Makes about 4 pints – but use small bottles so that they can be completely immersed in water for sterilisation if you want to the cordial to last until next year.
45 heads of elderflower blossom (see notes below on when to pick)
2 lemons, sliced
2 litres/3½ pints boiling water
Sugar (approx 2½ lb/1.2 kg but see recipe for precise quantity)
2 more lemons
Day 1 – Make Elderflower Tea
Shake the blossoms to dislodge insects then place them with the sliced lemons in a large bowl. Pour on the boiling water and stir briefly with a wooden spoon. Cover the bowl with a clean cloth and leave overnight.
Day 2 – Make and sterilise Cordial
The following day strain the cold elderflower tea through muslin. Measure the juice and add 12 oz of sugar plus the strained juice of half a lemon to each pint of tea (strain the lemon through muslin to keep the cordial clear). Heat gently to dissolve the sugar or simmer as below *.
Pour into hot, sterilized bottles up to about an inch below the top. Seal loosely. Put the bottles in a water bath, standing them on dishcloths to prevent the bottles banging around. The water should come at least to the level of the cordial, but preferably to cover the bottles. Bring the water slowly up to 88˚C and keep it there for 20 minutes.
Ladle out sufficient water to enable you to remove the bottles. Tighten the caps and lay the bottles on their side on a wooden surface until they are completely cool.
The cordial will now store for at least a year. That which you wish to drink immediately, or store in the fridge for a week, does not need sterilising.
Notes on preserving cordial
As noted above it is only necessary to sterilise the cordial if you wish to keep it for a long period (the bottles themselves should always be sterilised in boiling water before use).
Many recipes include Citric Acid as a preservative. This is not very easy to obtain (it has become more difficult since it became used in drug taking). Brewers supply shops are the best bet, but it is only a substitute for lemon juice (the juice of one lemon is approximately equal to a rounded teaspoonful of citric acid). The above recipe already includes a reasonable amount of lemon juice, both by extraction in the tea and as an additive. If you intend to use all of your cordial by the end of the summer (i.e. no longer than 4 months) you can use a simplified method of sterilisation, which involves only simmering the liquid rather than immersing the whole bottle:
*Bring the cordial up to simmering point (88-90˚C on a sugar thermometer) and fill the bottles to within 1 cm of the rim (rather than the inch for hot water bath method).
Another alternative to the hot-water bath method is the oven. In this case, stand the filled bottles in a roasting tray containing an inch of water. Put on the centre shelf of the oven and set the temperature to 120˚C. Once it reaches this temperature time for 2 hours before removing, cooling and sealing as above.
Postscript May 2011
I have become fascinated by the variation in recipes for Elderflower Cordial and propose to conduct further tastings this year. In the meantime an article by Xanthe Clay in the Telegraph with Luscombe Farm’s Gabriel David provided further useful information. Luscombe is a company I respect, producing a number of fine drinks including the best Ginger Beer, and whilst not an elderflower cordial, they make the old country drink which used to be known as Elderflower Champagne before the French got all upset about that. Now it is called Elderflower Bubbly. I have made it in the long distant past but whilst it tasted delicious it continued to ferment in my stomach, which was less pleasant!
These are some of the main points Gabriel makes about Elderflowers:
- Selecting the best blooms – There will be only about 3 weeks of flowers but Gabriel maintains that the early blooms are not best… “the scent is there to attract insects to pollinate; it won’t be released until the flowers are fully open.” Equally you don’t want to wait until the heads have begun to discolour – they should be white, not cream or with any brown flowers and they should not fall too readily when shaken. The main crop is the most fragrant. It must be a dry day when you pick or rogue yeasts develop with a distinct whiff of cat’s pee. The blooms should smell of lemon.
- On Citric Acid – Gabriel says… “Citric acid is easy and cheap, but it gives a salty back taste”. Although it occurs naturally in lemons, this is not how it is usually produced industrially. Most is made from a specific kind of mould cultivated from corn, sugar beet or molasses. At Luscombe they use instead a white wine vinegar, chosen for its mild flavour.
Tartaric Acid can be used in place of citric acid, but again it should be used sparingly – 1 or 2 teaspoons per litre at most. Too much will make your homemade cordial taste like a commercial one. Postscript 2012 – having tried a cordial made with Tartaric Acid I would now reject this option – it tastes awful with sparkling water (probably a chemical reaction with the carbonating element).
Some ideas for using Elderflower Cordial
Elderflower Cordial enables you to add the characteristic muscatel flavour to recipes beyond the short season of the fresh bloom. The classic pairing is with gooseberries, the dessert varieties ripening almost a month after the elderflower. It is also a good match for strawberries – try using a little cordial to sweeten and flavour the cream or syllabub that accompanies them. The cordial can in fact be used in any fruit salad.
Dessert Gooseberry and Elderflower Ice Cream
Strawberries with Elderflower Syllabub
Summer Berries in Muscatel Jelly
Gooseberry and Elderflower Meringue Pie
Gooseberry and Elderflower Fool