Thursday, 19 May 2011

recipe: elderflower cordial

It's funny. I hated Chemistry when I was at school (except for the teacher - he was newly qualified, only a few years older than us and quite dishy, heehee), but I am absolutely fascinated by it now. If only we had studied the chemistry of fermentation, of baking and of getting the right pH levels to grow blue hydrangea instead of pink, I'd have been hooked.

This week, in preparation for making the first batch of elderflower cordial of the season, I read up a bit on the process, and I'm happy to say I finally understand the role of citric acid in the recipe. If you have a look at the comments on this very informative blog post, 'The Elderflower Man' explains exactly why it is so important. The other thing I hadn't realised is that it can be difficult to find citric acid. I buy mine from an independent grocery shop in Totnes called The Happy Apple, but I understand it is often available in chemists, and sometimes from larger chain grocery stores. I have made elderflower cordial without citric acid, and I wouldn't recommend it. The resulting cordial is not only far too sweet, but it lacks that refreshing tartness that enhances the elderflower flavour so beautifully.
 As always, if you are foraging, look for elders that are unsprayed and are away from pollutants such as busy roads. We try to collect on a dry day, picking the flowers with about four inches of stem left on them, and using them within 24 hours (though they should keep for a couple of days in the fridge).

Here's the recipe I use (no idea where it came from, as I first used it about 16 years ago!):

Elderflower Cordial
yield: approximately 3 70cL wine bottles
100g elderflowers
1.8kg sugar
75g citric acid
1 orange, zested and sliced
1 lemon, zested and sliced
1.2 litres water

When I am ready to make the cordial, I prepare my flowers by snipping off as much of the stem as possible and giving them a quick sluice in a bowl of water to remove any bugs. The Elderflower Man says you shouldn't wash them because it is the pollen that imparts the most flavour, but unless you are picking flowers from your own garden you might be happier giving yours a quick dip. I certainly haven't noticed the flavour to be any less full than commercially prepared cordial.
Put the water in a saucepan on a low heat and pour in the sugar. Turn off the heat and gently stir until all the sugar has dissolved. Place the elderflower heads, the sliced lemon and orange and the zest into a large glass bowl and pour your sugar syrup over it all. Stir in citric acid. At this point, I use a very clean wooden spoon to press all the flowers and fruit under the syrup. Cover the bowl loosely and leave to infuse overnight or up to two days.
Strain the mixture through muslin (I boil the muslin for a few minutes before this step to ensure it is very clean, though this is probably not necessary). Pour strained cordial into sterilised bottles. Again, you don't *have* to sterilise them, but it never hurts to be scrupulously clean when preserving anything. I save screw top wine bottles for this, as I think the green glass helps to prolong the life of the cordial and both the bottles and the screw tops can be sterilised and re-used again and again. My hubby certainly doesn't mind helping me to procure bottles! Label with the contents and the date. Try not to give too many bottles away as presents, which is what I did last year.
For a refreshing, summery drink, add 1 part cordial to 8 parts still or sparkling water, or to taste. Drizzle cordial over ice cream. Whisk cordial into salad dressing or marinade. Add cordial to vodka, gin or champagne. Just try to restrain yourself from swigging it straight from the bottle!
(gratuitous, self-indulgent, arty-farty photo)

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