the Elder tree can go from being white and creamy (ie perfect for making champagne) to brown within a few days. Last year it happened so early (due to a heatwave in April) and quickly, that it caught me on the hop and I totally missed my chance. So I was determined not to miss out again this year. The recent weather had nearly scuppered my chances again. The elderflower blooms in my neck of the woods are on the turn already and the persistent strong winds have blown alot of the delicate flowers from the trees already. So there were slim pickings today but I managed to get enough (I think) to make a good size batch of the stuff this afternoon.
So, if you live in an area where these blooms are still plentiful on the trees (depending on how far North you live in the UK you could still have some well into July but you may need to be quick if you're down south), then here's what you need (these quantities can obviously be downscaled or upscaled according to the amount you wish to make)...
- 8 Large Elderflower heads (freshly picked, preferably on a sunny morning when they are at their most fragrant)
- 4 Lemons (unwaxed is better)
- 1.5 kg White Granulated Sugar
- 4 tbsp White Wine or Cider Vinegar
- 5 litres of Boiling Water
The method couldn't be much more straight forward...
- Put the sugar and boiling water in a sterilised plastic bucket (I use Milton or homebrew sterilising powder to sterilise). Stir to dissolve the sugar and leave to cool.
- Meanwhile, shake the flower heads to dislodge any bugs. Remove flowers from the main stalk. (Doesn't matter about the tiniest parts of stalk that the flowers are actually attached to. Just remove as much as poss)
- Slice the lemons (I grated some of the rind and squeezed some of the juice for good measure too)
- Once your sugar solution has cooled to hand hot, add the flowers, lemons and cider vinegar.
- Stir and cover with a clean tea towel then leave for a few days, stirring once a day.
- After a few days, strain the mixture through a sterile cloth (muslin is good), pour into sterile bottles (see below) and seal. Leave in a cool, dry place for at least a fortnight before drinking. The longer the better. We had a bottle a full 18 months later and it was even more beautiful for the wait.
A few words on bottling...
The high level of natural yeast present in the flowers will react with the sugar to start fermentation. It's worth bearing this process in mind. One, because it means the finished drink is slightly alcoholic (cheers!) Two, because when you come to bottle it you will need to decide if you use glass or plastic bottles, because these babies can have a habit of exploding! It's not happened to me personally but I have read alot on the forums about it. So it's worth doing your research. (Just google "exploding elderflower"!) However, I suspect the reason I had no such problems with my last batch, was due to the length of time I left it in the bucket before bottling it. Most of the recipes you'll find online will tell you to leave it "overnight" or for 24hrs, then bottle it. The recipe I followed for my last batch instructs you to leave it covered for 5-7 days before bottling. I suspect this is key to avoiding explosions, since the fermentation process is significantly slowed down after this time.
I really wanted to use traditional glass lemonade bottles when I last made this, and I'll do the same when this batch is ready for bottling. (I like to give them as gifts to family and friends) So to be extra cautious I leave a good gap at the top of each bottle when filling, to allow for a little more expansion from the remaining fermentation. I also fill a plastic squash/cordial bottle with some of the liquid. Again leaving a gap at the top. This acts as my "gauge". As the weeks went on it gave me a good idea of how much expansion was going on. The plastic bottle became firmer and firmer over the next few days as the gas from fermentation filled the space left in the bottle. If it had started to bulge (which thankfully it didn't) it'd tell me that there was potentially an excess of pressure in my glass bottles and I may have had to release some of the pressure by opening the tops up, letting some of the gas out, and resealing them. This wouldn't of course be ideal, as it would risk compromising their sterile environment. But it would be a preferable to shards of glass from exploding bottles! There would have to be an awful lot of pressure for a glass bottle to explode, but it's best to take a few precautions anyway. Otherwise, if you're more fussed about the fizz that the bottle it's in, use plastic fizzy drinks bottles. But most importantly, ENJOY!!!