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.
Many recipes include citric acid, but this is just a cheap substitute for the real lemons used here. The flavour will be fresher, with none of harsh back taste given by citric acid. They are easier to obtain too!
Selecting the best blooms – There will be only about 3 weeks of flowers but a dry day in the middle of this period is the best time to pick. The scent is strongest once the flowers are fully open but you don’t want to wait until the heads have begun to discolour. The bloom should be white, not cream or with any brown flowers, and they should not fall too readily when shaken.
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 (see notes on preserving below).
45 heads of elderflower blossom
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). 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 before bottling rather than immersing the whole bottle. The cordial will taste fresher using this method: 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).