Thursday 5 May 2011

Home Grown

I spend so much time schlepping round endless food shops and exotic supermarkets, that I am always ecstatic at this time of year when I can make two of my favorite recipes without so much as having to leave my garden.  I am very fortunate to have, at the end of my tiny terraced house garden, an Elder Tree which every year flowers just about now. 
First I pick flowers to make my annual supply of Elderflower Cordial and then maybe a week later on a super-sunny day, I will pick only the heads most laden with pollen for my Elderflower Champagne.  The pollen provides the yeast which in turn will give it firstly its fizz and secondly and equally important, its alcohol.  A word of warning.  The Alcohol content is very low so don't rely on it alone if you want to get pissed.

Both Cordial and Champagne prove excellent presents and also a topical drink when entertaining.  I buy my swing stopper bottles on-line and although you have to buy a fair number, I seem to get through them and find them useful for all sorts of things.

The first time I made the Champagne, inspired after watching River Cottage Spring, the recipe, given by Hugh Fernley-Wittingstall, was seriously wrong. It had far to much sugar in it and was teeth-meltingly sweet. I ended up adding a further 10 litres of water to the mix to adjust the taste. Thankfully it still worked but I ended up with 16 litres of the stuff. What I discovered though is it ages very nicely and the yeast integrates well, resulting in a slightly more complex flavour. Try to avoid adding extra yeast when making, as it can be a bit overpowering, unless you plan to lay it down.

I use Sophie Grigsons' recipe for the Cordial and find it faultless.  The only problem that may occur is a sediment from the yeast collecting but you can filter it into a clean bottle before using.  Citric Acid can be bought from Boots or any good Chemist. 

There is something very English about the taste of Elderflower.  It has a grassy, floral, citrus flavour similar to sauvignon blanc and it is also delicious with gooseberries, stewed, or in a fool, added to ice-cream or sorbet.  You can also infuse the flowers  to make a flavoured vinegar.  The berries which appear late summer make jelly and can also be used to enrich sauces and casseroles.

If you do not have an Elder Tree in your garden, you are sure to find it growing on any Common, Park or along a country lane.  It is best to try and avoid choosing any near main roads due to pollution.

Elderflower Cordial

20 heads of elderflower
1.8 kg granulated sugar, or caster sugar
1.2 litres water
2 unwaxed lemons
75 g citric acid

1. Shake the elderflowers to expel any lingering insects, and then place in a large bowl.

2. Put the sugar into a pan with the water and bring up to the boil, stirring until the sugar has completely dissolved.

3. While the sugar syrup is heating, pare the zest of the lemons off in wide strips and toss into the bowl with the elderflowers. Slice the lemons, discard the ends, and add the slices to the bowl. Pour over the boiling syrup, and then stir in the citric acid. Cover with a cloth and then leave at room temperature for 24 hours.

4. Next day, strain the cordial through a sieve lined with muslin (or a new j-cloth rinsed out in boiling water), and pour into thoroughly cleaned glass or plastic bottles. Screw on the lids and pop into the cupboard ready to use.

Elderflower Champagne

Makes about 6 litres
4 litres hot water
700g sugar
Juice and zest of four lemons
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
About 15 elderflower heads, in full bloom
A pinch of dried yeast (you may not need this)

1. Put the hot water and sugar into a large container (a spotlessly clean bucket is good) and stir until the sugar dissolves, then top up with cold water so you have 6 litres of liquid in total.
2. Add the lemon juice and zest, the vinegar and the flower heads and stir gently.
3. Cover with clean muslin and leave to ferment in a cool, airy place for a couple of days. Take a look at the brew at this point, and if it's not becoming a little foamy and obviously beginning to ferment, add a pinch of yeast.
4. Leave the mixture to ferment, again covered with muslin, for a further four days. Strain the liquid through a sieve lined with muslin and decant into sterilised strong glass bottles with champagne stoppers (available from home-brewing suppliers) or Grolsch-style stoppers, or sterilized screw-top plastic bottles (a good deal of pressure can build up inside as the fermenting brew produces carbon dioxide, so strong bottles and seals are essential).
5. Seal and leave to ferment in the bottles for at least a week before serving, chilled. The champagne should keep in the bottles for several months. Store in a cool, dry place.


  1. remember the big black bucket at the brack?? That was truly awful, unlike this I am sure... x

  2. Oh my God yes. I had forgotten about that! That was Cordial and there was tonnes of it. Adam made us pass the whole lot through muslin but insisted it dripped really slowly and the whole thing took so long. Days and days and it was so damn hot down in that nasty cellar that the whole lot went off before we even made it!


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