If you are what you eat, I’ll take flowers please!
I’ve had elder flower cordial on my mind since last summer. The thought of buying ready made cordial is much less appealing than making it myself and, like so many other wonderful edibles, it’s seasonal. So either gather it when it’s in its prime or wait another year to harvest. I say, don’t let a perfectly good summer go by without making the most of it.
Find elderberries blooming from May to July. There are many different varieties, but it’s common elderberry or, Sambucus Nigra, that is generally used to make cordial. It’s a deciduous shrub native to much of North America and Europe and can be identified by its *corymb of delicate flowers and pinnate leaves with serrated edges. Look carefully before you pick to be sure you’re harvesting the right plant.
Harvest as you would cut flowers, cutting the stem just above a branching point either right below the flower or one joint (or leaf node) down. If you’re walking or riding a bike, it’s helpful to have a stem to hold onto for easy transport. (You only need the flowering heads for the recipe.)
Elder flower cordial is basically a simple syrup. Add it to nearly anything: lemonade, sorbet, cakes and fritters or a gin sour for a true taste of summer.
Elder flowers don’t hold up as cut flowers, but they’re fabulous infused in a syrup of sugar and lemon. It’s a simple, culinary process that is worth trying and if you miss the bloom time for elder flowers you can try this same method with common milkweed flowers and other, sweet edibles.
It produces a unique flavor you don’t want to miss.
Elder Flower Cordial
What You Need:
- 25 or so elder flower clusters
- 4 cups sugar
- 2 or 3 lemons
- 6 cups water
- *Local honey, optional.
*Experiment by replacing 4 Tbsp honey for 1 cup sugar.
What You Do:
- Prepare lemons by peeling zest with a potato peeler. Squeeze and set aside the juice of one lemon. Cut remaining lemon(s) into thin rounds.
- Trim flowering heads of excess stems. Remove any bugs and give flowers a quick clean by submerging in a bowl of cold water.
- Combine water and sugar in a saucepan and bring to a boil.
- If you’re substituting some of the sugar with honey, stir it in once the sugar is dissolved.
- Once sugar is dissolved, remove from heat and add flowers, sliced lemons, zest and juice to the mixture.
- Cover and let sit to infuse for 24 hours.
- Strain liquid from the flowers and lemons using muslin or a clean tea towel. Use a funnel or ladle to fill sterilized jars. Seal and refrigerate for up to 6 weeks or freeze in ice cube trays.
Serve as a summer drink, diluting with water, soda, lemonade or sparkling wine. Try mixing 1 part cordial to 2 parts water and freeze into popsicles, or drizzle cordial over fresh berries and other fruit.
Gin & Elder Flower Cocktail
- 1 ounce gin
- 1 ounce cordial
- 6 to 8 ounces of soda water
- Lemon wedge
Fill a 10 oz glass with ice. Pour gin, cordial and soda over ice. Stir and serve with lemon.
*The flowers of elderberries resemble many other flowers, particularly flowers of the carrot family such as Queen Anne’s Lace and also poison hemlock. Be sure to have a positive ID before harvesting.
*A corymb is a collection of flowers that looks like an umbel or flat topped cluster of flowers. At first, it may look like a single, large flower but it’s actually a collection of tiny flowers.