I am an elderflower fiend. If I’m at a fancy bar that has signature cocktails and there’s anything with elderflower liqueur, I’m instantly sold. Usually on more than one of them, since St. Germain is delicious even on pancakes. The unfortunate part is that I usually can only find these lovely drinks at really fancy places, which I rarely go to, and that even though they’re delicious, one cocktail usually costs in the range of $14-$18, which means that you better bring some cash if you want to sit around and have a few of them. These are a few of the reasons that I often embark on preserving missions. I know that making it myself is cheaper and yields a larger quantity than buying it at the store.
Elder trees are less prolific on the west coast than on the east coast, where I grew up. I vividly remember the intoxicating smell of the flowers on my parents property when I was just a teeny little muffin.
It took some searching here in Northern California but elder trees are, in fact, here. I saw one in my neighbor’s vineyards and another one next to the Russian River along Hwy. 101. The best specimen was at the Ag. Department of a local college, where they had been lovingly tending a huge tree for years (thank you Karen!). I picked a bag of blossoms early in the morning, when the sun was just warming the flower buds. The smell is . . . divine. It smells like the summer solstice, and birds singing, and sunshine, if those things all had smells. Cooking with it is the epitome of cooking with flowers.
Most elderflower cordial recipes are fairly simple. Make a syrup. Pour boiling syrup over blossoms and lemon slices, and let steep for 2-3 days. Coincidentally, the day I went to make the cordial, I couldn’t find my lighter and the pilot on my stove had gone out (an off-the grid propane stove that we don’t always keep lit anyway). Hence the “sun” part of this recipe. If you live somewhere rainy feel free to harness the power of your stovetop as I have harnessed the power of the sun.
Elderflower Sun Cordial
Makes: 6 half pint jars
Cooking time: 2 days inactive cooking, 30 minutes active cooking
- 6 c. water
- 2 lbs. sugar
- 20 large elderflower heads
- 2 lemons, thinly sliced
- 2 tbs. citric or absorbic acid*
1. Rinse elderflower heads in cool running water and drain.
2. Combine all the ingredients in a large glass bowl. The sugar and water won’t dissolve together right away, but give the mixture a stir anyway. Cover with a plate or some saran wrap to make sure that no bugs can get in to your cordial.
3. Put the cordial in a very sunny spot to warm the bowl. Give it a stir every few hours to combine the sugar and water into a syrup. The smell will be intoxicating and you will be thrilled with how the project is going at this point.
4. After about 2 days of full sun, strain the syrup through a cheesecloth. You can either freeze, refrigerate or can the syrup at this point. There are rumors on the internet about un-canned syrup being shelf stable because of the citric acid, but there are also rumors about it fermenting and jars exploding, so I’m not going to try it. To can the syrup, as I did (I found my lighter the next day):
Heat up boiling water canner and sterilize jars and lids. Bring syrup to a boil. Pour hot syrup into hot jars leaving 1/4″ headspace. Wipe rims clean and attach lids. Process for 10 minutes.
Please note: I’ve never canned this before, and I found a whole array of recipes with differing instructions for storing the cordial. This is my very educated guess. If it doesn’t go well, I’ll update this post. I’m also pretty sure that you could add a little more sugar and some powdered pectin to make elderflower jelly if you’d rather make that than beverages.
*Citric acid and absorbic acid both are natural preservatives that can usually be found in the bulk section of big health food stores. I’ve found recipes using both types of acid, so my second educated guess is that they’re essentially interchangeable. Don’t be mad at me if I’m wrong, though.
The Obvious Next Step: Sparkling Elderflower-Grapefruit Cocktails
This was inspired by a cocktail I had at the W Hotel in New Orleans, since we can’t always be on vacation, let alone buying drinks at a fancy bars. They served a slightly different version in a martini glass, but we use big girl cups on the farm.
Makes: 1 quart sized jar cocktail (it’s more efficient that way, because you’re definitely going to be making multiples of this one)
Cooking time: 3 minutes once you’ve got all the ingredients
- 2 shots of vodka (or you can use gin, that works well too)
- 2 shots of elderflower cordial
- 1 c. seltzer water
- a splash of grapefruit juice
- 6 very thinly sliced cucumber wedges
- ice cubes
Combine all the ingredients in your jar and mix well. If you’re fancy and have a cocktail shaker, you can go that route and pour it in a martini glass and garnish with a cucumber wedge.