Elderflower cordial recipe

By Sarah Watson, forager, Wild Feast

© Recipe, blog words and images copyright Wild Feast, all rights reserved

Making your own elderflower cordial is simple and inexpensive, I add lime for extra zing. This cordial can be diluted as a drink, used in cocktails, as a drizzle, or an ingredient for desserts, sorbets and

ice lollies. The citric acid is optional if you’re using your cordial straight away – it extends the life of the
cordial by making it more acidic which helps prevent bacteria growing, and also adds tartness to the
flavour. You can get it from some chemists, home brew shops or online (choose a reputable
company).

Pick your elderflowers on a dry day (the pollen is important for flavour), and leave some flowers to
form fruit for wildlife later, as well as for elderberry recipes. Avoid any blossoms turning brown, and
pick those with the nicest scent. Choose blossoms that look clean, away from busy roads, or anywhere that may have been treated with chemicals.

Makes between 1.5 and 2 litres of cordial

Ingredients

  • 20-30 elderflower heads (unwashed)
  • 1.5 litres water
  • 1 kg sugar
  • 2 lemons, juice and zest
  • 1 lime (or another lemon if you prefer), juice and zest
  • 2 heaped teaspoons food grade citric acid (optional
    – you can add the juice of another lemon or lime for extra tartness instead, if you like )

Method

Shake the elderflowers gently to remove any insects. Use a fork or your fingers to remove the florets
(tiny flowers) from their stems into a large pyrex or ceramic dish (with a lid). Add the citrus zest to the
flowers.

Boil the water and pour it over the elderflowers and zest, cover with a lid and leave to infuse
overnight. Once cooled, it can be left in the fridge like this for up to two days.

Strain the citrus juice through a sieve, lined with a scalded jelly bag or muslin, into a saucepan. Then
strain the elderflower infusion. Add sugar and citric acid to the pan. Bring gradually to a simmer,
stirring to dissolve the sugar. Let it boil gently for a couple of minutes, then skim off any foam.

Funnel the cordial while still hot into warm, sterilised glass bottles, and seal. Alternatively let the
cordial cool, then pour into sterilised bottles leaving some room (at least 10%) in the bottle for
expansion, and freeze.

Once opened, store in the fridge and use within a couple of weeks, or several months if citric acid was
used. Dilute at around one part cordial to five parts water – fizzy or still – or try it mixed with sparkling
wine or cocktails.

Elderflower – the essence of early summer

By Sarah Watson

The flowers of the elder tree (Sambucus nigra) are one of my favourite edible blossoms. The creamy-white, saucer-shaped blooms have a unique, sweetly fragrant scent with notes of citrus and honey, and a superb, rich, floral flavour. But the elderflower season doesn’t last for long – just a few weeks in late spring to early summer. So make the most of it while you can, taking care not to collect too many flowers from one spot so the tree can fruit later, providing food for wildlife as well as other foragers.

The flower heads are arranged in flat clusters (or umbels) of 10 to 30cm across, each one is made up of tiny florets (small individual flowers) with five petals and five pale-yellow anthers. The leaves of this small tree are formed of two or three pairs of opposite leaflets with serrated edges, ending in a single leaflet. If you crush the leaves, they can smell quite acrid and unpleasant. The young twigs are green, becoming grey as they age – splitting them reveals a soft white pith. The  grey bark of the trunk is vertically grooved and corky-looking and can often be covered in green algae.

Take care not to confuse elderflower with the similar-looking flowers of the rowan tree (Sorbus aucuparia), the wayfaring tree (Viburnum lantana), cow parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris), hogweed (Heracleum sphondylium). Or worse, the deadly hemlock (Conium maculatum) or hemlock water dropwort (Oenanthe crocata). Remember you’re looking for a tree, not a non-woody plant – and check the leaves, bark and flowers carefully.

The best time to pick elderflowers is on a warm, dry day when the blooms are freshly open – as they get older the smell becomes less pleasant, even cat-wee like! Pick the nicest smelling ones, and shake them gently to dislodge any insects.

Elderflowers, and the fruit that follows in late summer to early autumn, small globular glossy purple-black elderberries, have been used in cooking for centuries. However, the stalks and leaves contain rather toxic cyano-compounds which are denatured to some extent on cooking, but not tasty either. So flowers and berries should be stripped away from as much of the green stalk as possible – this can be done with a fork or using your fingers.

It’s simple to make your own elderflower cordial, I add lime for extra zing – here’s my elderflower cordial recipe, and here are some ideas for using elderflower cordial or liqueur in gorgeous cocktails.

My elderflower fritters, made with a light tempura batter, served with elderflower panna cotta

Elderflower fritters are a lacy, crispy treat: dip elderflowers in a light batter, briefly deep-fry, then sprinkle with icing sugar or elderflower cordial and serve with summer fruits or gooseberry compote. Note: it’s easier to leave some of the main flower stalk on for this dish, but as it’s not especially edible, it’s best not to eat it.

Elderflower ‘champagne’ is worth a try too, but watch out for exploding bottles – rather than using glass ones, I prefer reused plastic fizzy drink/sparkling water bottles (sterilised with sterilising tablets and water), or you can buy empty ones online or from wine-making shops. Keep the filled bottles in a cool, dark place keeping them away from anything you don’t want to be potentially sprayed, just in case!

Use elderflower to flavour sorbet, ice lollies, ice cream, custard, panna cotta, cakes, preserves, liqueurs and salad dressings. Nick Hales of St Clements restaurant in St. Leonards-on-Sea suggests pickling Hastings herring fillets in elderflower vinegar – I have to say I was sceptical, but I tried it and it works wonderfully!

Always use good identification books to identify your finds to 100% certainty before eating them.

Discover more about identifying and cooking with wild herbs and flowers on a Wild Feast forage, cook and eat course> book here.  Get more wild food tips and updates on courses on Facebook and sign up for my e-newsletter for wild food recipes direct to your inbox (option to unsubscribe at any time).

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