a cordial do not have to be difficult, as the one we used shows. Our recipe (taken from Jams & Chutneys by Thane Prince, published by Dorling Kindersley) tells you to dissolve sugar in water, pour this into a large bowl over the flowers and chopped fruit and then stir in the citric acid. The liquid is left for four days to infuse and is then strained and bottled. It is a very simple process and if you are prepared to wait four days for the infusing, it is a good option. However, there are other recipes using different methods that may be quicker. The recipe we used last year (don’t ask where it came from, neither of us can remember!) instructed you to boil the liquid twice and add the sugar at a later stage, it also didn’t need to infuse for as long. However, this recipe produced a cordial that was very sweet and thick. While this was fine to start with, the cordial soon thickened even more until it resembled a thick syrup more than a drink. There are numerous recipes available and it’s probably a good idea to try a few and then come up with your own variation that ticks all the boxes in your opinion. Personally, I love the result this year, my only comment being that you could probably manage with only two, or even one, lime. It’s also worth buying elderflower cordial in a cafe, deciding which you like most and using the ingredient list to figure out how to make a similar one.
One point I think is worth making about the process of making elderflower: do not under estimate the difficulty involved in finding citric acid. While I admit it is easier to find than pectin, (we could only find this in Fallon and Byrne, where it is ridiculously overpriced), it is still not readily available. Thane Prince recommends Jewish, Polish and Asian grocery stores but we found it in McCabes chemist.
Then comes the uses of cordial. Obviously, cordial makes a drink, however, we feel sure that it could be used for other purposes. What we had in mind is an elderflower jelly, made with the cordial and vegetarian gelatine. It is also delicious when drizzled over a fruit salad, a perfect summer snack! I tried it with apples, bananas and oranges and was very pleased with the result.
Elderflower is one of our ‘wild harvests’ that we pick on the banks of our local river. The large, white flower heads come out in between May and June. It is best to pick them in the morning, before a lot of insects have settled on them. Always shake the flowers well before using them, this dislodges any insects. It is best to pick the largest, whitest flowers you can reach. The old, yellow ones or flower heads with unopened buds won’t have as strong a fragrance.
Although it’s late in June, there are still many elderflowers out and ripe for the picking. So, you’d better get picking!
Photo credits: Basket of flowers from Wikipedia, with thanks.