In England, there are two drinks that say, ‘Summer has arrived’. The first is a Pimm’s cocktail. The second: elderflower cordial.
I can’t remember when I first tasted elderflower cordial (or presse, as it is sold in cafes), but it was almost certainly in England and very probably on a Landmark Trust holiday. For me, fragrant, refreshing elderflower cordial typifies lazy days, sunshine, quaint villages and a slow pace of life.
Elderflower grows abundantly in the UK and across Europe, where it is popular. In North America the plant only grows in the more temperate climes, but the cordial is widely available bottled; in Canada, look out for Bottlegreen Drinks’ very good version. In the USA, you can always buy it at IKEA!
For those of us lucky enough to have access to a ready supply of elderflower (London is teeming with elderflower trees – I pillaged one beside our neighbourhood pond for this recipe), it’s simple, cheap and satisfying to make your own.
While the flowers may be abundant, the most difficult aspect of making your own cordial can be obtaining citric acid, which gives the cordial its characteristic tang. Citric acid used to be widely available in pharmacies, but many have stopped stocking it (because heroin addicts use it to dissolve their drugs – now there’s a fact you weren’t expecting or particularly wanting from a baking blog). My advice is to bypass the chemists entirely and go straight to your nearest Asian or Halal grocery; citric acid is a popular ingredient in many Asian snack foods and is readily available in the spice aisle.
The actual cordial making is so simple, it’s laughable. You throw the elderflower heads into a large bowl with some sugar, sliced lemons, boiling water and the citric acid powder, and let it sit for 24 hours. Then strain and bottle it. The acid acts as a preservative, meaning the cordial will last for several months in the fridge or indefinitely in the freezer.
Once bottled, this cordial has so many uses. The most usual way to enjoy it is diluted with still or sparkling water, but you can also add it to champagne or use it as a base for some wicked cocktails. If you can dream it, you can drink it!
Elderflower season is almost over, but you may have one weekend left before all the flowers are past their best. Get out there and start picking – and brewing! You won’t be sorry you did.
Makes about 1.5 litres
1 kg (4 cups) sugar
850 ml (3 2/3 cups) boiling water
17 large elderflower heads, unwashed and snipped from their stems
2 large lemons (or 1 large lemon and 2 limes), sliced
45 g (scant 1/4 cup) citric acid
Put the sugar into a large bowl and pour over the boiling water. Stir until all the sugar has dissolved. Add the elderflower, lemons, limes and citric acid to the bowl.
Cover and let sit 24 hours at room temperature.
Strain the mixture through a clean muslin-lined sieve into another large bowl. Be sure to gather up the muslin bundle and squeeze out all the good juices so you don’t miss a drop! Pour the strained cordial into clean (preferably sterilized) glass or plastic bottles. It will store in the fridge for several months or in the freezer for much longer (if you’re putting the cordial in the freezer, be sure to use a plastic bottle).
To drink, dilute to taste with still or sparkling water.