I was quite brave as I headed down to my poor neglected orchard to check on things. The grass was chest height the seed heads were loaded with itch inducing pollen. But it had to be done – I didn’t want to miss the window of opportunity to collect the elderberry flowers. I feared I’d left it too late as many bracts had passed beyond the delicate and beautifully intricate flowers onto hundreds of little green orbs that would steadily grow to become a deep purple ball with so much potential – especially as a wine. But I was down in the orchard for just 20 flower heads in full bloom and warm from the sun.
My plan was to make elderflower cordial for the big day. A drink so sophisticated and refined, it will be the perfect thing to quench thirsts on Christmas day. The boffins are predicting it will be a hot, sunny day, so in this instance I desperately want to believe them.
Once back in the kitchen with my gorgeous harvest, I set about removing the thicker stalks holding the flowers together as to many of these may make my cordial a tad bitter. Any bugs and beasties can be shaken off or the flowers can be gently washed.
The first recipe I was using as a guide – because I’m not all that good at following instructions – called for 1.5kg of sugar. This took me by surprise because I never read instructions through to the end, I just look for the next step. I really should have learnt my lesson when I put the Christmas cake in the oven at 8:00pm only to discover it needed four hours! 1.5kg of sugar is a lot in my book! I’m all about healthy living and this seemed a tad too much, so I did a quick look about on the great big internet and found another recipe that called for a modest 900g of sugar.
Both recipes called for the zest of two lemons to be added to the sugar and the same amount of water as the sugar. Actually in hindsight as the sugar:water ratios are the same despite the amount – I’m still using a lot of sugar, but I’m happy to kid myself that 900g is better for you than 1.5kg. I carefully peeled one of my lemons but for the life of me couldn’t find the other. I suspect Hubby the Un-Gardener used it for popping in the neck of his beer bottle. So I grabbed an orange. I’m sure it won’t matter all that much that I’ve gone beyond the strict citrus protocol called for by most recipes.
Citric acid was also added to the mix however I suggest you add a bit then taste it and then add a bit more if it isn’t as tart as you’d like it. One recipe suggested a whopping 85g, however after 60g I decided to have a wee taste and my lips puckered up like I’d sucked on a lemon. So I stopped adding any more citric acid and added an unknown quality of sugar – to return the sweetness. I just threw in a load and hoped for the best.
This was then heated gently on the stove, stirring all the time to stop it burning or boiling. It didn’t take long to dissolve all that sugar and the zesty aromas from the orange and lemon filled the kitchen with a festive fragrance.
Once it was dissolved it was removed from the heat and the flowers were added. It was like tossing confetti at a wedding. My mood was definitely celebratory. Christmas isn’t that far way and carols wafted across the airways and combined with the aromas and mounting excitement to create an expectancy for all that is good about coming together with family over the festive table.
A glance at the recipe instructed to leave it all to cool and step for 24 hours. I checked about the great big internet and the general consensus was 24 hours or overnight. Now the instruction to leave it overnight was an interesting one, as how does the author of the recipe know what time I started making it, or how am I to know what time they made it when creating their recipe?
Reluctantly I headed off to bed. It was probably the best place for me as I still had a tickly itch in the back of my throat from the tall grasses, that were only partially eased by passing some sparkling wine past the scratchy spot. Any excuse really.
The next morning – I’m rather impatient you see and went for the overnight suggestion, I strained the syrup. At this point I made sure everything was scrupulously clean or sterile and my straining cloth that had a former life has a net curtain, had been boiled in a pot of water so it was good to go. I pegged it to the top of a large bowl and poured the syrup, flowers and zest through it. Then not wanting to waste a drop I gathered up the cloth and gave it a good squeeze.
Careful not to spill so much as a droplet, I carefully poured it into sterile bottles and labelled them ready for gracing the table on the big day. The kids can have it in bubbly soda water and feel special, and the grown ups can add it to their bubbly wine for a delightful elixir that will add to the magic of Christmas day.
Come again soon – the festive season is such a busy time
Sarah the Gardener : o )