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Considering its popularity, I’m amazed that so few people make their own elderflower cordial. It really is incredibly easy to make, and is one of my favourite early summer traditions (check out 100 Free or Cheap Summer Activities for Kids for more ideas!)
My guess, though, is that there are a few things at the outset which stump people, and then the whole thing becomes too much hassle. This post is an attempt to un-stump the process – because the homemade version really is so much better than anything you can buy.
So – how do you make elderflower cordial?
How to recognise elderflower
First off, you’re going to need to recognise elderflower. It’s a white flower which can be found in hedgerows, parks, by the side of the road etc during late May and June in the UK. It’s not this:
This is cow parsley (at least, that’s the name I know it by) and it’s around in June, like elderflower but, unlike elderflower, it grows up from the ground. Elderflower is a tree, and the flowers – although they can end up near the ground – come from the branches.
This isn’t elderflower either:
Don’t ask me what it is (even though I have it in my garden), but it’s not elderflower. I know it as a white flower which blooms around the same time as elderflower, presumably just to confuse us mere mortals into not bothering to make our own elderflower cordial.
THIS is elderflower:
And if you’re not sure, go up and give it a sniff – elderflower even smells of elderflower. I know, right?
When to pick elderflowers for cordial
You’ll need around 20 of these white flower heads, and legend goes that you must pick them on a sunny day in order to get the best flavour. No idea whether this is true; all I can say is that I’ve always managed to pick them during a sunny few minutes squeezed into a rainy day, and the resulting flavour has always been excellent.
Anyway, once you pick them, you need to be ready to use them immediately, so now you know how to recognise them, get the other bits and bobs together first.
Elderflower cordial ingredients
First you’ll need some citric acid. You can get this from Lakeland, Amazon, Wilko, or some chemists – but be prepared to be looked at rather suspiciously and asked what you’re intending to use it for, as it’s (supposedly) used in the taking of heroin. If you want to avoid an awkward conversation, I’d buy it online.
If you’re wondering why use citric acid in elderflower cordial, it’s basically a preservative. It will help keep your cordial fresh for longer, and is a vital ingredient. Don’t leave it out!
It’s also helpful to have a couple of clean tea towels, one of which you don’t mind getting a bit stained, and a stash of plastic bottles in which to store the drink.
You can use glass bottles, but then you won’t be able to freeze them. And elderflower freezes really well. I always make a double stash and we’re still drinking it at Christmas – although we have been known to get through a bottle in an evening before.
If you haven’t got any medium-sized plastic bottles (squash bottles are ideal – fizzy drink bottles are too big) then do what I usually do, and buy a multipack of bottled water. You can decant the water into something else, and then you have several bottles of perfect size for storing/freezing elderflower and you don’t even need to wash them.
The rest is plain sailing: one lemon, 1.5kg of sugar and 1.2l boiling water.
Elderflower cordial recipe
This is how you make elderflower cordial:
- Shake 20 elderflower heads to get rid of any nasties.
- Put them in a large saucepan/bucket/bowl, along with one sliced lemon, 1.5kg sugar and 2 tsp citric acid.
- Cover with 1.2l boiling water and stir until the sugar is dissolved.
- Cover with a clean tea towel, put out of the way somewhere, and stir twice a day for four days.
- After four days, strain the liquid. I find the best method is to line a sieve with an old, clean tea towel. I balance this over a large bowl and pour in the elderflower. It takes a while to strain this away, so don’t be in too much of a hurry.
BUT – it is worth it, as the resulting liquid will be clear and delicious. Then – bottle!
How long does elderflower cordial last?
It will keep for up to one month in the fridge but, like I said, freezes well too.
The ‘party line’ is 3-4 months in the freezer, but I’ve drunk the stuff nearly a year after freezing, and it’s been perfect. Just be sensible, give it a look and a sniff: if anything looks or smells untoward, don’t touch it!
It also makes excellent presents, if you can bear to give the stuff away. I wouldn’t know.