Fragrant with a twist

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Elderflower bushes are in full bloom everywhere and the smell is amazing. I don’t have any in the garden, so I have to beg some off friends or trawl the riverbank in Coburg to see what I can find. Sometimes I even ask people if I can have a few flower heads off a bush in their garden, you don’t need many.

In the past couple of years I’ve made elderflower champagne. I’m always amazed at how such a flat dull-looking brew perks up after a short while in the bottle and turns into this wonderfully fizzy, fragrant, sparkling drink. You have to have faith, though. The first time I made it my brew looked terminally unbubbly in the late stages and I added some champagne yeast. The result was terrifyingly volatile. The following year I left it alone and the result was great.

This year I’ve been drinking elderflower soft drinks and imagining a delicious dry, strong elderflower gin-based cocktail, so cordial seems to be the go.

It’s such an old-fashioned word – cordial – but it’s delicious. Recycled swing-top beer bottles make pretty containers.

About 10 heads of elderflower.
Zest of one lemon (done thinly with a potato peeler is fine).
Some orange zest (optional).
Mix, cover with a litre and a bit of boiling water, leave for a day.
Put in a pot – strain everything through a muslin/cotton cloth, including the juices – with the juice of the lemon, a pinch of citric acid, a squeeze of orange juice (if you used some orange zest), and sugar.
I used 380g, but you could use up to 500g, if you like it very sweet.
Bring it to the boil, cook it for maybe 5 minutes. Bottle.
The more sugar you used, the better it will keep.


I opened one of the bottles last night (about three weeks after i made it) and discovered it had lightly fermented and had quite a bit of sparkle and spritz to it. The flavour had deepened too. Much more interesting. I would have thought the boiling process would have killed the wild yeasts that would have come with the flower heads, but clearly they are more robust than I thought.


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