Not everyone has a garden. But there are some things you can harvest from the hedgerows to make delicious homemade produce. One of my favourites is elderflower cordial. The trees are in flower in May and June all around the lanes and countryside. It costs a fortune in the shops, but a few hours spent making will result in a store cupboard of bottles of this fragrant, delicious drink.
Keep it simple
Look online you will find dozens of recipes, most requiring lemon juice or citric acid to make this delightful drink. I don’t do it that way. Quite honestly I never have lemons or citric acid when I need them. Improvisation is my middle name, so I came up with a different approach.
I’ve used this alternative recipe for years and it never fails. Make a syrup from the sugar and elderflowers and water and bottle it in sterilised jars. Then when you want to use it, add lemon juice to taste. Use sparkling water for a fresh, champagne-like effect and slices of frozen lemon to cool. It’s delicious with sprigs of garden mint too.
- 25 or so large, fresh elderflower heads. Harvest on a warm sunny day when the flowers smell rich and delicious.
- 2kg of sugar
- 2 litres of water
- In a large pan, make a syrup by mixing the sugar with the water and heat it until the sugar has dissolved completely. Allow to cool.
- Shake the flowers very gently to allow any insects to depart. Do NOT wash them. Add the elderflower heads to the cooled syrup and allow to steep for up to two days.
- Strain the flower heads out to leave the fragrant syrup. Reheat the syrup to boiling point but don’t allow to boil. Pour carefully into sterilised bottles and seal while hot. Allow to cool and store in a cool dark place.
- When you want to make a summer’s drink, use the syrup like a cordial, add a generous splash of freshly squeezed lemon juice and top up with water. You can also add the elderflower syrup to gin and tonic. It’s divine.
Top tips for picking elderflowers
- Make sure you can identify the elderflowers correctly. If in any doubt, don’t. Never pick or use anything you are unsure of.
- Avoid harvesting from the side of a road where petrol fumes may contaminate the flowers.
- Don’t pick from private land without permission.
- Don’t strip a plant or a tree of all its flowers.