‘Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries!’ If you get this you’re a dork. And now for another food tale.
This year I almost blew it. I meant to make my cordial before my trip to Berlin three weeks ago. When that plan failed I had half a day to make it between coming back and taking off for the last leg of my job hunting tour. That did not happen either, I had other things to think about than running around Sheffield with a pair of scissors trying to find the last remaining elderberry blossoms. I finally got round to going out to forage full three weeks after I originally intended to – and this meant that elderberry blossoms were few and far between. With much relief I managed to find a half decent bush just outside Mount Pleasant Park round the back of my house, and in the garden of the derelict church on Sharrow Lane.
With the intention to make my cordial look nice and old fashioned I had to procure swing stopper bottles. Luckily most posh soft drinks seem to be sold in these nowadays so that was not a problem. Alternatively you can order yours on the internet. This website offers a selection of all sorts of bottles and jars you might need for your preserving and pickling adventures. I did not want to wait so I bought a bottle of fizzy pomegranate and lemonade and did away with their contents in a succession of gin, lemonade, cucumber and mint cocktails…
Making elderflower cordial is so easy it surprises me it did not feature more in our home when I was growing up – there was usually elderberry cordial but none of the yellow stuff. All you need to do is let the ingredient steep for two days and then bottle up. What did feature though was an old-fashioned treat called kosmatice. This could be loosely translated as ‘a female with thick and unkempt hair’. Makes no sense, I know. This was a staple summer treat in the diets of my grandparents and my parents; indeed this is an Old Czech recipe apparently dating back into the Iron Age. Kosmatice is essentially deep fried elderblossoms in a sweet or savoury batter. Alternatively you can use plain batter and sprinkle your fritters with a sugar and cinnamon mixture. I was very excited about making kosmatice but had to abandon this plan due to the poor quality of blossoms I found. Maybe some other time.
Back to soft drinks. You may have noticed that the blossoms have a gentle honey scent and this will translate well into the final product. This, as well as making it a refreshing summer drink, is why the pairing with lemons is so fortunate. If you have ever made your own you will never go back to drinking the shop bought stuff, which is usually made from concentrate (this is never good news) as well as being loaded with much more sugar to increase its shelf life. Mine is preserved with citric acid which is simply the stuff found in lemons – nothing nasty there. Furthermore, elderflower has always been used in herbal medicine to ward off the cold. This applies mainly to the berries, however you can still think you’re doing yourself a world of good whilst sipping on your gin and elderflower cocktail.
Elderflower cordial (makes approx. 1.5l)
25-35 big heads of elderflower blossom
1kg caster sugar
50g citric acid (get yours from Wilkinson in the home brew section)
2 unwaxed lemons, thinly sliced
You should have returned from your foraging trip with some lovely elder blossoms. You will need to tap these to remove insects and dirt.
Dissolve the sugar in 1.5l of boiling water in a large bowl. Give this a good stir and leave to cool. Once cooled you can stir in the citric acid and add the blossoms and sliced lemons. Leave this mixture to steep for 24-48 hours in a cool, dark place – your cellar might be a good idea.
Two days later, when you are ready to bottle your concoction, you will need to sterilise your bottles. I went over this in my recipe for rhubarb chutney. I never have enough jars or bottles to sterilise to justify using the dishwasher, so I just use boiling water. For the actual act of bottling you will need a funnel and a piece of muslin. I know, I did not have one either so I can safely say that a tea towel will do – especially the cheapo, thin ones. The cloth will catch any stray flowers and bits. Fill up your bottles while they are still hot. This process yielded 2 750ml bottles of elderflower cordial and a little bit left over, which went into a less pretty small plastic bottle and is well underway to being finished now. The top photo shows my final product, but I have applied the magic wand of Lightroom to these photos so the final product looks a blander, paler yellow. You can also notice that the bottle on the right is a more saturated, cloudier yellow – this is because I bottled that one a day after the first one.
There are many ways to use your elderflower cordial. As a purist I think the good old drink of cordial diluted with water or soda, a few rocks and a slice of lemon is far superior to anything else, except for cordial diluted with soda and a splash of gin. However, there is a wealth of options for use of your cordial in baking (elderflower cupcakes, flavoured creamy icing or syrupy icing for lemon drizzle cake spring to mind). You can use it in salad dressings or spooned over ice cream (or indeed, use it to make ice cream). I have not tried this but I am told it freezes well in plastic bottles. This way you could relive the days of summer in the coldest of winter, and that is always a good thing.