Elderflower cordial – how summery is that? My mother used to make it when I was a child. There was one memorable occasion when we made it, bottled it and then put it a little too close to the central heating boiler for comfort. The cordial fermented, the pressure built, the screw top untwisted and zipped across the room with rather a loud ping resulting in a half hour search until someone encountered a sticky pool of elderflower cordial and deduced what had happened. Note: think cool dark storage space.
Living as high up as we do the elderflower is only just coming into full bloom although the general guidance is that elderflower blooms from May to June – so if you’re reading this in the lowlands south: it’s too late to make your own cordial this year. I’ve been keeping an eye on the elderflowers for the last fortnight whenever we go for HWIOO’s afternoon perambulation.
A couple of afternoons ago, in between showers, we toddled off with a basket of Miss Marple proportions and a pair of scissors having already purchased 20z of citric acid from the local health food shop. It came in a plain plastic wrapper. I am so pleased we weren’t stopped on the way home! The citric acid is for preserving the cordial. It also gives the sour taste in lemons and turns up in dishwasher detergents (lovely). There are recipes that don’t contain citric acid – after all we’ve only been using it in it’s chemical formulae as a preservative for the last hundred years and presumably the lemon is also a preservative. Next year I may well not use the citric acid. I’ll have a look and see what Mrs Beeton has to say on the subject. Jamie Oliver and Rivercottage also have variations on the recipe.
Here’s what to do and not to do. First gather 35 heads of elderflower. Give them a good shake to get rid of insects. I rinsed mine when I got home. Place in a large bowl. Add zest of four lemons. Chop and add lemons. Other recipes use a mixture of lemons and an orange.
Place 1.3 kg of sugar and 2 1/2 pints of water in a pan. Dissolve. Add sugar water to the elder flowers and lemons. Stir well. Add citric acid. Stir again. Cool, cover, leave over night. Remove stray insects.
Use a muslin to drain the liquid off and then place it into sterilised bottles having removed the last of the stray insects should there be any. There should be a 2.5cm gap at the top of the bottles. My book – The Hedgerow Cookbook for the Wild at Heart- suggested further sterilisation by means of a water bath to prolong the life of the cordial. It the bottles are old fashioned stopper bottles they have to be completely sealed and if they’re screw top then the bottles should be loosely closed. You place a trivet or folded tea towel in the bottom of the pan, then your bottles, standing upright. Fill the pan with water until the bottles are completely submersed. Heat the water until it’s simmering and keep it simmering for 20 minutes. You may wish to look at it nervously every so often. Then turn off the heat, leave the bottles for five minutes before removing them very carefully so that you don’t burn yourself. Place the bottles on another folded tea towel or a wooden surface or else the bottles may crack – generally speaking a shower of hot glass and hot sugary cordial is not to be recommended. Tighten the screw tops. Unfortunately I don’t have a pan that’s large enough so probably shouldn’t have even attempted the process (note to self – find a very large pan for future cordial making activities.) However, I did and consequentially discovered that overfilling the bottles is not a terribly good idea as there is expansion (yes I did get a physics O level but clearly didn’t apply my learning in this context), a build up of pressure and then the laws of physics took over without any help from Scotty from Star Trek! There was a rather unpleasant cracking sound and one of the bottles broke in mid simmer resulting in hot, glass filled elderflower cordial which is not, generally speaking, to be recommended. My tea towel also decided that simmering wasn’t good for colour fastness.