Mmmm! I'm thrilled to report that the two elder plants we put in last year have produced well already. The one that died and came back from the root stock is much smaller than the real survivor, but both have set blossoms. I was hugely excited to try making elderflower cordial from our own harvest. (Despite the name, this cordial is non-alcoholic.) What little was left over when I'd filled my canning jars was just enough to pour over two tumblers of ice and mix with our good well water. It's delicious. Very different from the outrageously expensive bottled stuff from Austria that I used to buy. Ours has more floral and green notes, and a more complex taste overall. I think I honestly prefer ours on the basis of taste alone. Add in the personal satisfaction, lower carbon footprint, and financial savings and there's no contest. If I could make enough cordial, I'd drink this stuff every day of the year.
In making the cordial, I took instruction from The River Cottage Preserves Handbook. Basically, it's elderflower essence with citrus zest and juice, plus sugar - a pretty easy recipe and procedure so far as food preservation goes. I'm so enamoured of all things River Cottage at the moment that I actually pre-ordered this title before it was published, and paid full price for it, though admittedly by using a gift card. The Preserves Handbook is no less impressive than the two other River Cottage cookbooks I've got. Really an inspiring range of usual and unusual preserves, and very much geared to those who like to graze the hedges and forage. Though originally published in England, there's not much here that seems out of reach to my mid-Atlantic American milieu. I don't know that we have fruiting edible hawthorns or wild gooseberries, but everything else at least sounds familiar. If you're accustomed to following USDA recommendations for canning, the British methods of preservation set out in this book will seem either a little lax or refreshingly low on the paranoia scale, depending on your perspective. I found it easy enough to follow the recipe to prepare the syrup, and then use the Ball Blue Book recommendations for canning other syrups. I may try to squeeze in another batch of this cordial this year. If I can scare up some crab apples (I think our neighbors have a tree) I plan to use some of our elderberries in the Handbook's hedgerow jam recipe later in the year. If not, the recipe for Pontack, a sweet-sour sauce made from elderberries, sounds right up my alley.
The River Cottage Preserves Handbook mentions that there's a lot of variation in the scent and flavor of blooms from one elder to the next, and I can see even from our tiny sample pool that this is quite true. The first batch of elderflower essence I made from the blooms of the smaller plant had a strong green-grassy aroma, not all that pleasant in fact. I ended up throwing that batch out before adding any of the citrus or sugar; not much invested, so no great loss. The blossoms on the larger plant smelled better on the branch, and I also took the precaution of removing as much of the stem from the blooms as was feasible before steeping them. It made all the difference. I look forward next year to trying batches from the two different elders we put in this year. In the meantime, maybe I can find some gasket-topped bottles to store the cordial in. That would be both prettier and easier to pour.
I live on a 2/3 acre homestead in a residential neighborhood. A major goal is to demonstrate how much food a non-expert can produce in my particular climate and hardiness zone, with the soils native to my immediate area. We have gardens of annual and perennial plants, keep laying hens and honey bees, and regularly bite off more than we can chew. Another major goal is to pay off our mortgage as fast as possible. Here I blog about frugality, self-reliance, gardening, cooking and baking, food preservation, practical skills, half-baked experiments, and preparing to thrive in a lower-energy future.