This is a guest post from Doug Rouxel
Elderflower is an ideal starting point for anyone who wants to have a go at making a drink based on something you can pick straight out of the hedgerow, there are three main reasons for this. The first reason for this is the abundance of elder, elder is a pervasive weed and a pioneer species – it will grow on almost anything, anywhere. The second is that it flowers early in the year when there isn’t much else round to turn into drinks. The third is that it because there is lots of it about, and one bush will serve lots of people, more experienced foragers are much more likely to direct you to a bush than say, a prize plum tree which they might know about, but want to keep to themselves.
So, where do we find it and when, it flowers early in the year, from mid May onwards in the south and east, and later in the north, it’s important that they are picked when in full flower on a warm dry day. If it smells of cat wee, even faintly, you are too late. You can find it anywhere that is uncultivated, has bad soil or is generally left to it’s own devices, think scrub land, stream banks and corners of parks – it’s not something you want in your garden!
When you are out collecting or foraging anything, the same basic rules apply – don’t strip things bare – elder in particular feeds birds later in the year with it’s berries, not to mention making a great cordial itself, a good addition to a blackberry junket and makes great wine. Make sure you know what you are picking, the photos here are a good start, but elder is pretty easy to spot and pick things you are not going to wash from high enough up that dogs can’t reach, you don’t need telling why.
This is a variation on one from Sara Patson-Williams from ‘Home Brew’ (co-authored by me) hers uses some additional ingredients, but they are a little more specialist and it’s easier to do it with stuff you can find round the house. I’ve chosen a cordial and not a wine or a ‘champagne’ or fizz because it’s quick and easy, and I find out of all the drinks I’ve brewed, elderflower fizz is prone to blowing up.
It’s a great tasting and versatile drink, you can drink it with water, or add soda water to make it fizzy, add lemonade or whatever. I find it goes nicely with Gin and Tonic, but that might just be me.
Elderflower Cordial – should make 750ml.
15 Large Elderflower Heads
1kg white sugar
800ml boiling water
3 Lemons Sliced
Put the Sugar into a big heatproof bowl that you can cover (a tea towel will do) and leave, then add the boiling water – stir the boiling water into the sugar so that it is all dissolved, once it has all gone then add the lemon slices then the flowers – these should be insect free, but can still have the stalks on – not a lot of point being fussy about them.
This should then be covered and left for 4-5 days, once the time is up, pour the resulting syrup into a jug through a nylon sieve lined with a muslin cloth. This should then be poured into a sterilized bottle. I find a screw top wine bottle works really well, sterilizing can be done in an oven or with lots of boiling water or numerous chemical solutions – do a search online and there are many places which will give you some good ideas.
The resultant cordial will last about a month in the fridge, if you want to keep it longer then put it in a plastic bottle, remove as much air as possible and then put it in the freezer where it will last 3 months or so. These times are conservative and it will probably last a little longer, but will eventually start to ferment.