Showing posts with label cordial. Show all posts
Showing posts with label cordial. Show all posts

19 May 2019

I love the smell of elderflowers in the morning

... particularly when that smell indicates elderflower cordial being made for summer!

It's easy to lose track of how quickly the seasons advance at this time of year.  May has been typically unsettled weather-wise so I was delighted to see elderflowers starting to open as I walked home a fortnight ago.  Luckily, I walked that route again last Thursday and saw that there are now enough blooms to make elderflower cordial.

I've written about making elderflower cordial before - and how to correctly identify the right tree to pick from - so this post is by way of a reminder for anyone who wants to make delicious cordial before the blooms fade ... unless you have your heart set on elderberries for wine!

It was a stroke of luck seeing those elderflowers as I usually walk far and wide over Hampstead Heath in search of them.  My favoured patch was felled during repairs to the Heath ponds a couple of years ago and then last year I recall being concerned about the amount of sugar needed for the recipe so didn't make any.

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 this weekend I bought sugar, dug out my recipe and went out this morning with my trusty secateurs to collect the bounty.

I've included my recipe below as I think it's an easy one and 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. (I now never use lime.) 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 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.

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.

My simple but trusted recipe for Elderflower Cordial

3 unwaxed lemons
1 or 2 oranges
1 kg (2.2 lbs) granulated sugar
15-20 medium to large elderflower heads
1.5 litres tap water (50 US fluid ounces)

First stage:
  1. 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.
  2. While that's doing, peel or finely grate the oranges and lemons. The white pith is bitter so try to leave that on the fruit.  (I have a julienne peeler which does the job perfectly. Link here to show what it is, I'm not an Amazon affiliate.) 
  3. Cut the big stems off the cleaned/shaken elderflowers and put the flowers in a large pot or saucepan with the citrus peel.
  4. Pour the hot syrup over when it's ready.  Put a lid on the pan and leave to infuse for 24 - 36 hours.
Next day/stage:
  1. 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.
  2. 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.)
  3. Pour the cordial into the bottles, and store as appropriate.  
... Or drink straightaway!

17 May 2015

In search of elders

It's that time of year again when the race is on to see who can get to the elderflowers first. I spotted promising looking buds three days ago so, waking up ridiculously early yesterday, I instantly put foraging at the top of the day's agenda. I suspected there would only be a few flower heads but I was on the Heath by 7.00 a.m., just me and a few lone runners jogging past.

I knew where I needed to go but couldn't resist the opportunity to dawdle in magical green glades, creep under branches in secret copses to get close to banks of bluebells, be thankful for logs laid to pinpoint the muddy ditch beyond and listen to the early morning birdsong of a little coal tit, no doubt alerting his pals to the approaching human! I saw lichen on ancient trees, wild forget-me-nots and red campion, buttercups and ferns. I even found a good thick stick shaped like a slingshot. That went into my bag and got passed to a friend's young son on the way home. He was thrilled. So was I. He's such a boy.

Wandering back in the direction of home, my sylvan idyll was gradually dispelled by the massed puffing of running clubs, ladies chatting while jogging together (men seem to be lone huffers and puffers) and lots of people out with their dogs. I'd gathered over 20 large elderflower heads and was now hungry for breakfast. Thoughts of freshly baked bread and the Heath Farmer's Market crept into my head. And - as luck would have it! - the Harrington Scheme (a local project providing gardening training for disabled youth) were selling lovely organic plants on the neighbouring stall to the bread. All in a good cause, 6 sweetcorn, some purple sage and some lime Nicotiana came home with me. All in all, a bit of a top-hole morning.

So, how to identify elderflowers?  Here are some pics.

Spot the difference! Bottom right is NOT elderflower - look at the leaves!

Paired mid-green leaves with serrated edges. Umbels of green buds open to tiny white flowers. Distinct scent from open flowers.

Back at home I quickly got on with making my first batch of elderflower cordial. I've had a tiny delicious taste this morning but I'll leave it until tomorrow evening as I have garden planting to do today and Chelsea Flower Show tomorrow.  Life is sweet.

The recipe I use is an adaption from Sarah Raven's recipe (link under name) in that I use less sugar and then substitute slightly healthier alternatives. I really like the addition of oranges and lime rather than using just lemons. I don't use citric acid because, in my neck of the woods, no-one sells it. There's a story that it's used to cut cocaine but that's not something this innocent lass is ever likely to prove.

Here's my version:

1.5 litres water
1 kg sugar (I used 500g organic granulated, 250g coconut palm sugar, 250g Xylitol)
2 lemons
1 large orange (or 2 smaller ones)
1 lime

Put water and sugar in a saucepan.  Heat very gently until sugar completely dissolved, stirring occasionally to check. Once dissolved, bring to the boil and take off the heat.

Zest and thinly slice the citrus fruit. Put into a large bowl. Add the elderflowers. I usually check the flowers by turning them upside down, giving a gentle shake, check for insects, then cut most of the stems off leaving a half inch behind the flowers. Don't wash the flowers, the fragrance will disappear.

Pour the hot syrup over the fruit and flowers. Give it a stir round, lightly cover (a tea towel or pot lid will do) and leave to infuse for 24 to 48 hours.  When time's up, strain through muslin or a jelly strainer into a jug and pour through a funnel into clean sterilised bottles.  Store it in the fridge or decant into plastic bottles and put in the freezer where it will keep for several months.

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