Thursday, June 24, 2010

Elderflower Cordial

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.

What are you canning these days?


Unknown said...

Mulberries and black raspberries mostly. Alas, our first tomatoes are not yet ripe. We were pretty late getting the garden setup. I can't believe it's almost July...

Bunny said...

Just wanted to say hello. New follower of your blog and I'm loving it.

Anonymous said...

Blueberry ketchup! (The dominant flavors in mine ended up being blueberry and ginger. It's acid enough to water-bath can.)

Also, hi, I found your blog through Sharon Astyk's archives. I think I followed a link in the comments.

Jennifer Montero said...

Hi Kate - with your elderflower cordial, I keep seeing recipes that call for citric acid to be added as a preservative. Have you put anything in yours? How long does it last without?

Unknown said...

Yum, sounds delicious! Wish I had some Elderflower at my place.

Frustrated Farmer Rick said...

Glad to see that someone else is also a fan of HFW and River Cottage. We are just starting to get our elder coming into bloom here. I will have to get some and try this.

Anonymous said...

I made elderflower cordial last week :o) I basically used HFW's recipe from The River Cottage Cook Book, but only used lemon (he said to use orange too- not sure if that's the case in the book you have). It is delicious.

I'm going to make some Elderflower vodka today (DH made his own from sugar over the winter). From reading around the key is not to make it too elderflowery, as it may be drunk neat. Incidentally, cordial in the UK is never alcoholic- it's a soft drink you dilute with water, but usually more 'luxury' than squash (do you have orange/lemon squash?) I love the way we think we're talking the same language...!

Jennifer- sorry to jump in for Kate, but the (paranoia-free!) UK recipes I've read say straight elderflower syrup will keep for several weeks in the fridge, but with either citric acid or tartaric acid added, and bottled in sterilised bottles, it'll keep for a year. If you don't drink it all.

And Kate, if you ever drink gin and tonic, add a slug of your cordial to that!
I recommend elderflower ice lollies (popsicles?!) too.

BTW, I've never seen a wild gooseberry in Britain...The hedgerows do have a lot of hawthorn in though. I've made haw jelly before, and it's the kind of thing you'd serve with meat. It was OK, but I haven't rushed to make any more!


Jody M said...

Nothing, right at the moment. Our blueberries and blackberries are starting to turn color early, though, so they're probably next.

I have the River Cottage Preserves and the Meat books on my Amazon wishlist. I was actually just looking at them before I came to read your blog! LOL.

Elderflower is something that I'm interested in, where did you get your plants?

String Theory said...

Elderflower cordial freezes almost indefinitely too, for those with freezer space. I'd second the gin and tonic suggestion. On the land we are trying to buy, there seem to be elders, but the berries seem very bright red compared to the darker ones in the UK. I need to consult my local foraging book to see if they're safe.

Kate said...

Steve, sounds good. We have a big old mulberry, but it's not a healthy tree and doesn't produce much. It's a bummer, because mulberries are a delight.

B.A, Hi and welcome. Glad you stopped in.

403, that sounds very interesting. Our blueberry crop is going to fit in the palm of my hand this year. But I'll keep it in mind for future years. Thanks!

Jennifer, yes, as Hazel said, it lasts "several weeks" according to the book without the citric acid. I'm pretty sure the Brit version of the book calls for tartaric acid, but the US version for citric acid; probably just a reflection of what's available in different markets. I used citric acid because we happened to have some, and I wanted a longer shelf life. We keep citric acid around to descale our pots. We've got hard water from our well.

Allison, they make good privacy screens if you have a need for one of those. That's what ours is intended for. Looks like by next year (two years after planting), it'll more than adequately fulfill that purpose.

Rick, I'm a tad embarrassed by how much of an overnight fan I've become. I didn't even know HFW or RC existed until a few months ago. I definitely recommend the cordial, but am also looking forward to some of the berries (-our first).

Hazel, this version of the book does call for orange, but like you I only used lemon juice, because that's what we had. I did have some saved orange zest in the freezer though, so I put that in too. As for the word cordial, I couldn't swear to this, but I'm pretty sure it's used interchangeably with the word liqueur here in the US - some kinda fancy sounding alcohol with flavors and served in tiny glasses or sipped in a refined fashion. That's what I'd expect anyway. I definitely am a g&t fan, so I will at some point try it with some cordial, though I feel that club soda (just fizzy water) might be more to my liking. I rarely like bitter and sweet flavors together. I've tried tonic with sweet fruit juices before and really disliked it.

Jody, I recommend both of those RC titles, really. And I don't recommend cookbooks casually. We got the elders that we purchased from Fedco, but also dug up a couple of wild ones from a friend's home this year. Those two are still small though so no blooms.

queen, I've never heard of red elderberries. So your impulse to verify before diving in is a good one. Red tends to be a warning sign in nature. But I hope in any case that it's something edible and yummy. I love the adventure of foraging.

Anonymous said...

Being new to canning, I'm getting up the nerve to work on pickles and jam (strawberry rhubarb, probably). I think I may start with small batches to see how it goes and not get too overwhelmed, but I'm excited about the process too.

Paula Adams Perez said...

I bought 10 lbs of strawberries (my garden berries are just getting established) for $10 on sale and made a double batch of strawberry jam. I used the low-sugar pectin with apple juice and local blackberry honey for sweetener and it turned out delicious! Not at all as sweet as store-bought jam, but that's OK with me! And you can really taste the honey flavor.

Steve - my tomatoes (here, north of Seattle) haven't even SET FRUIT yet! Not sure we'll get ANY this year - but that's the price we pay for a nice cool (70-75 degree) summer so far...

Jennifer Montero said...

Kate - You finally inspired me to make my own cordial this year. My house officially stinks from the infusing, but the cordial is cooling down ready to go into jars. I skipped the preservative as I didn't have any, thanks for the info.

You might like this recipe:

It's for cupcakes made with elderflower cordial. The icing is too. Sub the dried flowers on top for strawberries or crushed pistachio.

Dirt Lover said...

Found your blog today, what a nice place you have! We planted elderberries a few years ago, and they are struggling. I wanted them because of their fruit, and they remind me of my grandfather, but have not had and cordial. I will definitely be trying this! Thanks for the heads up on The River Cottage Preserves Handbook. I'll be checking them out. Keep up the good work. I'll be back!

Kate said...

urbanadaptation, I was new to canning a couple years ago. I've had a few failures, but it turns out not to be too hard if one actually follows directions. Good luck with your maiden canning/pickling voyages.

Paula, that's a steal! The honey-blackberry combination sounds fabulous.

Jennifer, the infusion is a mite bit stinky, isn't it? My first batch was particularly so. But it turns out so nice in the end. I'm not sure whether the citric acid is just there to preserve the color, or to get the acidity high enough that water bath canning is safe. Either way, skipping it just means you'll have to drink up all your cordial just as soon as you can! Poor you.

Lori, welcome. I like your handle. I'm curious to see what our first crop of elderberries tastes like, and how much variation there is from one variety to another. Hope your elders do better this year.

Anonymous said...

Kate- The citric/tartaric acid is there to raise acidity to improve keeping ability. I've never bottled tomatoes but I think you do the same with them.

el said...

Hiya Kate

Late to the party here. I've made two batches of elderflower syrup. I find it keeps about 6 months in the fridge, and yes, I add citric acid powder. Interesting: I *had* to make a second batch because, when visiting my dentist's house (for a party not an emergency trip) he served us some godawful cordial in our martinis. So, well, there's nothing like giving your dentist a jar that's one:one sugar:water.

But canning. Only strawberry and strawberry-cherry jam thusfar. We ate all our raspberries and currants. Blueberries are coming up though: they go in everything.

Anonymous said...

Your elderflower cordial looks lovely. I have never tried it, but recipes keep popping up for me, so I think its a sign to give it a go.
I also think The River Cottage book needs to be on my 'get' list,... so many wonderful things to play with.
Mandarin Marmalade and Rose Apple Jelly happening in my kitchen- winter for us :-)

Leigh said...

I'm canning green beans and Swiss chard. Finished with the strawberry jam but the blueberries are just beginning to ripen. I think I'll try to can some pie filling with them this time. My elder bushes have bloomed and are making berries. Not many clusters this year, but I'll keep the cordial in mind for another year.

Anonymous said...

I've given up on canning since my kitchen gets so hot and we don't have AC. I just read the post on your rocket stove and was wondering if there might be a way to do your canning on that to save the kitchen. Have you tried that by chance?

Kate said...

Hazel, yes, that's what I figured. It could also help preserve a light color. It's sometimes applied to cut fruits before dehydrating to keep the pieces from browning very much, or too quickly.

Hiya, Miss El. That's some gumption, giving sugar syrup to the dentist. I like it. Our blueberry harvest is down to a potential of five berries. The crop will fit in the palm of my hand if it comes to that.

cityhippyfarmgirl, I recommend the River Cottage titles, and I only recommend a very small fraction of the cookbooks I peruse. Rose apple jelly sounds absolutely lovely.

Leigh, I wonder about your canned swiss chard. I've never been a fan of anything green that is canned. But pie filling of any kind sounds marvelous.

Anon, I know what you mean. I try to can on the coolest day of the week, and sometimes resort to wearing nothing but underwear and a cotton beach cover-up, while keeping the ceiling fan going full tilt. In principle, there's nothing to prevent using a rocket stove to can. But it would take a while to get that much water up to temperature, and we have no counter space to work with around our rocket stove, plus, the one downside of rocket stoves is they need fairly constant attendance to keep the fire going. It could be done, certainly. But right now we're not well set up for it.