There are a few scents/tastes which for me encapsulate delicious old-fashioned-ness: medlar in jelly form, home-made rose water and elderflower as cordial. The hedgerows around our house in Umbria bulge with elderflower for a few weeks from mid-May. In this damp, warm-ish spring they are particularly abundant. It’s just a question of dodging the raindrops and getting out to pick the blossoms, after which transforming them into cordial which will infuse your whole summer with the taste of spring is ludicrously simple.
Elderflower corymbs – 25-30
Sugar – 1.5 kg
Lemons – 4 or 5
Water – 1.5 litres
Put the water in a saucepan and bring it to the boil.
Grate the rind (but not the pith) off the lemons which should be unwaxed, and scrubbed well. Now cut them in half and squeeze them.
It pays to gather your elderflowers as soon as they come out: the more recently they have opened, the sweeter they will be; as they age, they become slightly bitter. Unless you have picked your flowers from the side of a dusty road or they are full of insects, there’s no real need to wash them; then again, some people might not wish to take any risks and I can understand that (though I don’t, as a rule, bother). If you do wash them, pat them dry very gently on a clean tea towel. Over a bowl, rake the tines of a fork through the elderflower corymbs to pop the tiny flower heads off. Add the lemon juice and rind.
Put the sugar into a large mixing bowl, and pour the boiling water into it, stirring it until the sugar dissolves completely. Leave this syrup to stand until it cools down to lukewarm.
As you wait, you can ponder the conundrum of preservation. Many people will tell you that you need to add about 75 g of citric or tartaric acid now (these will make the end result tarter) or even a Camden tablet which contains sulphur dioxide. I don’t. If I want it to taste sharper, I add another lemon (which does nothing towards preservation, admittedly). I bridle at the thought of sulphur being added to wine and I’m certainly not going to put it in my cordial.
When the syrup is cool, mix in the elderflowers and lemon, stir the mixture, put a teatowel over the bowl and set it aside in a cool corner for 24-36 hours, stirring it occasionally. And that’s all there is to it.
It’s best to store the cordial in swing-top glass bottles with a rubber seal, which should be rinsed, then put in the oven at 150°C for 15 minutes or so to sterilise. Line a colander with a piece of muslin and ladle the cordial into this, through a funnel, into the hand-hot bottles. You should get 2.5 litres with these quantities.
If I really want the cordial to last for many months without going off, I put the resulting bottles in a big saucepan of water and boil them gently for 30 minutes, as I would for any conserve. But however much I make, it has a habit of disappearing too rapidly to merit any such fuss. Once bottles have been opened, they should be kept in the fridge.
A dash of this in a glass of cold fizzy water is the most refreshing thing imaginable on a hot summer’s day.
©Anne Hanley, 2013