Handmade Drinks

elderflower champagneThe elderflowers in our orchard were slow to come into flower this year.  Which meant that it was late June before we found ourselves brewing elderflower champagne and the equally delicious, though rather less potent, elderflower cordial.

The latter is such a doddle and elder trees so abundant in town and country, I wonder why anyone bothers with the ready made version.  If bottled in scrupulously clean vessels and kept in the fridge, I find it keeps for almost a year, though most recipes state it should be drunk within three months.

elderflowers and lemons

elderflowers and lemons

To make such a cordial, gather twenty or so elderflower blooms in an area free from pollutants and car fumes; and the trick here is to pick the flowers that are still a creamy white and before they are fully opened out – by which point the blooms will be a whiter white.

Shake them free of small creatures before popping them into a pan, followed by the pared rind and slices of two lemons. Then make a syrup with 1.2 l of water and 1.8 kg of sugar.  Once boiling, tip the hot liquid into the pan and add 75g citric acid.  You can get this from most chemists and is important as it acts as a preservative as well as adding a kick to the flavour.

elderflowers mascerating in syrup

elderflowers mascerating in syrup have a honeyed fragrance

Cover and leave to mascerate for 24 hours.  Then strain through muslin and bottle in cleaned and sterilised vessels – I tend to save small cider vinegar bottles for this purpose but full sized wine bottles are fine too.

The cordial is delicious diluted with sparkling water with a sprig or two of mint; it’s also pretty good to pep up a white wine spritzer.

Other culinary uses are in gooseberry jam (add it once the jam is cooling in the pan before bottling) and as a delicate top note in both gooseberry fool and gooseberry ice-cream, both of which we eat in abundance at this time of year.

The  making of elderflower champagne is a bit more involved it has to be said.  Particularly if you opt for a more refined brew with a delicate aroma and fine fizz.  We make ours with champagne yeast and keep it in demi-johns for a few weeks before bottling.  It is ready to drink in about six months – but truly worth the effort. The resulting drink is refreshing, dry and fragrant of  lychees and melon, making it the perfect accompaniment to lightly spiced coconut curries…and gooseberry ice cream for that matter!