Saturday, 4 July 2015

Making elderflower cordial

Homemade elderflower cordial is one of my favourite things and is very easy.  Some years I am just so busy at the right time that I miss the window when you can do it and I always kick myself.  That is the thing about seasonality: miss it and it's gone until next year. You might have missed it for this year if you live in the South East of the UK after the very hot week or so we have had but here in North Wales and for other readers in the North and West of the country you can still find flowers which are just right.

Equipment is easy.  You will need:
a large bowl for the mixture to steep in
3 empty wine bottles (always an easy one in this house).  They can be sterilised by washing in the dishwasher or spending ten minutes in a low oven.
a large pan
a bowl and a sieve to go over it
some muslin to line the sieve like this.  If you don't have muslin just use your finest sieve but the liquid won't be quite as clear

a jug to pour the liquid into the bottles
a funnel like this one makes this much easier but if you have a steady hand you can manage without one



You can buy preserving equipment from a variety of places.  I tend to use Lakeland because they are quick and efficient and great at putting things right if necessary.

Ingredients are
about thirty elderflowers
Juice and zest of three lemons
1 kg sugar
1.5 litres of water
about 25g of citric acid (optional)


Our local pharmacy stocks citric acid.  It helps the cordial to keep for longer but you can make a great cordial without it and just drink it more quickly!



You can see elderflowers all over the place if you live in country.  The slightly scraggy looking trees grow in hedgerows and in the edges of fields.  In towns they often colonise wasteland or can be found in the less cultivated edges of parks and on canalsides.  They have a distinctive scent which affects people very differently.  Some people hate it and find it smells of catpiss.  Some love it and feel it smells of summer.  Even if you don't like the scent of the flowers the cordial has a different scent and is sweetly fragrant.


Pick about thirty flower heads when the flowers are just open.  As the blossom goes over the tiny flowers turn brown and are no longer any good for cordial.  Give each flower a good shake as you put it in your bowl or basket.  Insects and pollinators love elderflowers so you need to let them get away.


Put the elderflowers in a large bowl with the zest of the lemons.
In a large pan, add the sugar to the water and dissolve the sugar over a low heat until you have a syrup.  Increase the heat and bring the liquid to a near boil.  There isn't any great science in this.  It needs to be hot but not boiling that's all.  Add the lemon juice and the citric acid if using and stir well.  Leave it for a few minutes to cool slightly.


Pour the liquid over the flowers and leave it to infuse.  I have done this for as little as ten minutes and still got a cordial full of flavour.  Half an hour is better.


Strain the liquid through the muslin covered sieve into another bowl.  Use a jug and a funnel if you have one to fill the bottles.


Label, dilute and drink.  It tastes of summer to me.  A dash added to long gin and tonic with a lot of ice is also the perfect drink for a summer evening.


25 comments:

  1. I love elderflower cordial too. Our flowers are in full fig, so I think the season's a bit later this year? I use the leftovers to make elderflower and lemon sorbet - delicious :)

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    1. I think they have been late after a cold June. Love the idea of elderflower and lemon sorbet!

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  2. How very interesting! And I did not even know what elderflowers looked like: they are gorgeous. Can you drink it just like a lemonade too by adding more water?

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    1. Yes, this is a cordial to be diluted with either plain tap water, or sparkling water or, as I sometimes do to give it more sharpness, tonic water (with or without gin!).

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  3. Elderflower anything is gorgeous as far as I'm concerned. I'm hoping that I can still find enough fleet heads to make elderflower ointment - should still be ok up on the moors as it's cooler and shady up there. I might go and look tomorrow unless it's raining.

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    1. Never tried elderflower ointment. I must look it up!

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  4. Our elderflowers bloomed about a month ago, and I've been enjoying the cordial for a while now. I was nervous about it at first -- the recipe I found on the net leaves the elderflowers infusing for three days with the sugar-lemon-water mix and then it sits in its bottles in a cool-ish place, but not the fridge, for two weeks before drinking. The cordial never gets boiled so any anti-bacterial work, I guess, happens between the sugar and the lemon. At any rate, I took small sips the first day, didn't die (!) and then went for it the second day with a full drink (a good splash of cordial mixed with a tall cool glass of Club Soda) on my own. Having not poisoned myself, I have since been not poisoning my husband, and today I think I'll try not poisoning our weekend guests. Tastes delicious -- such an interesting, subtle flavour (and I'm one who thinks the flowers smell like cat pee). And I love the seasonal aspect of it. Thanks for another recipe/technique, which I might try next summer.

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    1. I have never come across a recipe with no heat in it! Very glad you and your guests have survived the experience! I love the seasonality too.

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    2. I did heat, maybe even boil, 'can't remember, the water to dilute the sugar, but at no point do the elderflowers get boiled enough to sterilize whatever might be on them. . . we've drunk the cordial quite a few times now though and we don't seem to be languishing! ;-)

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  5. Tasty but a kilo of sugar - ouch.

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    1. Well it makes three 75cl bottles each of which gets heavily diluted with water. You would probably have less than 1cm of cordial in the bottom of a large glass then filled with water so I think it is not as terrifying as all that!

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  6. oh this might be today's plan x

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  7. (giggling over materfamilias' "not poisoning" people)... As a home brewer of mead, I think adding some champagne yeast to this and letting it ferment would be quite interesting! I must do some research and see if elders will grow here on Long Island. I'd love to make an elderflower mead...

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    1. Elderflower mead sounds just fabulous. Elderflower is very tolerant about growing conditions and is an early coloniser if cultivated land goes wild so I would think you might either find it or could grow it. Would love to know if mead works with it!

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    2. Will let you know what I dig up!

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  8. BTW The goddess Mary Berry insists you can pick the flaaar heads and freeze them for making the stuff when you are less busy, so that's what I've done. I'll let you know how it turns out..... could be some time but at least I have your recipe E. Thank you.

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    1. Never heard of freezing the heads but that would be such a good idea as it might stop me missing the window!

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  9. Oh, leave it to you to put up a recipe for elderflower cordial when it's just recently become my obsession! I never had it in my life until just this past Easter, when I had a drink that featured it - and fell in love. Since then, I have tried anything elderflower I could lay my hands on, and MrL and I have been enjoying elderflower cordial (store-bought, sad to say) in our g&ts - as well as elderflower tonic, which we've found once or twice! By the time it occurred to us that we could make our own cordial (one of the ladies in my WI mentioned it) the elderflowers here in Bath were really past their best. Mind you, I walked the dog past about a zillion elderflower trees (shrubs?) every day, but never made the connection until it was too late. Always a slow learner, I am. *sigh*

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    1. Well that is the plan for next June/early July!

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  10. I always wondered how it was made. We buy it bottled from the British Export store in Maine. I like to add a splash to sparkling wine, and without the alcohol, it's a good festive drink for the kids.

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    1. I do use it when I want a non alcoholic drink which feels a bit special!

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  11. I love elderflower cordial, especially when it takes on a bit of a fizz. I've not got time to make it this year, but there are plenty huge elderflowers on the trees this year, enjoy :)

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    1. The flowers seem to be both late and unusually big don't they?

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  12. Finding this post was a happy coincidence for me. I live in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado and battle with a very short growing season. Nevertheless, earlier this Spring I ordered two elderberry bushes. We planted them and hoped for the best. They are actually growing pretty well right now. I will have to try to
    protect them thoroughly when the first frosts come. I have never actually even seen an elderberry bush.
    I don't know if they can grow here at high altitude of over 7,000 ft.
    So.....I was out inspecting various things in the yard (garden) looking for rose weevils on my shrub roses, and when I walked closer to the elderberry bushes. I could not believe my eyes! There is a small bloom on one of them and also another even tinier bloom, too. I never expected these rather small bushes to bloom the first Summer after planting them. I hope that next Summer I can use your recipe for elderberry cordial. I have long wished to taste it but have never done so. I could order a bottle of it on the internet. I just may do that!

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