The first official days of summer are just on the horizon and the Elder tree in the backyard is in full bloom. I don’t have a great knowledge of plants - no one ever really taught me how to identify our flora, so the informative people on the internet have taught me. I have to say I looked at this tree fairly suspiciously for a while - unsure if it was an Elder or something more sinister. Can a plant be sinister? I think so.
Finally it took a friend to point out an Elder they had growing in
their garden before I was convinced that the plant I had in my garden was the same.
Anyway it turns out that after looking at the tree for a couple of years it is in fact an Elder and I could have been making things from it all this time.
Isaac - our seven year old was only interested in the fact that the Elder wand in Harry Potter might be made from Elder - not just called Elder because it was old. I think he imagined replicating it somehow and casting magic spells in abundance. He had that look about him - like he had a plan of some kind. I may yet find him snapping bits off it.
Elders can be toxic actually so you do need to be careful when using this plant. The berries can make you unwell in their raw state but are fine when cooked. All green parts of the plant are poisonous. The flowers are fine. You can make jam and liqueurs from the berries as well as jellies and all number of other things. I have no idea what they taste like, if you have experience of these I would love to know.
So having given you that caution, lets make cordial! It should be the most beautiful sunshine yellow shade from the pollen.
adapted from the River Cottage recipe.
- 30 heads of Elderflowers - (make sure you identify your plant correctly!)
- 1.4 litres boiling water.
- roughly 800g to 1 kg of sugar or to taste
- juice and zest of 4 lemons
- juice and zest of 1 orange
- 1 tspn citric acid.
- 1 piece of clean muslin or a clean kitchen towel to strain your infusion through.
Make sure you pick your Elderflowers on a dry day and preferably in the morning. Don’t ask me why- but it seems to be the general advice on the internet, and I am happy to take advice from more experienced cordial makers than me.
Make sure that your flowers are not going brown - having a few unopened buds is ok.
Don’t use flowers from trees by the roadside, they are likely to have all sorts of stuff on them that you don’t really want to concentrate into cordial.
Climb up your ladder and ask your husband to stand with a saucepan underneath you and throw flowers in the general direction of the saucepan and hopefully get them in. Or just shake the flowers as you pick them to get rid of any bugs and drop the flowers into a container, which ever you prefer.
Sort through the flowers. Pick off the flowers and remove as many of the green stalky bits as you can. Don’t get any leaves in there - they will make your cordial a very dark shade. The picture above is before I’ve removed all the green matter.
Once you have separated off the flowers add the citrus zest - and pour over the boiling water.
Leave to infuse overnight.
Once the liquid is infused simply strain it through your muslin or clean kitchen towel and you should have a wonderful golden liquid something like this.
Add the sugar, the juice and the citric acid and bring to a simmer for about 3 minutes. This is quite a sweet cordial - so feel free to add a bit less sugar if you wish. I used about 800g of sugar and I think it was still a little on the sweet side.
If you wish to keep it for more than a month make sure you sterilise your bottles. How you do that will depend on the type of bottle that you are using.
I used these swing cap bottles just bought from the supermarket - I am not sure yet how good they are going to be long term. I guess I will find out! Because they have a rubber type seal on the top the caps were sterilised with a tspn of bleach in a litre and a half of water for a few minutes. The bottles were placed in the oven.
The cordial can be frozen if you are using plastic bottles, make sure you leave some space for expansion if you are doing this. It will keep for about a month in the fridge if you have not sterilised your bottles.
To enjoy this cordial
Add a little to a glass and fill with sparkling water.
Use in a jelly along with other flavours. I believe Elderflower and apple is a nice combination, or you could try honey and Elderflower icecream and panacotta.
A nip poured into a glass and topped with sparkling wine makes a nice summer drink.
Check your tree is an Elder and be adventurous! Give something new a try, make a Harry Potter wand or maybe try the cordial.