1 May 2020

Bottling summer with homemade elderflower cordial

There's a massive elder tree next to the salad garden cul-de-sac, whose branches droop invitingly over the fence towards me.  Those branches are covered in umbels of flowers about to open so, naturally, I'm about to retrieve and wash my cordial bottles, ready to replenish my stocks of delicious home made elderflower cordial.

I've borrowed from my previous posts (2019 and 2015) about making elderflower cordial to keep things simple because, well, what more is there to say?  Except, maybe, elderflower fritters which I haven't tried but have heard are very good.

My recipe below is an easy one that I've found works well. I keep this to hand as I got very confused when I first tried to make elderflower cordial. Mine is an adaptation of several that I've used and tweaked year on year. (Originally I used limes, following Sarah Raven's recipe; it was not a happy outcome.)

Also, the sugar - it's a lot, but very necessary to extract the essence of the flowers and fruit. A couple of years ago I'd become concerned about the amount of sugar needed for the recipe so didn't make any cordial. It was a decision I came to regret during the extreme heat of the summer - a glass of iced water sweetened with a slug of citrus infused cordial hits the spot nicely on a hot day. So I now (try to) think of this cordial as a treat.  It's also very good added to an iced gin+tonic, and delicious in cake. (Note to me: I must look out those recipes.)

So, onto the recipe. It is, after all, why you're here.  But first, a few tips.

Tip one: Most recipes will include citric acid as a preservative - I don't bother. As I found it hard to get hold of at first, I now keep one bottle of cordial in the fridge and freeze the rest in small washed plastic bottles saved from the smoothies I buy when out. I think that the addition of citric acid may alter the flavour and the cordial might not taste as nice. Also, thanks to the sugar content, the cordial freezes really well; I've defrosted cordial after a year with perfect results.

Tip Two: Look carefully for aphids before you pick the flowers. I found some stems covered in the sort of black aphids usually found on broad beans and left those blooms well alone. Even so, when I got home, I made sure to gently shake the blooms over the sink to dislodge any other critters. (A few black aphids, greenfly and a couple of small spiders, thanks.) Having done that, I then held the blooms over a white tea towel for a second look; it was needed.

Tip Three: There may be some tempting plate sized blooms below knee level just begging to be picked. Don't. Wherever you live, there will be creatures that wee. In my case, dogs and foxes. (I hope that's all but let's not go there.) My advice is to pick the blooms that you have to stretch up high for, just to be on the safe side.

Tip Four: Make sure that you're picking the right flowers. Always important when foraging for any edibles but here the unmistakeable smell of elderflowers should ensure you pick wisely. If in doubt, here's some visual help.

Collage of 3 elderflowers and one that isn't!
Spot the difference! Bottom right is NOT elderflower - look at the leaves!

So now all we need is for the sunshine to return ... !

My simple but trusted recipe for Elderflower Cordial

Large bowl filled with elderflower heads and citrus fruit

3 unwaxed lemons
1 or 2 oranges
1 kg (2.2 lbs) granulated sugar (in the US: ordinary sugar not powdered sugar)
15-20 medium to large elderflower heads
1.5 litres tap water (50 US fluid ounces)

First stage:
In a large pot on the stove, make a sugar syrup by slowly dissolving the sugar in the water over a gently heat. Stir occasionally and once dissolved (no more sugar grains to be seen), bring the syrup to the boil for about 5 minutes.
While that's doing, peel the oranges and lemons. The white pith is bitter so try to leave that on the fruit. (Or just slice the fruit in ½ cm chunks.)
Cut the big stems off the cleaned/shaken elderflowers and put the flowers in a large pot or saucepan with the citrus peel.
Pour the hot syrup over when it's ready. Put a lid on the pan and leave to infuse for 24 - 36 hours. (The timing is very forgiving; life is unpredictable.)

Next day/stage:
Sterilise bottles or jars ready to decant the mixture into. Giving plastic bottles a good hot wash will suffice if they're going into the freezer. Glass bottles can be washed and then dried on a low temperature in the oven for 10 minutes. As a time saver before now, I've washed and then microwaved glass jars to sterilise (but not the metal lids - please!) Lids should be boiled in a pan of water for a few minutes.
Sieve the infused cordial through a muslin cloth or tea towel, placed in a sieve over a bowl or large jug. I now use a jelly bag held securely in it's frame, so much easier! (Here, for info.)
Pour the cordial into the bottles, and store as appropriate.

... Or drink straightaway!  And enjoy!


  1. Thank you for sharing your recipe.

    1. You're very welcome - but I'd be interested to know if you have elderflowers in your country, Endah?

  2. When we made elderflower cordial and wanted citric acid the chemist kept it in a little drawer under the counter. For some reason it’s a restricted product.

    1. A worldy-wise friend told me some years ago that drug dealers mixed it with cocaine (?) to bulk up their product, hence anyone buying it came under close scrutiny! Luckily it's now readily available online as I use it as a natural cleaning product so buy in 1kg bags; it's great for descaling the kettle and removing limescale. (I live in a very hard water area.)

    2. Also, my problem this year is getting hold of granulated sugar - the supermarket shelves are empty! I managed to get a small bag of very white caster sugar the other day for making meringues but all other sugar is stuck somewhere in the distribution pipeline. I know we're a nation of tea drinkers and cake bakers but this is unreal! :oD

  3. Oh you do sell it well. Hope to give this a try as we have several elder trees. They are always covered in black aphids though.xxx

    1. Your comments always bring a smile to my face, Dina, thank you! Black aphids are a such a nuisance, I've had them here too but they seem to have flown off now. I'm sure you'll work this out for yourself but I'd cut the flowers as far up the stem as possible to avoid the bugs then cut just the flowers and the tiny bit of stem behind them for use in the recipe. It's the flowers and pollen that you're after, not the stems! Good luck, would love to know how you get on! xx


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