Every year I look forward to seeing the elderflower bushes in full bloom, signalling that it’s time for one of my favourite spring rituals – making elderflower cordial and champagne.
From the moment I take that first sip of elderflower cordial, I’m instantly teleported to my grandparents’ village in Romania. The vision of my grandad, Gheorghe, picking the flowers will stay with me forever, as clear in my memory now as it was twenty years ago. Nothing was more special than the whole family enjoying a glass of the chilled bubbly under the shade of the tall tree in their garden on a hot summer’s day.
In a good year, elderflowers can start to come out in late May, but the best time to pick is June when the whole shrub is covered with the great sprays of sweet-smelling flowers.
HOW TO GATHER
Pluck the elderflower clusters whole, with about 5 cm of the stem attached. Check the flowers are free of insects, discarding any that are badly infested. Never wash the flowers as it will remove much of the all-important fragrance. Also, never pick your flowers from the side of the road where there is a lot of car traffic as these delicate little beauties can absorb pollution.
1kg unrefined sugar
1L boiling water
2 large lemons
zest of 2 large lemons
25 g citric acid ( if you like the cordial to be extra fizzy)
15 elderflower heads
Put the sugar in a large saucepan with the boiling water and stir to dissolve.
Add the citric acid, lemon juice and the lemon zest.
Add the flowers to the sugar syrup. Cover and leave to stand for 1-2 days, stirring morning and night.
Strain the elderflower cordial through muslin and decant into sterilised bottles.
Store in a cool dry place and serve chilled, on its own or mix it with gin or vodka for a refreshing summer cocktail.
10-15 large elderflower heads
1kg unrefined sugar
10 litres filtered water
4 lemons (juice and zest)
2tbs white wine vinegar
Dissolve the sugar in 2 litres of hot water, then cover and set aside until cool.
Once the sugar syrup has cooled to room temperature, pour it into a large, clean 10-litre container.
Add the lemon juice and zest, the vinegar and the flower heads and stir gently.
Cover with a piece of clean muslin and leave to ferment at room temperature for 3-4 days, you will notice it starting to fizz and bubble as the fermentation process begins.
Strain the liquid through a sieve lined with muslin and decant into sterilised strong glass bottles with champagne stoppers or sterilized screw-top plastic bottles (a lot of pressure can build up inside as the fermenting brew produces carbon dioxide, so strong bottles and seals are essential)
Seal and leave to ferment in the bottles for at least a week before serving, chilled. The champagne should keep in the bottles for several months. Store in a cool, dry place.
Enjoy the refreshing sparkling drink as it is or serve with tonic water, ice and a sprig of mint.