Ever since I began creating my foraging map of Tooting and Wandsworth Commons last year, I’ve been mindful that foraging isn’t just fruit picking in the autumn. But I’ve not managed to get myself out to experiment with nature’s local bounty. I missed spring’s nettles, and I had thought I’d missed the elderflowers too. In London they’re just beginning to go over, which means they’re late this year, but also that in spite of their late flowering, I’d missed them.
Then I travelled north, where the slightly cooler temperatures knocks everything back a week or so. Round the corner from my parents’ house in the Lakes was an elder tree absolutely loaded with creamy, cloudy white flowers. So my mum and I donned our wellies, waded into the field with carrier bags and secateurs, chopped a whole pile of flower heads off, and brought back inside to turn into elderflower cordial.
I get so excited about making things, and was particularly pleased that I still get a chance to have a go at making cordial.
We realised after we’d made it that you’re supposed to pick the flowers on a hot and sunny day and never in the wet. We picked ours in the mizzle, which is as close to dry weather we’ve had the past few weeks. I’ve no idea why you’re supposed to pick in the sun, except that perhaps it makes it more aromatic? Without trying it, I’ve got nothing to compare it to, but our rainy day results were very tasty.
Here’s the recipe:
25ish heads of elderflower
1kg sugar (or more or less to suit your taste)
three lemons and one orange
1.5 litres water
1 (optional) tsp of citric acid
Boil the water, and steep the flower heads – with as little leaf or stalk as you can – along with the zest of the fruit in it overnight.
The next morning, strain the fluid through a sterilised jelly bag, muslin, or, like we did, a clean old pillow case, into a large pan. Add the juice of the fruit and the sugar, give it a quick stir, and then heat until the sugar is dissolved. Then simmer the mixture for two minutes to give it a syrupy consistency.
Let it cool slightly, then use a funnel and pour it into clean bottles – either with swing top lids like ours, or screw tops.
Dilute with water, tonic, champagne or whatever you fancy and enjoy!