It is the beginning of the elderflower season which lasts between 2-4 weeks at the end of May and the beginning of June. I have caught it early this purely because I am in France for 4 days and last year after I had already made my cordial for the year using elderflowers from Brockwell Park in London, I noticed how prolific it was in the village where I spend time in France; Douriez.
I struggled a little today in collecting elderflowers as it was so early but managed to get enough for a few bottles for this year. Just make sure that you get heads where the buds are in full bloom. You can see from the pictures below the stages of bloom and you need heads in full bloom.
Every year I seem to have to buy buckets for this process. Each year I buy them and hope they won’t be used by anyone else but they get stolen by either my husband or my children for cleaning cars!
So, yet again, I have bought new buckets. Fortunately, it is not the end of the world as buckets are only 99p in B&Q and were only €2.39 in France. This year, I am going to hide them in one of the wardrobes upstairs!
My French buckets have a measuring guide inside so it makes it even easier to measure out the water. If you are measuring the water out first just make sure that you add the water first before the sugar otherwise it won’t be so easy once the sugar is already in the bucket.
I have bought 4 buckets each with a capacity of 10 litres. This enabled me to make 4 buckets (not full) of cordial and have a bucket to prepare everything in.
To start off with, I have cleaned them and disinfected them by filling them with boiling water from the kettle – a boring and laborious job but better to be safe than sorry. Of course, you can use large bowls, a preserving pan etc. Ensure they are sterilised in the same way.
Once your buckets/bowls are ready we can get on with the cordial.
For the cordial you need citric acid, which stops the cordial from fermenting therefore enabling you to keep it for longer. I have previously had problems getting sufficient amounts of citric acid from chemists as they generally limit how much you can buy at any one time due to it being use to cut cocaine to thin it out!!
Therefore, I use to spend a Saturday morning, before making the cordial, walking around South London to different chemists collecting enough to make a year’s worth of cordial. Now you can buy it online in kilo bags. This year I bought a 3kg bag. It lasts for ages so if you do buy a large bag and do not use it all you can save it for next year just make sure it is sealed properly.
I use extra heads of elderflower as I like a stronger flavour of cordial but if you want a more subtle flavour only use 20 heads. Make sure you remove the leaves and stems of the heads. When counting out the heads I usually ban everyone from the kitchen so I don’t lose count – easily done. If you have a few smaller heads just bunch them together to make a standard sized head and throw them in.
I always make as much as I can to try and make it last for the whole year however the following ingredients are enough for 4 litres (4 x 750ml bottles):
30 heads of elderflowers
1.5 litres of boiling water
1.5kg of sugar (it doesn’t matter whether the sugar is granulated or caster as it will dissolve in the water in any event. I have used caster only because that was the biggest bag I could find in the supermarket and I am always for the easiest option)
100g of citric acid
3 waxed lemons, sliced (you can use 2 lemons and other citric fruit to give that additional depth including oranges, bergamots, grapefruit but I like to keep it simple with a classic taste especially as I use the cordial in cocktails).
If you want to make more, which I do, just multiply the ingredients.
This year, I made 11.25 litres or 15 bottles of 75cl (the maximum heads I could easily get despite my arms and ankles being covered in nettle stings!) Therefore, I used 180 heads, 9kg of sugar, 12 litres of boiling water, 9 lemons and 300g of citric acid.
Once everything is ready (you have completed your mise en place – fancy term for chopping and preparation) you can start.
Many recipes state you should wash you elderflower heads but I tend not too but I do take off the leaves and stems and check that there are no bugs in the heads. Again, as we using boiling water it will kill anything and as we filter the finished cordial nothing nasty will go in the bottle.
Add the sugar to your buckets/bowls and then add the boiling water (or the other way round if your container has measurements). Give it a stir until the sugar is dissolved.
Add everything else and leave to cool, covered with a tea towel, for at least 12 hours but preferably 24 hours. Stir every now and then. I normally stir before bed and when I get up in the morning and a couple of times during the day.
Strain the ready cordial through a muslin or a tea towel if you don’t have one (it just takes a bit longer) into sterilised bottles. I quite often have to strain it into a large bowl or a saucepan and then into a jug using a funnel to pour into the bottles.
I collect my bottles from other cordials and ask friends to save theirs for me (as I do jam jars in return for a bottle of cordial/jar of jam). When I am short of bottles I buy them online. If you are thinking of also making elderflower champagne make sure that any bottles you do buy are heavy duty ones. Last year, I made 30 bottles of elderflower champagne putting then in the cellar to ferment for a party at the end of June. When watching TV one night, we heard a load of banging/explosions – thinking there was some action on the South Circular in London as there often is – we ignored it until it continued and we realised that it was the elderflower champagne exploding in the cellar covering the ceiling and walls with sticky liquid and the floor with glass. At least I had got the fermentation right but didn’t have enough for the party! Therefore, unless you are not going to ever make champagne make sure your bottles are sturdy enough for dual purpose. It is a shame to buy the bottles then have to buy different ones if you want to make champagne. Make your equipment work hard for you.
Label and store in a cool place. I store mine in my wine rack in the cellar. Other recipes state that the cordial will last for a couple of months or longer however I always get a year out of mine – if it lasts that long. If you think it needs it just restrain.
Enjoy as a non-alcoholic cocktail, with champagne in cocktails, in fools or anything that needs an additional touch of flavour. Once you have made it it will be a life long habit and you’ll wonder why you ever spent £2.50 for a bottle in the supermarket.
If you have any problems contact me and I will help you.
Happy cordialling – love Leanne x