Cordial, in the US, generally means a liqueur, sweet and sticky and just alcoholic enough to be naughty.
Cordial, in the UK, means squash - not the plant, or the sport, but squash the drink, a fruit- or citrus-based syrup concentrate that needs to be mixed with sparkling or tap water for a refreshing drink.
Elderflower Cordial is a flowery, citrusy, musky drink popular year-round in the UK and Europe, especially Scandinavia, where it is called hyldeblomst (who-le-blomst) in Denmark and fladersaft in Sweden (and Ikea).
There, it is available in the grocery store next to the sodas and bottled juices all year round.
Here, unless you truck over to your nearest Ikea, you rarely see it.
Elder trees, however, are a different matter. You see those everywhere. And since Elderflower Cordial is so easy to make, why not give it a try?
It is not as sweet as the commercial syrup, it tastes better, the flavors are customizable, and it saves you from coming back with another one of those big blue bags filled with stuff you didn't even know you needed.
I talked a little about elder tree identification in last year's post on elderflower cordial, and I think once you get your eye trained, you'll see that they really are everywhere. I have my best luck finding them on the edge of forests, in local parks, and on weedy lots that have been left to return to nature. You can usually smell the musky flowery scent before you see the shrub-like tree, and the large white fluffy umbrellas of tiny flowers are very distinctive. The trees in full sun bloom long before those in deep shade, and if you hunt around, you can easily be foraging blooms over a 4- to 6-week period.
The hard part is catching the flowers at just the right time. The best blossoms to pick are the ones that are just beginning to open, and may still have a few tightly shut flowers in the center.
If the corymbs are turning brown around the edges, the flower is past its prime. Remember where it is, though, and come back in the fall to harvest the elderberries for syrup or jelly. Also, you should never strip an entire tree of all of its flowers - leave some to generate berries for the wildlife or later foragers.
The British Guy drinks this stuff like it's going out of style, so we (meaning me) stockpile every year. Last year's version with lemon and orange has citric acid for additional stability, but it makes quite a tart cordial.
This year, I took a peek at River Cottage's recipe for elderflower cordial in the Preserves handbook (as I was flipping through to the strawberry jam page), and used some of the ratios for citrus juice and sugar. I used lime instead of orange, and skipped the citric acid as per British Guy's request.
The lesser volume of citrus and no citric acid results in a lighter, sweeter taste that is very refreshing and mild, but it means that the cordial won't last nearly as long. Any that will not be used up in the next three months needs to be frozen for long-term storage.
Elderflower Cordial with Lime.
Makes about 2 liters.
30 large heads of elderflower
1 organic lemon, zest plus juice
1 organic lime, zest plus juice
1.5 liters boiling water
1 kilogram sugar
about 3 ounces lemon juice, to total 5.5 ounces with lemon and lime juice (3/4 cup)
You will also need sterilized glass jars to hold 2 liters of syrup.
Gather fresh and dry elderflowers, and shake out any freeloading critters outside before you bring them in.
Trim off any thick green stalks and place the elderflowers in a large, heat-proof bowl. Add the lemon and lime zest, and pour over the boiling water. Stir a few times, then cover and leave to infuse overnight.
The next day, strain the elderflower infusion through a sieve to remove the big bits, and then through a fine strainer to remove the finer particles. Note - you can just start with a fine sieve, but it goes faster if you get rid of the bigger pieces first.
Pour the infused liquid into a large pot and add the sugar and citrus juice. The combined juiced lemon and lime, plus additional lemon juice, should total 5.5 ounces (3/4 cup). Top up with additional lemon juice if necessary.
Bring to a boil and stir until the sugar is dissolved, then boil for an additional 5 minutes until syrupy and clear.
Let cool for a few minutes, then pour into sterilized jars.
If refrigerated, lasts for up to 3 months.
If freezing - use freezer-safe containers and leave at least 1 inch (2.5 cm) room for expansion as the liquid solidifies. Lasts in the freezer for up to a year.
When you are ready to drink, dilute 1 part cordial to 5 or 6 parts water, or to taste.