I have been fascinated with elderflowers ever since I was about six years old. Growing up, we had an elder tree in our backyard and whenever it was in bloom me and my siblings would pick off the elderflowers to stir them through rainwater soups or use the elderflower heads to build little, flowery houses beside our tiny creek for our family of Kinder Surprise Hippo’s and Crocs.
One day, however, things started to get really interesting when my mom told me you could use the elderflower heads to make elderflower fritters or elderflower pancakes. Being the little, sweet-craving kid that I was, I was instantly obsessed and begged my mom to make them. Somehow, however, we never actually got round to making elderflower pancakes, fritters or anything elderflower for that matter. What can I say? The hippo’s needed shelter…
However, as my Kinder Surprise days are over and there are no longer hippo’s or crocs in need of a place to sleep, the elderflowers can finally be used in the kitchen!
Instead of frying the elderflower heads up or stirring the flowers through pancake batter I decided to make elderflower cordial, as it will keep for years (?), can be poured over pancakes or fritters and is probably the best way to get the flavor out of the flowers. And flavor was what I was going for; having deprived myself of elderflower for so long, I wanted as much elderflower flavor as possible!
So here’s what an elderflower head looks like.
The first thing you’ll need to do to make this cordial is grab a basket (or a bowl or something), a pair of scissors and someone you’re particularly fond of and head out into the woods where the air is pure and the elderflowers are free of smog and other pollutants.
Me and my man jumped into the truck and actually drove to a thirteenth-century castle nearby where I knew would be a lot of elder trees in bloom. Braving thigh-high grass and stinging nettle we managed to collect a box full of elderflower heads and save a baby frog who was in danger of being run over by a car by putting it down by the castle’s moat.
We’re so adventurous!
Anyway, make sure you pick flowers that look gorgeous and fresh and are loaded with pollen, like the one above. Not pathetic little overblown twigs or heads with elderflower berries. It’s actually best to pick the elderflower heads when it hasn’t rained in a while, because the rain washes off much of the pollen.
To make the elderflower cordial, give the collected elderflower heads a gentle shake to get rid of any bugs or other creepy crawlers (there was a caterpillar on mine). Obviously, it’s convenient to do this outside so you won’t have to pick the bugs off your kitchen floor once you’re done.
It’s just so much easier that way…
You then need to grab yourself a big bowl or pan, a scale and a pair of scissors. Holding the elderflower heads upside down over the pan, snip off the elderflowers, allowing them to fall in the pan. Since I’d picked a lot of elderflower heads, I could actually make two batches. By the way, don’t worry too much about keeping the little stems out of the pan; as long as the bigger stems aren’t added to the mix you’re good. Otherwise the cordial may get a stemey flavor.
Next, cut some thick lemon slices, throw these on top of the elderflowers and add warm water. The flowers might turn a little brown when they come in contact with the water, but this won’t affect the flavor of the cordial.
Now for the easy part: let the pan cool to room temperature, cover tightly with a lid or plastic wrap and leave to steep for 24 hours. Other recipes might advise you to steep the flowers for as long as 3 days, but since I had enough flowers to make two different batches of cordial I made a 24 hour and a 72 hour batch, and after some careful tasting, me and my man didn’t think the longer soak made that much of a difference…
So 24 hours it is!
After the soak, once the flowers have generously given off all their pollen (which is where the flavor comes from) to the lemony water, ready a measuring jug.
Carefully drape a clean tea towel over the measuring jug and slowly pour the elderflower water through the tea towel into the jug. The tea towel will catch any impurities, flowers and lemon slices and you’ll end up with a clear, golden liquid.
Okay, so it’s not clear like I promised, but that’s because of the pollen. They cloud the elderflower water up a bit.
Measure off 2 liters (about 2 quarts) of the elderflower water. If you don’t have enough liquid, simply place the elderflowers and lemon slices into the tea towel, twist the corners and squeeze to get the last bit of liquid out of the heads. Or you can just hold back a little of the sugar. No problemo…
Next, pour the elderflower water in a large pan.
And add a heap of sugar!
I’ve heard some people are afraid of sugar. I’m not one of them. But just in case you are: cordial is basically syrup, so don’t worry about the amount of sugar. In the end, you’ll only use a few tablespoons of cordial to make yourself a nice refreshing elderflower drink. So go ahead and make this, because it’s delicious.
Heat the mixture, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Once the syrup has become clear and has come to the boil you’re done!
You got to love easy recipes like these…
Have some sterilized bottles at the ready and fill these to the brim with syrup. Quickly twist the tops back on and place them upside down on the countertop to cool.
Dilute the cordial with water to make yourself a dreamy, summery drink (I know I just said dreamy, but the flavor of this stuff is just sensational and excitingly different than anything I have ever tasted) or pour it over pancakes or ice cream.
I, for one, already have about a million ideas on how to use it in the kitchen!
- 25 elderflower heads
- ¾ lemon, scrubbed clean.
- 2 liters (about 8½ cups) warm water (bathwater temperature)
- 2500g (or 12½ cups) granulated sugar
- bottles with screw tops
- Shake the elderflower heads to get rid of any bugs. Place a large bowl or pan on a scale and, using a pair of scissors and holding the elderflower heads upside down over the bowl, snip the flowers off. It's okay if you leave the smaller stems on, just try to keep the bigger ones out of the bowl, as they will give the cordial an unpleasant 'stemey' flavor.
- Cut the lemon in slices and throw these into the bowl on top of the elderflowers. Pour the warm water over the flowers and lemon. The flowers might turn brown once they get in touch with the warm water, but this won't affect the flavor of the cordial. Leave to cool to room temperature, then cover tightly with plastic wrap. Leave to steep for 24 hours. Some recipes advise you to steep the flowers for up to three days, but after some experimentation I've come to the conclusion that it doesn't make much of a difference.
- Sterilize bottles and screw tops by placing them in a large pan filled with water (make sure the bottles don't have any air left in them) and bringing the water up to the boil. Leave to boil gently for ten minutes, turn the heat off and leave the bottles and tops in the hot water until ready to fill.
- Strain the elderflower water by pouring the contents of the bowl through a clean (!) tea towel into a measuring jug (if you want to be precise about it) or right into a big pan. You should now have a tea towel full of flowers and lemon slices and a pan (or jug) with 2 liters (about 2 quarts) of clear elderflower water.
- Add the sugar to the elderflower water and heat over low heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Once the sugar has dissolved and the mixture has come to a boil, turn the heat off, fish the sterilized bottles and tops out of the hot water and carefully pour the syrup into the bottles, all the way up to the brim. Screw the tops on (wear oven mitts! The bottles are hot!) and leave the bottles to cool upside down on the countertop.
- Store in a cool and dry place. A sealed bottle will keep for up to a year, an opened bottle will keep in the fridge for a couple of months.
- Dilute the elderflower syrup with cold water to make a refreshing drink! Or try adding some to a glass of cold white wine.