Elderflower cordial (again)

It’s not the first time I’ve posted this recipe (here slightly tweaked, as always). It probably won’t be the last. Making elderflower cordial is an essential spring rite.

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. Transforming these abundant blooms 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 elderflowers from the side of a dusty road or they are full of insects, there’s no real need to wash them (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; alternative just pull them off the stems with your fingers. Add the lemon juice.

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 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 elderflower 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 keep 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.

For longer-lasting cordial, I used to put the resulting bottles in a big saucepan of water and boil them gently for 30 minutes, which is a perfectly good method. Now I save one-litre plastic milk bottles and scrub them out well under a hot tap, fill them with the cordial and keep them in the freezer. Strong plastic freezer bags do just as well. Remember though that it take a long long time for such a density of sugar to freeze: don’t put the cordial in anything that can leak while the freezing process is going on.

The cordial has a couple-of-weeks lifespan in the fridge once it has been defrosted and/or opened.

A dash of this in a glass of cold fizzy water is the most refreshing thing imaginable on a hot summer’s day.


I can’t claim this recipe as 100 percent my own. It began life in the kitchen of Positano’s beautiful Le Sirenuse hotel. The recipe was good to start with, but I’ve fiddled and tweaked a little to make it (in my opinion) even better. It’s a good way to start your day, especially when paired with chopped fresh fruit and yoghurt.

Rolled oats/oatflakes – 400g
Whole unblanched almonds – 100g
Sunflower seeds – 100g
Pumpkin seeds – 100g
Chia seeds – 2 tbsp
Runny honey – 150g
Dried apricots – 100g
Sultanas – 100g
And/or any other dried fruits or seeds that take your fancy

Set your oven to its minimum temperature. If you have the type of oven that does 90°C, that’s great. If you don’t, just put it on the lowest possible setting.

Ideally you should halve each of the almonds – which should be the type with the brown inner skin still clinging, not the paler blanched ones – but who has time or patience for that? Chopping them into large-ish chunks will do.

Mix everything except the apricots and sultanas in a large bowl, making sure that the honey is spread evenly through the cereal and seeds. What seeds and nuts you use, I should add, is entirely up to you. You can mix and match and vary, but try to keep the proportions more or less the same. 

Line a large baking tray (one of the ones that belongs to your oven might be best) with oven paper and spread the granola mix evenly across it, to a depth of no more than a centimetre or two, then put it in the middle of the oven. If yours, like mine, has a higher minimum temperature, prop the door open very slightly with the handle of a wooden spoon to let some heat escape. 

While it’s cooking, cut the apricots into strips or good-sized chunks. Again, what fruits you use is entirely up to you: I say apricots and sultanas here because that’s what I like. But in fact you can add just about anything in the dried fruit line – again, respecting the proportions.

I start checking on the granola after about 45 minutes, just to make sure nothing’s getting too brown: nicely golden is what I’m after. When it’s beginning to look right – probably after an hour – sprinkle the dried fruit over the surface evenly, quickly replace the tray in the hot oven. Then turn the oven off and leave the granola in there as it gradually cools down. 

If on the other hand you’re cooking at 90°, check the colour as you go along but plan on adding the fruit after an hour and a half. Bake for a further ten minutes, then remove the tray from the oven and set it aside to cool.

The result (probably) won’t be a solid mass: just a crumbly fragrant mess with some larger stuck-together bits in it. When it’s completely cold, use an egg slice to ferry the granola into a big tightly sealed jar. How long it keeps I can’t tell you because mine disappears well before it has a chance to go soggy, but for a month or so it should be fine.

©Anne Hanley