We’ve been having some lovely summer weather (off and on, between the thick cloud and the rain showers and the freezing cold days) and the elder tree is out in full blossom. Put that together with my lovely cousin posting about elderflower cordial on her Facebook page, Foraging with Amelia and Leon, and I just had to try it. On Wednesday the sun was out and the garden was full of the scent of elderflowers, and it was too good an idea to resist. You can’t exactly claim I foraged for the elderflowers. I walked to the bottom of the garden in pink rubber shoes. But still, I got the flowers.
You start this recipe the night before (hence Wednesday), ideally using a small boy (Oscar in this case) to help you clip the flowers from the tree. We cut more or less 25 heads. I tried to make sure I got nice, fresh, pollen-dusted blooms. Oscar tried too, but there were a few more spider webs on his than there were on mine. I’m sure it adds to the taste. We spiced it up by having a ginger cat (and a tortoiseshell) share the box for a while, too.
The recipe was the one my cousin suggested, from the River Cottage website. Who doesn’t love River Cottage? Probably lots of people. When I lived in a rented first floor flat I viewed Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall with intense jealousy. Now that jealousy is ameliorated somewhat by my front and back gardens, my herb bed and elder tree, and the promise of, one day soon, swapping suburban living for a four acre permaculture smallholding.
The night before part of the recipe is pretty easy. Checking your flowers aren’t covered with all sorts of legged and winged creatures, putting them in a bowl, and adding the zest of an orange and three lemons. One day I must buy a lemon zester. I’ve had two instances now in my life when I’ve felt in need of one. My husband tells me to just use a fork. I can’t work out how, so I used a slightly serrated sharp knife to scrape the things clean of their outer skin. Painful, but effective. Once that’s done, you just dump one and a half litres of boiling water over the lot. I’m sure there must be a sensible Imperial alternative to that, but Google tells me it’s 2.63963 pints, which is not convenient at all.
By Thursday, the clouds had crept back over, rain had fallen constantly all day, my back ached, and the children were taking the opportunity to scream at each other pretty much non-stop, prompting the unplugging of the computer and the removal of the games console controls. But still, there was the steeped elderflower mixture waiting to be boiled up with sugar. Somehow this got done. Thankfully I had a muslin cloth in the nappy box to strain it through. (I did sterilise it first – I shoved in in the kettle while it boiled.) It doesn’t taste too promising at this point, but once I put the liquor together with the sugar and boiled it up it tasted lovely.
Then I had to perform some kind of bizarre sterilisation dance involving a pan, glass jars, two spoons, and a tea towel. It would have helped if I could find my funnel for pouring it into bottles rather than just a wide-necked jam funnel, but in a house with three boys interesting kitchen equipment doesn’t stay where it belongs for long. It’s probably been used as a trumpet, and is languishing somewhere bewilderingly illogical. But since I could only find one nice bottle to put the stuff in, and all the rest were jars, that wasn’t too much of a problem.
And there we are. I ended up with a bottle and four or five jars of what looks like urine, but thankfully tastes very nice (not like Magners, despite the photo trying to tell you otherwise). A thick, syrupy liquid perfect for diluting with water and giving a lovely taste of summer. George (5) told me he can’t drink it because it makes his eyes hurt, and curled up like a hedgehog to avoid it. Ben (almost 3) made grunting sounds of pleasure on trying it. Oscar (8) liked it so much he asked for a whole cup to himself – and since he’s the pickiest of all of them, I think I can be satisfied with that. Although he did just ask for more of ‘that cauliflower squash.’ Oops.