Sunday, 8 June 2014

Cordial Greetings!

Summer, I think we can tentatively suggest, is on its way. And this means a whole host of wonderful vegetables, edible flowers, abundant herbs, and opportunities for even newbies to have an outdoor forage. Now, this needs to be done with some careful research - I'm not suggesting anyone heads out into the wild gleefully munching on whatever they can pick - but one thing growing particularly rampantly right now, and fairly easy to identify, is elderflower.

From cordial, to sparkling wine, syllabub or sorbet, elderflower is a flavour that encapsulates Summer (almost as nicely as Pimms!). It is lightly floral and refreshingly citrus in flavour and elderflower bushes pop up everywhere. Right this minute they are out there at their best, so once you've finished reading this, pop on your sunnies and get out there with a pair of scissors and a sturdy plastic shopper to collect some.
Choosing where to forage is up to you, but I prefer to head for places that are low in traffic so that my pickings are as unpolluted as possible. I also do my best to forage responsibly, choosing a few blooms from a number of bushes rather than decimating a few. This has added benefits when it comes to elderflower, as the untouched flowers now will turn into delicious elderberries in Autumn. 
Elderflower is fairly easy to identify if you head out foraging in the morning. The creamy white flowers grow on bushes, often attached to trees, with the flowers growing in clustered blooms that should smell of - you guessed it - elderflower. By the afternoon, or when they are past their best - they begin to smell musty and should not be picked. They can be confused with other plants such as cow parsley and pyracantha but there are easy ways to rule these out. This is an excellent blog on how to identify the right target
To make about three litres of elderflower cordial, you will need to pick about 20 elderflower blooms. I picked mine from three different woods and commons and found that those in the sunlight and higher up in the bushes smelled freshest. One of the first rules of foraging is not to pick close to the ground if you can avoid it - basically wherever dogs can make their mark. Smell the blooms before you pick them to ensure you are getting the ones that smell as they should and beware - a few hours smelling these can wreak havoc on even mild hayfever sufferers like me!
Once you've picked your blooms, here is the best recipe I could find - BBC Good Food's recipes contains a lot more sugar and I wanted to keep a little more zingy freshness.

Elderflower cordial (makes approx three litres)
20 Elderflower blooms (no leaves)
4 unwaxed lemons
1.8kg caster sugar
1.2 litres water
50g citric acid (this can be bought from asian grocers or chemists but is not a vital ingredient)
  • Gently shake the elderflower heads to knock the blackflies and other bugs from their delicious harem. Do not wash them as this washes away more of the precious pollen than knocking them will. You won't be able to get rid of all the bugs, sadly, but do your best and think of the extra protein!
  • Put them in the roomiest saucepan you have, along with the peeled zest of the lemons, which then need to be sliced and added to the pot.
  • Add the water, boiling, to the sugar, and heat until the sugar has completely dissolved before pouring this on top of the elderflower and lemon. Pop a lid on the pot and allow it to talk to itself for 24 hours.
  • After this time, strain the mixture into a clean pot first through a large sieve or chinois and then through muslin to remove unwanted particles. 
  • Heat the strained mixture to boiling (do not allow to catch or burn before bottling in sterilised bottles. Bottles can be sterilised either by fully immersing in sterilising solution and allowing to airdry, or by running the clean bottles through a hot cycle in the dishwasher.
The cordial will keep for six weeks in the fridge, or can be stored in the freezer in ice cube trays or frozen flat in freezer bags on a tray for easier storage. It can be used as a cordial (mix one part to 8 or 9 parts water, added to champagne or prosecco, or used in cheesecakes, custards, syllabubs.. the list goes on.
And let me tell you, it tastes delicious. So what are you waiting for? Get your shoes on and get out there before it disappears!

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