I love making elderflower cordial. It’s a little bit of summer in a bottle. It’s also well worth it because the store bought version is relatively expensive.
I love picking it too: no thorns or stings and the smell is divine. We are lucky to have an elderflower tree growing over the corner of our allotment, behind the greenhouse. I harvest both the flowers and the berries each year but only from the lower branches. There is always plenty of fruit for the birds in the autumn.
I have been thinking all week about when I could do some foraging and preserving and today was the day. While Babykins raked and watered I snipped away at the big, creamy, flat flower heads, dusting the yellow pollen all around me as I went. Babykins and I also harvested the first courgette of the season.
Tonight I have started the process of making cordial. The flowers are steeping in a bath of sugar syrup and lemon slices. After my experiments last year, I have decided I prefer the sharper version of elderflower cordial (a bit like this). It’s a miracle that there’s any sharpness left in it at all when you realise just how much sugar goes into cordial.
For previous elderflower posts, click here
It took me the best part of a day, on and off, to get all my gooseberries washed, topped and tailed. I would have like to have processed them all straight away but the majority of them have gone in the freezer for now. Lets hope that I get around to doing something with them sooner rather than later because I still have soft fruit in there from last year.
For some reason, I’ve got a bit of an obsession with Kilner jars. Maybe it’s the fact that they are ‘old’ technology. I don’t have that many: four medium ones and two larger ones. Most of the time I prefer to make my preserves in recycled glass jars because I like to give them away as gifts and I couldn’t bear to part with a Kilner jar. However, for the purposes of preserving fruit by bottling, rather than jamming, a Kilner jar or a Le Parfait jar is essential.
I haven’t done much bottling but it’s a process that appeals to me. Again, I can only think that it is it’s old fashioned-ness that I like. If you had no electricity you could preserve fruit like this with a suitably big pan and a stove. I chose to use the oven method this time though. Most of the people that I have quizzed about it can remember their own mothers bottling fruit. Women from my grandmothers generation didn’t have fridges when they first set up home during World War II, never mind freezers.
My only foray into bottling so far was when I preserved some homemade passata. We had a glut of tomatoes that year. I’ve since wondered whether you can preserve home made soups in a similar way and if not, why not?
Since that one and only attempt, I’ve been on the lookout for a likely bottling project. Gooseberries seemed to be ideal and I had the brainwave of using some of my elderflower cordial as the liquid in which they are cooked. According to my books, you can preserve fruit in plain water but it will obviously taste better in syrup. I diluted my cordial one to one with water as that seemed to give about the same concentration of sugar as the books used in a ‘heavy’ syrup.
As you can see in my (poor) photos, the bottling process made the fruit shrink quite a bit and rise to the top of the jar. These photos were taken as soon as the jars came out of the oven and, after a bit of a shake, it has spread out a bit more now. As yet, we haven’t taste tested the results. Bottled fruits seem to cry out to be stored until the depths of winter. There’s not much point in preserving them one week and eating them the next, especially when there are so many other fresh summer fruits around.
My next gooseberry experiment was ice cream. Last year I made this from the River Cottage Year by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (the link is to a Guardian article but it is the same recipe). It was deliciously creamy and delicate and I will definitely be making some more. However, I decided to try this, different recipe that had a large quantity of greek yoghurt in it, since I had a pot slowly going off in the fridge.
I have never used an ice cream maker before and I think I will have to play with it a bit more before I pass judgement. The ice cream itself turned out well, though it is very hard and needs a good half hour in the fridge before it can be served easily. I deliberately made it quite tangy and we ate it with a dollop of gooseberry jam. I also served it with these little beauties, which were a nice complement.
I’m sure there is going to be much more gooseberry experimentation, since I picked another kilo on Saturday! Watch this space.
Sorry about the very small final picture – I can’t work out why it won’t upload any bigger.
I was introduced to the delights of elderflower by the Husband’s paternal Grandma. She used to make a slightly fizzy elderflower drink that I suppose was a version of the elderflower champagne that we have taken to making. I’d like to tell you that I noted down her recipe and picked up her top tips but alas, I did not think that far ahead. The only thing I can remember her saying was that it was not a good idea to pick elderflowers from busy road sides. Bearing in mind where she lived, in deepest Westmorland, I’m surprised she could find a busy roadside.
The Husband and I only started brewing with elderflowers last year. Perhaps it was acquiring this book that did it?
We made two batches of elderflower champagne and it worked really well. We used the majority of it for a toast after we had all three children baptised. However, the trouble with (amateur) elderflower champagne is that it won’t keep indefinitely. We had to drink up the remainder fairly quickly. All ‘essence of elderflower’ was gone from the house before the summer holidays arrived.
This year, I have made elderflower cordial. I hope that doing this will give me a stock of summer flavours to last much longer.
If you’ve never had a go at making these drinks, I would highly recommend it. I think the cordial is the easiest and less likely to go wrong. You don’t even need to bottle it, you can keep it in the freezer. I haven’t tried this because I’ve got a bit of a thing for bottling. I imagine that you could freeze it in ice cube trays and then bag it up. When you want a drink, voila, just take a cube out of the freezer and add it to water, still or sparkling.
There are plenty of recipes around on the internet for example, here and here. The one I used is more like the former of these two. I’m going to try the River Cottage version next because I’m interested to see what the addition of orange juice does. If you do decide to make the champagne, consider bottling it in plastic pop bottles. Glass ones have been known to explode!
Although my cordial is bottled up and ready to drink, I have also got a batch of champagne maturing. Pop back in a couple of weeks to see if it has worked. It’s temperamental stuff, a bit like the British Summer it’s so evocative of.