I nearly missed this year’s elderflower season! We’ve been having mad weather in the UK this year – a late, cold Spring and then so much rain in the past three months. The elderflowers started late, and then meteorology managed to conspire with work and family commitments to leave me without a warm sunny day to go picking until today. We’ve had a few heavy downpours in the past few days, with another one yesterday evening, and I was a bit worried there would be nothing left for me to pick. A 5 mile, two hour foraging walk around the local lanes and byways eventually yielded the hundred good elderflower heads I needed. They have never been so hard won!
I can’t remember when I started making elderflower cordial – it’s been well over a decade certainly (and before that – elderflower drinks are one of the things I really did learn from my grandmother!). The desire to make my own elderflower champagne a couple of years ago drove the acquisition of my first small set of home-brew equipment – and what a great hobby (or can of worms, depending on your point of view!) that turned out to be. Brewing came before curing and smoking and put me on the path to wanting to learn as much as I could about country skills – and hence, in the end, this blog. So elderflowers and I go way back – they’ve had quite an influence on my life, one way and another!
These days I make a batch each of elderflower cordial and champagne, at the same time. In a good year I’ll do this a couple or three times, but sadly this year it’s a one-shot deal, so I’d better make the best of it! To make both, in the quantities I make, you need about 100 good blooms.
An ideal quality elderflower is one where all the little flower heads are open, the petals pure white with a lovely buttery-yellow bloom of pollen on it. As the blooms age, the pollen (and nectar, and the best of the flavour and scent) dissipates. The flowers then start to appear whiter – still ok to use, but not quite as flavoursome. Then they start to brown. Browning blooms will not contribute the flavour you want, and should not be used. The photo to the left shows great quality blooms at the back, adequate to front left and sub-standard (discard) to the front right. There were too many adequate and poor flowers today – earlier in the flowering season it’s much easier to get nice flowers!
Now you’ve picked your flowers, you’ll want the recipes. Here they are –
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