Elderflower cordial tastes like British summer - crisp, green mornings and lazy warm afternoons, sweet flowers and sunshine. Like an E. M. Forster novel in a bottle, lovely and mysterious and utterly unforgettable. If it were a person, it would be a flirty Victorian lady in a white dress and elbow-length gloves with dozens of tiny buttons up the sides, hair pinned in a bun with a subdued but classy string of pearls. And a laugh like a drunken sailor. Never mistake classy for unexciting.
In Scandinavia it is known by other names, hyldeblomst in Denmark and fladersaft in Sweden. You may recognize the name from the minimally styled bottles found at IKEAs worldwide. Unlike most other things at IKEA, it does not require an Allen Wrench and an advanced degree to assemble. In fact, the only thing it requires is an elder tree.
Once you get your eye tuned in, you'll find that they are much more common than you may have realized. They are more like large shrubs, which makes it easier to pick the flowers if you're not vertically gifted. The flowers are intricate constructions - the corymbs are flat-topped and made of hundreds of teeny tiny white flowerettes with light yellow anthers that look like a fairy froth of white lace.
If you've never had Elderflower Cordial before, it is as close to imbibing the spirit of flowers as you are likely to get. The honeyed floral scent is jazzed up by the tart citric zing from the lemon or orange. You can drink this in still water, or sparkling, which is more traditional in Europe, and has the added bonus of tiny bubbles tickling the tongue. If you have a white wine that needs a little help because it is the last dregs of a bottle that has lingered too long, or it's just not top shelf, add a tablespoon of Elderflower to give it a lift.
This is a wonderfully refreshing drink to cool off during warm weather. It is also a lovely and unusual way of saving a little bit of summer, to coax out the thoughts of bright sun and warm memories on a cold winter's day.
See an elderflower and lime version here.
Adapted from Forgotten Skills of Cooking by Darina Allen.
Makes about 28 ounces of cordial.
Must be refrigerated after making, and can be stored in the fridge for up to a year.
10 elderflower heads, about 70 grams of elderflower, all leaves and most heavy green stems removed.
1 pint of water, boiling hot
900 grams (2 pounds) white sugar
finely grated zest and juice of 1 organic lemon or orange
35 grams citric acid powder
Pick the elderflowers when they are dry, and choose flowers that are creamy and white, with most flowers just opening and laden with golden pollen. Brown or tired-looking flowers should be left behind. Store the flowers in a cool place until you are ready to make the cordial, and be aware that they do not last for prolonged periods after they are picked.
Shake the flowers to gently remove any hitch-hiking insects (you may want to shake outside). Do not rinse, as this will remove the pollen, which lends its floral essence to the cordial.
Mix the boiling water and sugar in a large bowl that will also be able to hold all of the elderflowers. Stir the sugar syrup until the sugar completely dissolves, and let it cool for about 10 more minutes, until it is warm but no longer scalding hot.
Add the elderflowers, lemon zest and juice, or orange zest and juice, and stir.
Alternatively, Darina suggests zesting and then slicing the citrus very thinly, rather than juicing, and using the perfumed citrus slices as a garnish in drinks. This is a charming and delicious idea.
Add the citric acid powder and mix.
Note: According to the Interwebs, which is the font of all knowledge, Citric Acid is used to cut heroin. You might think that it would be difficult to find, given this rather disreputable function. It is also used to make fizzy bath bombs. I found it supplied in abundance in an Amish dry goods store. I doubt they were using it for either cutting heroin or making bath bombs. Both seem too frivolous for the Amish. You may be able to find this in a natural foods store, or online through a canning or pickling supply company. You can purchase a few ounces for just a few dollars. This is an important ingredient because it acts as a natural preservative, and I would not recommend leaving it out.
Cover the syrup and leave overnight. I left this on the counter but you may refrigerate if you feel so inclined.
The next day, after 12 hours or more have passed, the syrup will be golden and fragrant. Pour it through a fine sieve or a strainer lined with cheesecloth to strain out the elderflowers and zest. If you chose to use citrus slices, fish them out of the strained dregs and set aside. Pour the cordial into a clean glass or plastic bottle and store in the fridge. I used a 24 ounce canning jar and had enough left above and beyond that to fill a half-pint jar in addition.
You can stack the citrus slices on waxed paper and freeze for later use.
Mix your elderflower drink to a ratio of 1 part elderflower cordial to 6 parts water and serve cold.
Garnish with your cordial-imbued citrus slices.