Make the most of elderflower season – a sweet versatile cordial with a heavenly fragrance.
Elderflowers have been blooming here in Somerset for a few weeks now, and I have been making and preserving cordial for my family to enjoy all summer and beyond.
We like to drink elderflower cordial with sparkling water (I have a Soda Stream with glass bottles). It is also a gorgeous ingredient in ice creams, sorbets and puddings, drizzled over fruit salad, added to cocktails and made into chocolate truffles (recipe for those soon!)
There are more of my elderflower recipes here.
Some thoughts about about foraging elderflowers
Harvesting wild edibles is wonderful – fresh air, out in nature and one feels connected with hundreds of years of seasonal traditions. Here are some things to consider.
- always make sure you are 100% certain that you have the right plant. Many hedgerow plants resemble others, and some can be very toxic.
- be considerate of others, especially the wild creatures. Harvest a little from each tree rather than going crazy with the shears. Leave enough flowerheads to become berries in the autumn.
- try to avoid picking close to busy roads
- pick the flowers early on a dry morning for the best fragrance and flavour.
- check the flowerheads – only pick creamy blooms with no brown bits and shake a little to dislodge bugs
A few weeks ago I was walking with one of my sons along the riverbank, where the wild garlic grows. Someone had gone along and cut the whole bank back, all leaves chopped off. Whilst making pesto and other wild garlic preserves is a wonderful seasonal occupation, these people had literally taken everything. Aside from the total lack of consideration for others or the plant, this bank is also full of arum lilies and bluebells, so it is possible that their pestos will have given them a nasty stomach ache.
This makes over 3 litres
40-50 heads of elderflowers
3 litres boiling water
2 kg sugar (I use unbleached, but any light sugar is fine)
6 lemons, zest and juice (I use unwaxed, organic)
2 oranges, zest and juice (or 2 limes, or 2 more lemons)
2 tsp citric acid, optional*
Clean screw top bottle, or preserving jars.
*citric acid is used as a preservative. It helps to stop the cordial from fermenting, giving the cordial a shelf life of 4-6 months. Without it, the cordial lasts for a month in the fridge. Or process in a water bath for storing for up to a year.
With your fingers, gently remove the flowers into a large pan. A few small bits of green stem are fine. Add the citrus zest and pour over 3 litres of boiling water. Stir and cover. Leave to infuse for 8-10 hours, or overnight.
(I use a preserving pan which doesn’t have a lid, so cover it with a damp tea towel).
Strain through a sieve lined with muslin, to get all of the bits out, into a large pan. Add the citrus juice, sugar and citric acid (if using) and slowly bring to a simmer, stirring to enable the sugar to dissolve. Simmer for 5 minutes. I use unbleached organic sugar which makes a darker coloured cordial. It still tastes good.
Carefully pour into clean sterilised** bottles using a funnel and screw on the caps. Once cool, store in the fridge (if not using citric acid) or a cool dark place if you are. Always store in the fridge once opened.
To make a less sweet cordial, use half the sugar. This lasts a month in the fridge and for up to a year (at least) in the freezer.
I stored the first batch in clean glass bottles in the fridge for use now, and have processed more in these glass jars in my water bath canner. This should keep the cordial in peak condition for up to a year, although it is unlikely to last that long in my house!
The jars and the water bath canner are from Weck. I bought almost all of my preserving jars from this company, in one large order a few years ago. I love the shapes and that all parts are reusable and, eventually, recyclable.
Timings and temperatures vary according to the equipment used. Mine were preserved at around 90˚C for 20 minutes. My electric machine has a thermometer and timer – I also checked the water temperature with a kind of ray gun thermometer.
There are lots of tutorials online for processing in water baths – remember to take great care with the hot water and cordial!
** Sterilising the containers.
Handle hot glass very carefully. Be aware of everyone around you, including interested pets. Look at the floor for tripping hazards. Check all bottles, jars, seals and lids carefully before use and discard anything cracked or damaged. I use special preserving tongs for moving them about. These are cheap, widely available and save disasters.
Pre-used screw top bottles
Washed thoroughly with soapy water and a bottle brush, then cleaned with boiling water. Placed in oven on a low heat for 10 – 15 minutes, then fill with the hot cordial. Bottle tops are sterilised in boiling water.
Glass lids and jars are put through the dishwasher and then into the oven as above for 10-15 minutes. The rubber seals are soaked in hot water before use.