The following day we studied the instructions again. One thing I forgot to say; you need a thermometer. If you are going to do any of these recipes, it is essential. That and this book and you won’t go too wrong!
Pam Corbin’s method gives a cordial that you can keep on the shelf. Other methods give a result which you have to keep in the fridge, like the Jam Jar Shop Guide to Elderflower Cordial.
The alternatives have some version of making a sugar syrup first, then adding the flowers. Some recipes add chopped up whole citrus fruit rather than zest. That method presumably is gentler on the flowers and you might get a more fragrant though shorter lived cordial that way. There is a risk of mould if you don’t use a sterilising water bath to process the bottles and want to keep the cordial out of the fridge in storage.
Filtration: Brian poured the liquor carefully out of the bucket where the flower heads and zest had been soaking overnight into another container and strained it through a muslin bag to remove particles. The liquid was very dark and we worried that we were gong to end up with a brown cordial.
Then we did some sums; 1.5 litres of liquid to 1 kg of granulated sugar plus one heaped teaspoon of citric acid were the proportions used.
We added all of the lemon and orange juices reserved from the previous day, about 500 ml, to the strained liquor, sugar and citric acid. Heated it up slowly to dissolve the sugar and then realised that we had forgotten to strain the citrus juice, so we put the whole lot through muslin again. Twice. A mistake that could be fixed! No floaty particles now!
Our jam pan held 4.5 litres worth of liquid so that’s what we worked with.
We sterilized the bottles and Brian carefully simmered the cordial. It stayed a murky brown. I took a spoonful and put it in a glass and diluted it to see what it tasted of. Not quite right somehow, but I couldn’t work out why. A little bitter, a little polleny, not what I expected.
I went away to do something and when I came back Brian had transformed the cordial. The secret was buried in Pam’s notes: it has to come up to 88° – 90° C whilst being simmered, for two minutes, this not only extends the shelf life but transformed the cordial into a paler and brighter fluid. Now it tasted right, silky, floral and citrussy. For a moment there I thought we were going to have to chuck the lot!
Much happier now, Brian proceeded to fill the bottles leaving a gap of an inch at the top for expansion in the final stage.
He then arranged them in two waterbaths, positioning the bottles so they didn’t touch the sides of the pan and standing them on folded tea towels. Tops on bottles not done up tight at this point.
The water was brought up to 88° C and kept there for 20 minutes. A thermometer is essential!
After this, he hoiked them out and tightened the tops.
Bottles of golden June delight! I found some ancient sheets of label paper and used one of the photos as a background image for these labels.
Thank you Pam and thank you Brian, chief bottler and preserver! A summer of delightful elderflower spritzers beckons….
Edit: Later in the month when we were “Around and About” we made a second batch using a cold steep method. This batch was a lot more lemony and had less of the elderflower aroma too it, but had a much paler colour.
A lot of work, but the finished product looks magnificent!
Suelle, we don’t mind work like this, it might have to become an annual event , and it is much more rewarding and creative than a lot of stuff that gets called work these days.
We also love lining the bottles up on the shelves at the end.. :)
If I had those really nice flip top bottles, I would sure want to use them. Neat.
Very pretty end product.
Thanks for the step by step post.
Watch out for that darn chair – it almost blocked poor Zeb from the picture! :)
Poor Zeb is going to the poodle parlour tomorrow along with his sis. You won’t recognise him – chair or no chair :)
Hi Joanna! As promised, here I am :o) This blog is brilliant! I am going to have a look around at your other recipes too! I’d love to have a go at making this… I will keep you posted! See you all at the woods again soon :o)
Could be a profitable side line Karen! Thanks for visiting me. See you soon :)
Absolutely magnificent! I feel like I’ve been in your kitchen with you today! Thanks for the post, Jo, enjoyed it enormously! :)
Celia, You would not believe what Brian came back with today. 12 kg of tomatoes for a fiver. He’s been passata-making ever since and is less than half way through his purchase. I told him he needed a machine like you, so he is investigating. Otherwise it will be Plan B. Cook em, and freeze em.
I’m going to take a little break from blogging after that epic :)
Loved this series, Joanna! (And I think I’m luckier than the others in that I didn’t start reading until this evening when all three posts were up, so I didn’t have the suspense the others had to deal with!) I’ve been really eager to try canning/preserving…I think this may be the summer!
The ‘theme’ for this blog gives a very spaced out long post, I keep thinking about changing to another one which is more compact so the posts don’t feel so big Abby! It looks like it is more complicated than it is. But I’m very much a beginner blogger, get into terrible tussles with the formating and photos. Really pleased you enjoyed the story :) It’s like time travel making these cordials and the odd bit of chutney and jam. People did it all the time not so many years ago. Really recommend this book if you haven’t got something similar btw!
Jo, these look so gorgeous, your lovely labels make them look so professional and “finished”. I bet they look fantastic lined up in the pantry. It really does sound yummy, the perfect summer’s day refresher.
You made elderflower cordial! How marvelous and how truly lovely are your bottles full of that beautiful elixir!
My birthday is in June and I always ask for a huge bouquet of elderflowers to put with sweet woodruff for May wine. I made elderberry wine one year and thoroughly enjoyed the process and the wine! But elderberry cordial is my very favorite for using in making punches for parties and teas.
Thank you for sharing- I feel as though I made it vicariously following your photos and posts.
Thanks Dan :) We’re waiting for a few more bottles as we’ve got some tucked in the fridge yet to deal with…. Every time I go out I see trees in gardens, along the roadsides waving their white flowers at me, elderflower stars in my eyes.
Hi Heidianne, thanks for visiting! Never tried making wine, or beer for that matter but your sweet woodruff sounds fabulous, what does it taste like? I have sweet cecily growing in the garden. Not quite sure what to do with that either. Tastes of aniseed, I put it with fish sometimes and sneak it into leafy herb salads.
Sweet woodruff is a quiet little green whorl of a plant that has sweet starlike flowers in the spring. It grows in beds at the base of trees most often and when dried smells like hay. It is such a short and well behaved herb that likes shade that I’ve always made a place for it in my garden even if it’s only use is as a backdrop to my bouquets of violets and featured in the occasional May wine.
I also grow sweet cecily in my herb garden but had heard that it is dangerous in large quantities and so just use the flowers for potpourris and large bouquets. I believe they used to candy it at one time.
Goodness, you have made a lot of cordial. It’s rather a nice colour, despite your initial worries. We have yet to make ours this year, although we still have quite a bit of last year’s left. Beautiful picture of the elderflowers.
I hadn’t heard sweet cecily was harmful. I used to use it with stewed fruit especially rhubarb and gooseberries as it takes away some of the acid and you can use less sugar.
I will ask a herbalist I know what she thinks of sweet cecily and get back :)
All things in moderation though
This site sounds like it has good info http://www.oakenwoods.co.uk/html/sweet_cicely.html
Heidi-anne and Choclette, I’ve rung my herbalist acquaintance, who is an academic botanist as well as a practitioner of herbal medicine, and she says that sweet cecily does contain a potentially harmful substance, but it is a question of quantity, and that a few sprigs here and there, or a handful of seeds shouldn’t cause any problems. The seeds were used to sweeten rhubarb when sugar was in short supply. It’s not a good idea to pick in the wild unless you are very sure of your identification skills as it is similar in looks to hemlocks apparently. But it was a good prompt, as I hadn’t spoken to her for a long while and I am going to meet up with her when she gives a talk at the weekend nearby :)
Good morning everyone, and Zeb & Brian.
You should think about getting yourself a market stall, and becoming market traders for the day.
I was walking passed a white flowering mass this morning on my power walk, round the back of the Peabody buildings here,
and stopped to wonder if it was elderflower. I’ve got the countryside detective book at home – I’ll take it with me, next time I’m out, to see.
Re. the river cottage link – Is your delicious recipe the same as elderflower champagne, is it alcoholic?
Morning Gill! I don’t think our twelve bottles or so would satisfy a market but it’s a lovely thought :) The elders are in flower everywhere in this part of the world, they are late this year. I was reading about this last night
Sharpham Trust Elderflower Day http://www.sharphamtrust.org/event_detail.php?id=1412 and they confirmed it by rescheduling their Day to this Saturday 19th June.
Sadly, no, it’s not the same thing. It’s old fashioned cordial, sugar, water, essence of flowers, lemon. I don’t know how you’d get round the sugar thing! Maybe you could make a little concentrated syrup and add it to a citron pressé? Or put some in a champagne cocktail? Do people still have those? Prosecco vaguely comes to mind. Ah, wait a minute, I know the thing, elderflower vinegar! It’s in the Preserves book….. I think you just steep the flowers in vinegar. I’ll pick some more flowers this morning on my walk and have a go. :)
Thanks Joanna – I asked CT about this and he had thought it was possible as it’s in the umbellifer family which contains many toxic plants. There is always so much to learn.
Here in the US there is a real controversy going on between herbalists and medical people. In fact, unless an herb is absolutely clear of any side effects or possible questionable reactions, it is suggested that people don’t eat it. Only strictly culinary herbs are passed by most publications who are afraid of lawsuits.
I think that moderation is important in eating or utilizing anything – in perfect agreement with you, Joanna. I have a medieval herb garden that has many plants on a warning list- so I don’t, usually.
Thanks for following up on the sweet cicelly-
Heidi I would suggest that people wishing to use herbs for treatment should do two things, consult a herbalist and check with their medical doctor as well. That should just about cover it :)
I have just had a quick scoot around and found that we probably have different regulation from you. If you are curious: UK regulation info here on the Medical Health Regulation Authority site.
But how lovely to have a medieval herb garden, have you written about it on your blog? Can you let me have a link :)