The sun is shining and the elder is in full bloom. Nothing speaks of the British summer more eloquently than a home-made glass of delicious elderflower cordial

June may be flaming (it is about time), and summer is reaching its zenith with long days, chirruping birds and delightfully heady scent from the hedgerow.

It is now the prolific elder comes into its own. The frothy, creamy (pick when cream rather than white) blossoms make a sublime cordial. And the summer scented liquor is a must have.

Thirty years ago I had tasted a wonderful fizzy elderflower “champagne” made on ginger beer principles by my best man’s mother. Magnificent stuff, but it is a make-and-drink-quickly project, which either goes off or goes pop if you try to store it.

Being something of a home brewer, I tried higher alcohol versions too, but never really made anything palatable. Then I learnt about elderflower cordial from Caroline Straker, and we have made it every year since.

You need to lay in the following ingredients: lemons, granulated sugar and citric acid. Then on a warm, dry day go and gather elderflower heads, selecting those that are newly opened for first choice. Be careful to minimise the amount of main stalk attached, as this smells (and therefore tastes) of tomcats rather than high summer.


The elder in bloom

The elder in bloom

(For every 30 flower heads)
2 pints of boiling water
3lb (1.35kg) sugar
2oz (50g) citric acid
4 lemons, thickly sliced.

Pour the boiling water over the flower heads along with the other ingredients. Mix together, and do not worry if the flowers blacken. Leave for four days, stir daily, and squish the lemons to get all the juice out.

After the four days strain through muslin or similar, and it is ready to use, if rather cloudy. If you are really fussy, you can filter through a jelly bag, but it does nothing to improve the taste. Personally, I squeeze it through the muslin to get as much as possible out, and therefore make it more cloudy.

If you bottle it and store in the fridge the cordial will keep for several weeks, although it does ferment slowly. However, do not be put off by a little puff of gas when you open the bottle. It does not change the flavour, and if it mattered much my wife and I would be long dead. For longer-term storage we freeze it in plastic containers and thaw it as needed, keeping a bottle on the go in the fridge.

To drink, simply dilute like squash, using fizzy water if preferred, and add ice and a slice of lemon. You can drink it still, but the bubbles lift the flavour and that heady summer scent.

Elderflower cordial makes a wonderful flavouring for many dishes, especially the juice in a fruit salad. It is a great partner to the tartness of early summer gooseberries; the best combination is in gooseberry and elderflower ice-cream which is made with a cream rather than a custard base, and to heck with the calories.