Sunday, June 12, 2011

Elderflower cordial

For me, hedgerows are the quintessence of life in the English countryside.  I grew up with wide open spaces and barbed wire; how different and mysterious are these living fences.  They line every narrow road, and make a secret garden of every neighbour's property.  They divide up the countryside like the embroidery thread of a patchwork quilt.

All year long, the hedgerows brim and buzz with life . . . and edible things.  After many years in England, I mostly don't recognise the different kinds of greenery until it actually presents its treasure of blossom or berries.  I still have the constant feeling of surprise.

Unlike me, my youngest daughter is an observant person -- and it was she who pointed out that the elderflower had come into bloom.  It's one of those things that I mean to look for, and pick, every year; but most years, I miss it.  First comes the blackthorn blossom, then comes "the may" (hawthorn), and for about three weeks in June, you can find the creamy-yellow elderflower blooming. 

Last week, I seemed to spend most of my week in the car . . . and everywhere I drove -- through Berkshire, Hampshire and Surrey -- I saw masses of elderflower blossoms on the roadside verges.  (It thrives in sunny, open places, but it obviously doesn't mind a bit of car exhaust, either.)  I kept wanting to stop the car and gather up armfuls of the stuff.  Blink, and it will be gone; and that's a shame, because homemade elderflower cordial is delicious stuff.

You want to pick your elderflower just as the blossoms are opening . . . if they are still green, the elderflower won't have much scent or flavour, and if they've gone a bit brown it will tend to bitterness.  A perfectly ripe elderflower will be rich with scent -- a somewhat lemony, but otherwise indescribable, smell all its own.  Elderflower is one of the flavours of English summer -- and unlike the sun, which is being highly temperamental at the moment, you can bottle it.

Elderflower Cordial
1.3 litres/2 1/2 pints water
1.8kg/4 lb granulated sugar
25 elderflower heads
2 lemons, sliced in rounds
65 g/2 1/2 oz citric acid (in England, this can be purchased from the chemist)

First, give the elderflower heads a good shake (to make sure they are free of dirt and tiny bugs) -- but don't wash them, as that will dilute their flavour.
You want to strip off the flowers -- leaving as little of the green stem as possible.
(If you are like me, give this job to a willing child.)
Then, place the water and the sugar in a large saucepan and slowly bring to a boil.  When all of the sugar is dissolved, remove from the heat.
Place the elderflowers, slices of lemon and citric acid in a large plastic or glass container and pour the sugar syrup over the other ingredients.
Cover, and leave the mixture to infuse for three days.  You should stir it once a day.
After infusing, you need to strain your mixture -- ideally, through a muslin-covered colander into a clean bowl.  Then decant into containers (plastic or glass containers with lids) and store in the refrigerator.

It should keep for months . . . but only if you don't actually offer it to anyone!
We had an (indoor, sadly) barbeque last weekend and I passed around the elderflower cordial with an arguably too-lavish hospitality.  Hopefully, I can steep another batch of it before the end of its short season.

I like elderflower cordial as a drink -- made with sparkling water (but still water is good, too).  Fill the glass with ice, and then add approximately one part cordial to three/four parts of water.  (It depends on how sweet you like it.)  A slice of lemon, and maybe a sprig of mint, makes a nice garnish.
You can also add elderflower cordial to spirits -- like vodka or gin.
Or, splash your ripe June strawberries with it.


julochka said...

i took photos to blog this too! :-) we're in the midst of the season here too and for me, it's the most scandinavian of scents. mine is very dark gold, bordering on brown, because i've used organic (not very white) sugar. i am tempted to make a batch with ordinary white sugar, just for the golden color.

we like it best with sparkling water, but it's also very nice with white wine.

Sarah said...

Your description of the timing of bloom is so interesting. Here in Seattle, our elderberry (if it's the same species that you're talking about; I always feel like I might be confusing two or three different plants) bloomed before the hawthorn. I wonder what climate variables etc. account for the difference?

Lucy said...

You too! The rose petals - just a couple of heads from a Charles de Milles type - are making mine an interesting colour already, giving it a pink champagne look, and are adding another note to the flavour, without in any way eclipsing the elderflowers - I snuck out a premature spoonful yesterday!

Evidently you can get away with a bit more stalk than I allow. Have you noticed how they are at their most fragrant in the shade, with other flowers it's the sun which seems to release the perfume.

I'm quite surprised how little people hereabouts seem to know about what grows around them, not distinguishing between hawthorn and blackthorn, for example.

Bee said...

Julochka -- reminders of orange marmalade! But these are the seasonal things,right? And the elderflower season isn't long. I really want to make another batch, and I'm aware that I probably only have a few more days.

Sarah -- I have a book about hedgerow fruit, and it says that the elder is native to Britain, Europe and Scandinavia. I certainly never heard of it when I was growing up in Texas . . . but in Seattle? I have no idea. I would think that the Seattle climate is quite similar to England's, though. Our blackthorn seems to bloom in late March/early April, hawthorn in May and elderflower in June. If you don't look closely, it just looks like white blossom in the hedgerows.

Lucy - I should think that a "pink champagne" look is a very good look, indeed. My husband (who likes a tasteless joke) has been known to comment on the palest yellow liquid stored in an old juice bottle. It does look quite a bit like something else!

I spoke to Camille last night. It was she who stripped down the elder blossom and she confirmed that she left very little stalk. Better to err on that side, I should think.

Tracy Golightly-Garcia said...

Does these flowers grow on trees or the ground-? Coming out of my library today I noticed flowers that seen to look like elderflower(from a tree)

They were falling off the stem fast!

Tracy :)

Anne said...

Beautiful! I fear I've missed the season here--they were just starting to bloom a few weeks ago, and I expect they're done by now. And given that I've taken to making cordials and mixers, I was really hoping to catch them in time. There's a restaurant nearby that makes a wonderful elderflower soda. I'd love to be able to make it at home.

My consolation is that (hopefully) I'll be in time for the berries, and will at least be able to make some jelly.

Lovely photos!

Lisa-Marie said...

Elderflower cordial is spectacular stuff.

I have a suggestion to add - if you still have some elderflower, you could make elderflower champagne? It is wonderful!

Bee said...

Tracy -- The elder is a small tree, but it can appear shrub-like . . . especially when found on the side of the road. It grows, with all sorts of other things (beech, hornbeam, bramble) in the hedgerows here. Apparently the wood is fairly useless, but the flowers and berries are highly prized.

Anne - I had no idea that you had elder in California. Have you been writing about your cordials and mixers? Must catch up with you!

Lisa-Marie -- Elderflower champagne sounds divine. I will definitely try that.

kristina - no penny for them said...

wonderful! i so want to make some, but most elders have flowered already - it may be too late. must keep my eyes open, a friend mentioned that in some places they are still in bloom!

Anne said...

Surprising, isn't it? I haven't been writing, or taking pictures, but I've been itching to get back into the bloggy groove. Hope to catch up with you soon!


Related Posts with Thumbnails