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long time no see

July 5, 2014

Liza-Beth emailed me to express concern that I hadn’t written anything here for ages. She was a little worried, I think, but now she ‘knows that it’s just blog laziness rather than something serious, she’ll probably not email me again for ages.

She is moving house though – and Kit is now 15 (happy belated birthday Kit) which is pretty scary.

However, the elderflower is still out (just) and there might still be time to make nice things to drink – and write it down for posterity (with a picture of elderflowers and their leaves for Halo and Manf as they might poison themselves, and quite possibly other people, if I don’t). elderflower6


A cautionary note to anyone gathering elderflowers: they grow on a tree. Often quite a big tree. With tree like leaves and not lacy feathery leaves. At the moment there are all kinds of  while lacy umbellifers out including hogweed, hemlock, hemlock water dropwort, but although they may be tall plants, they are not trees. They’re not good to eat either – poisonous in fact – and generally smell nasty. Halo and Manf gathered what they thought was elderlower a few weeks ago, but it turned out to be something quite different – cow parsley possibly or rough chervil. I was a little disappointed especially as Halo has had the benefit of my wild plant identification skills for most of her early life, but, like times tables, the knowledge didn’t stick. It has to be said that Halo wasn’t sure her harvest was the real thing, so I suppose that’s some comfort.

The elderflower was early this year.  Usually I can make an instant elderflower drink (put two or three large  heads of nice smelling elderflower heads to infuse in a couple of pints of water for an hour or so, strain, add the juice of half a small lemon so and then sweeten with a little sugar) for Rella’s birthday which is May 27th.  This year I would have had time to make elderflower champagne by her birthday and this takes about three weeks (didn’t though – thought she’d be in Cardiff for her birthday so there wasn’t any point – and she was 21 too! sorry Rella!). As I said the elderflower’s early. Mild winter you see.

It’s best to pick elderflower in the morning I think and before the sun has been shining on it for too long. Don’t pick near roads (pollution). You want heads that are yellower (rather than starkly white) because they have more pollen on them and more flavour. Once the flowers are picked don’t shake them too much, but leave them on a flat surface for a few minutes so that  insects can crawl away. One thing I should mention is that before you pick any elderflower (or berries later in the year) you have to ask for permission from the elder tree witch. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.


Elderflower champagne is nice and naturally fizzy.  You need about 10 very large and nicely scented elderflower heads (or more if they’re smaller ones) which you put in a very clean container (scrupulously clean). Add  gallon of cold water (about 4.5 litres). Add the juice and the rind of an unwaxed lemon, a pound and a half of sugar and a tablespoon of white wine vinegar. Swirl it around to dissolve the sugar, cover and leave overnight – 24 hours really. The next day strain the flowers off through a sieve lined with a sheet of  kitchen paper towel (to catch the insects)  then pour into clean strong bottles – pop bottles are good.  Leave in a cool place for a week or so and it’ll start to ferment. Drink while it’s fizzy – it’s only very mildly alcoholic, but it’s early summer in a bottle.

I’ve made several batches of cordial already and I may just make one more. Put about 8 or 10 large elderflower heads in a suitable container, add 4 pints of cold water and the juice and rind of a large unwaxed lemon stir well, cover it  and and steep it overnight. Next day strain off the flowers and the rind and  pour the liquid into a pan (preferably not aluminium as that can make the elderflower taste funny) and heat the liquid. Add the sugar stirring all the time. It’s cordial so you will dilute it, but how much sugar you add is up to you really. If you want it to last for a long time you’ll need a pound (16oz) to a pint, but that makes it very sweet and when it’s diluted it loses some of the elderfloweryness. I tend to go for less sugar – usually 8oz ro a pint. It won’t keep as well, but I think elderflower probably shouldn’t. Once the sugar’s dissolved bring the cordial to a rolling boil and then remove from the heat, cool, bottle and drink diluted with fizzy water. Delicious.

One Comment leave one →
  1. July 19, 2014 7:03 am

    elderflower champagne is great! just don’t put it into glass…

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