If you are living in the Northern hemisphere you have just experienced the summer solstice a few days back which means the summer is officially here. For the lucky ones who live in southern climates, you‘ve been enjoying high temperatures for what, about two months now? For us, living in countries with very schizophrenic whether, we can only hope that the 20+ degree days are still to come. Either way – forgive me now, all you Irish and Brits – it’s time to swap your cup of tea for something more refreshing to keep you hydrated!
Early Summer is a great time for harvesting some of nature’s reserves and making the most of them. Elderflower is one of my personal favourites. From late May to early July, you can pick the white flowers full of yellow pollen and with a beautiful aroma. There is an abundance of recipes to use them with. The timeless classic which keeps the summer flavour for the longest is a cordial. ‘Bazovy sirup’ (in Slovak) or elderflower cordial is easy to make and very rewarding to use.
I started experimenting with it last year when I realised that we had an elderflower tree (or rather a big bush) growing in our back yard. The internet provides countless recipes and variations of this syrup so you can pick and choose which one suits best. Usually you will need: elderflower heads, sugar, lemons, citric acid and water. Combinations of all of the above depend on how strong/sweet/durable you want your final product to be.
Methods of preparation vary too – you can make it raw or cook it and treat it like a preserve (by water-boiling it after it’s canned). I have chosen the middle ground – cooking it for durability but without the subsequent bottle boiling. This year, I followed a recipe that seemed to work the best and here it is…
30 big elderflower heads
60g citric acid
3 litre water
Start by boiling 2 litres of water and leaving it to cool.
Prepare your bottles/jars by washing them in hot soapy water, rinse properly and place in a cold oven which is then turned to about 100℃, so they heat up gradually and all the water dries out. If you are using the spring cap bottles, make sure that the caps can take heat – I made a boo-boo and one of my caps melted on me. (Lesson learned!)
Tip: Use store-bought drink bottles
Sterilising bottles in the oven…
Tip: If you don’t have suitable bottles already, buy some French lemonade (or other drinks you can find) in bottles you like. These are often cheaper than special preserving bottles and work as well! Also, their caps can stand the sterilisation process in the oven 🙂
Pick the elderflower heads. Since it’s the pollen that brings the flavour, try to pick them on a sunny day and not straight after rain. Don’t wash them, just get rid of any little bugs by slightly tossing them. Remove the thick stalks and place in a big enough pot or any container you can find.
Collected elderflower heads…
Slice the lemons and squeeze the juice out of them before placing them in the pot. (If you can’t get unwaxed lemons, place them for about 10 minutes in lukewarm water mixed with some vinegar which will get rid of the nasties. Wash, rinse and use them.)
Pour in the cooled water – 2 litres – mixed with the citric acid. Squash the flowerhead so that they are covered in liquid. Cover and leave in a cool dark place for about 24 hours.
After a day strain your liquid into a pot through a muslin cloth or a fine sieve. You should always have two litres of liquid so measure and add cooled boiled water if necessary. Some say that not squeezing the mixture when straining prevents clouding of the cordial later and there might be some truth in it. If you can’t resist squeezing it just go for it 🙂
Creative ways of straining!
In another big enough pot, place 1 litre of water and all the sugar. The rule of thumb seems to be 1kg of sugar per 1l of water. I, however, think that’s too much and used only 2.5kg for my final 3 litres of liquid. It’s still a lot of sugar! You have to remember though that sugar is also a conservant so if you are making your cordial to keep (it lasts up to a year), it helps to keep it from spoiling. There are some alternatives if you don’t want yours want to be too sweet – you can swap it for brown (muscovado) sugar or stevia and as for preserving, you can increase the citric acid a bit – don’t forget that this will make it more sour as well. Warm up the sugar and water mixture on a medium heat to get a sticky syrupy liquid.
Add the elderflower water and bring to the boil. You can just bring it to the boil and turn off or boil it for up to 30 minutes to make sure it lasts, it’s up to you. I chose the former…we’ll see what happens!
Leave it rest for about 5 minutes. Pour, still hot, into prepared sterilised bottles or jars. Turn upside down to seal properly and let cool. I wrapped them in tea towels for slower cooling and left them like that overnight. Once cool, store the bottles in a dark place for up to a year.
Cooling upside down…
The best part is using this cordial up – let your imagination run free. Mix with still water, sparkling water, prosecco, gin, pour into your tea or on top of your porridge. My personal favourite is a shot of the cordial and ½ cup of white wine topped with sparkling water. Summer feeling in an instant.
Final yield – about 4l of cordial
If you don’t like elderflower or can’t get any where you live, perhaps another herbal concoction might be of interest. If you like mint and happen to grow some in your garden or windowsill, you know how rapidly it multiplies. If you’ve had enough of mojitos, mint sauce or mint frozen in ice cubes, you could try a mint cordial.
The preparation of this is very similar to the elderflower cordial. You will need:
2 big fistsfuls of mint (about 20 biggish stalks)
2 l water
1kg sugar (or 500g and some stevia to taste)
15g citric acid
Boil 2 litres of water and leave to cool. Prepare your bottles (as above).
Wash the mint stalks and leaves and roughly chop them. This will help releasing the essential oils from the leaves. Don’t waste anything, use up the stalks as well!
Slice the lemons and place them with the chopped mint in a pot. Pour over the cooled water, stir and leave to rest for about 24-48 hours. You can stir it once or twice while waiting.
Strain the mixture into a biggish pot through a muslin cloth or a fine sieve. Slowly heat up adding the sugar and citric acid. Warm up to 70-75℃ to retain aromatic materials and stir until all the sugar has dissolved.
Mint cordial preparations…
Pour into prepared bottles, turn upside down and let cool. Store in a cool dark place afterwards. Once open, store in the fridge.
Use as you wish – mixed with water, in cocktails, in tea, poured over a fruit bowl or just like that, a bold glug from a bottle 🙂
Pink mint cordial 🙂
Finally, if you don’t want to mess around with pots and pans, sieves and spoons but still want something more than just a plain water, here are 5 tips for sprucing up your aul jug…
- Cucumber – orange – ginger :: Put a few slices of cucumber, orange and a piece of peeled ginger in a jug of water. Leave in the fridge for a few hours to mix. Drink. If the day gets too much, add a shot of Pims!
- Strawberry – basil :: Add a few freshly sliced strawberries and ½ cup of basil leaves to a jug of water. Drink straight away. Instant summer hit.
- Apple – cinnamon :: A few slices of a sour apple and a cinnamon stick. Leave to infuse in the fridge for a few hours. Unusual combination of soothing and refreshing.
- Lemon – ginger :: Slice half a lemon and place into a jug with a thumb-sized peeled piece of ginger sliced thinly. A cold version of this power drink.
- Lavender – lemon :: Slice half a lemon and add to ½ cup dried lavender (or fresh if you have it) into a jug. Let it infuse and drink in the afternoon to relax. Good sleep guaranteed.
Have fun and mess around with more flavours if you want: cucumber & rosemary, pear, cranberry & mandarin, melon & mint – the sky’s the limit!