Respect your Elders: Two Ideas for How.


It’s just about the middle of the elderflower season here. Since any blossom is only out for a short time, the differences in timing across the country is quite stark. For example at the weekend we took a wander up the hill (these are Swiss hills, you understand, not little English mounds,) to a village that is 530 ft higher than the city, and their lilac was still in full bloom, whereas ours was more than a month ago. And my boyfriend’s parents had the peak of their elderflower season a good few weeks ago, and their village is a good 700 or so feet closer to sea level than I am.

But I digress. Every year, I see the flowers on the elder trees and bushes and I think “oh I must make some elderflower cordial / champagne / gin / vodka.” I love foraging, the idea of making scrumptious things from natural ingredients stolen / scrumped / ethically foraged from hedgerows and similar really appeals to me. But during the short elderflower season, I never seem to be in the right place at the right time with the right container. When The Boy told me that his mum had already made her batch of cordial for the year, I thought I’d missed the season again. But I hadn’t counted on the difference in flower season timing. Sadly I don’t have an elder tree to call my own, but there is a lovely one in the churchyard that I walk past every day, and I suddenly realised that the flowers were only just peeking out on it. And once they had peeked out, they were sitting there, apparently ignored by all and sundry… so we poached a few. I’m sure no-one would mind. They were going to a good cause.


Recipe 1: Elderflower Cordial.

1 pint water
~ 2lb brown sugar (or more if you like it sweeter)
1 1/2 lemons, thinly sliced
1/2 tsp citric acid
13(+) elderflower heads

This is adapted from a recipe that my mum took out of a newspaper a few years ago. I tried the original at the time and found it much too sweet, it was more like sugar cordial with a vague hint of elderflower. In this, I increased the amount of elderflowers, and decreased the amount of sugar. I feel it could even do with a bit more elderflower.


Bring the water to the boil. Add the sugar and stir till dissolved. Add the lemons and citric acid and boil for a minute or so longer. Put the elderflowers into a large bowl and pour the liquid over them. Leave to stand overnight.
The next morning, strain the liquid back into the pan through muslin or a jelly bag. Bring it to the boil again. In the meantime, sterilise a couple of screw-top bottles with boiling water. While both liquid and bottles are still hot, pour the cordial into the bottles and do them up tightly.

Dilute to taste with water and a couple of ice cubes (it’s much nicer cold!) Alternatively, pour half a glass of white wine, top up with soda water and add a splash of the cordial. Perfect for a summer evening.


Recipe 2: Elderflower Vodka

~ 12 heads elderflowers
Zest of 1 lemon (and a squeeze of the juice)
2 oz brown sugar (fine, demerera possibly won’t dissolve so well.)
~ 1 1/2 – 3/4 pints vodka

That’s pretty much it. Put the first three ingredients in a jar and pour the vodka over.

I have seen recipes where you add the sugar after you have let the flowers infuse for a while and strained it. The internet seemed pretty much divided on this. I have made elderflower gin in the past, and it wasn’t a success. As far as I remember, it just consisted of gin and flowers, so I wanted to get as far away from this recipe as possible. A problem I had with that was that the flowers at the top of the bottle were exposed to the air and went brown. This seems to be a problem with all recipes that involve leaving the liquid to sit with the flowers in. Some people don’t find it a problem, but I cut a circle of baking paper (like for jam) and put it on top to try and minimise the contact of flowers with the air.

Sadly, it needs to sit for a couple of weeks before I can taste it. Always the way, isn’t it?!

P1160490You can see at the top that the flowers have already started to brown slightly. Has anyone come across a way to stop this?


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