We caught what seems to be the tail end of elderflower season in Edinburgh this weekend. I have been looking out at the tree in our shared back garden for the past few weeks, scheming how to get the flower heads that remained at on the top branches. When we came upon a tree nearly full with remaining elderflowers on a walk in the Pentlands, I knew it might be our last chance this season.
Every year since I learned about elderflower cordial, I have been trying to make a good batch. Spring and early summer on these islands are almost defined by the site of elderflowers cloaking the trees and the sweetness that hovers in the air along every path. The best flowers to use are those found away from busy roads, on a dry day (good luck this summer!). Since you are looking for the pollen that is remains on the flowers, you won’t be rinsing the flower heads. This is why it’s good to look out for trees that are far away from any contamination in the air.
My mother in law makes incredible elderflower cordial every year. We usually finish up the last of the bottles and jars sometime around Christmas, but until then, I always look forward to the chance to brighten up some sparkling water with the taste of spring and summer.
This recipe is from River Cottage. It has been my most successful attempt at bottling up one of the best spring and summer offerings around. Use anytime with sparkling water or as the base for a refreshing cocktail.
Adapted from River Cottage
Makes about 1 litre
20 elderflower heads
Finely grated zest of 2 unwaxed lemons and 1 orange
100ml lemon and orange juice (from the 2 lemons and 1 orange)
1 teaspoon citric acid (optional, as a preservative)
First inspect the flower heads to make sure there aren’t any insects on them, remove if so. Place the elderflower heads and citrus zest together in a large bowl.
Bring 1 litre of water to boil, and pour over the flower and citrus mix. Cover and leave to steep overnight.
Prepare enough glass jars or storage bottles for about 1 litre of liquid by washing in hot, soapy water. Set aside.
Strain the elderflower mixture into a saucepan, using clean muslin or a jelly bag. Add the lemon and orange juice, sugar and citric acid if using. Heat this mixture gently until all the sugar has dissolved. Bring to a gentle simmer for 2-3 minutes.
Pour cordial into prepared jars either with a funnel or by transferring to a sturdy liquid measuring cup with a spout.
Store in a cool, dark place and enjoy for up to a year.