French Foraged Delights – Elderflower Cordial

The taste of summer

One of my favourite summertime jobs in June is collecting elderflowers from our hedgerows here in Normandy and using them to make fragrant elderflower cordial. It's become quite a ritual, so lovely to wander through the meadows which are by now waist height, or higher, and watch the myriad of colourful butterflies, surrounded by the drowsing hum of bees and other insects.

My recipe, below, has evolved over the years to best preserve the delicate and heavenly scent of the elderflowers with a refreshing zing of lemon to cut through the sweetness of the cordial.

I use the cordial in drinks - fabulous for a summery gin and tonic or with fizzy water and a slice of lemon but my current favourite is enjoying it poured over fruit fresh from the garden – with strawberries it’s a match made in heaven! It’s the classic pairing with gooseberries, although here they ripen much later than the elderflowers, so preserving their flavour in cordial is key as we have an abundance of gooseberries in the potager.

Have you tried lemon and elderflower cordial drizzle cake? It is delicious.

We are quite a way from road fumes here, so can use the flowers without washing them and it makes all the difference to the taste. The depth of flavour comes from the pollen, which is so easy to lose, so handle the blooms carefully.

Also, if you pick the flowers on a warm sunny day you achieve the best pollen loading and flavour. Choose the ones with the most fragrant scent. I always leave some to ripen to berries, not only for the birds but to make elderberry cordial to store away for the winter.

Would you like my recipe?
You will need:
20 - 25 heads of elderflowers
3 tbs citric acid
2 lemons
1.5 kg of white sugar (3lbs)
1.5l water (3 pints)
🍋 Pick 20-25 heads of elderflowers, the flowers should be open and not starting to brown. 🍋 Leave them spread on a tea towel on a shady table outside for 20 minutes to let all the little critters crawl off, try not to shake them too much as you want to keep all the scented pollen. 🍋 Remember, don’t wash them as you will wash away the flavour, remove as much stalk as possible. 🍋 In a big pan, gently heat a litre and a half of water and a kilo and a half of white sugar until it dissolves. 🍋 Add the zest of 2 lemons (a potato peeler does the job well) and then slice and add the rest of the lemons to the pan. Bring to the boil gently, stirring occasionally. 🍋 Turn off the heat, add 3 tablespoons of citric acid and the elderflowers; stir, cover and leave overnight. 🍋 Strain through a clean tea towel or muslin into sterilised bottles* 🍋 Your cordial will keep for 6 weeks in the fridge.

*I sterilise the bottles by heating the oven to 150 centigrade (200f), turning it off and putting the bottles inside for 20 minutes, although a hot cycle in the dishwasher will be fine.

Please be sure you can identifying foraged ingredients without doubt before using them.

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