Every year in late May and early June, the hedgerows on the farm are littered with large saucer shaped elder flowers with their distinctive heady scent. Last year I nearly missed the flowers as the hot weather turned them brown very quickly, so this year I’ve been out picking as soon as the tight buds burst into cream coloured flowers.
I used to make several bottles of elderflower cordial and elderflower fizz each summer, which were always drunk fairly quickly (apart from the odd bottle that got forgotten until it blew the lid off in the middle of the night showering everywhere with stickiness). But nowadays we rarely drink sweet cordials, which called for a rethink. The answer is to make infused water (continued throughout the summer using flowers, fruit and herbs) and a batch of elderflower fizz for special summer days.
Elderflowers are abundant across the UK in field hedges, roadside hedges, the fringes of woodland and wasteground. Pick your elderflowers on a sunny morning before they’ve endured the heat of the day and while they’re still heavy with pollen. Pick only the creamy coloured flowers and leave the flower heads that are turning brown to develop into elderberries. Shake out any insects that are lurking but don’t wash them.
Infused water is ridiculously easy to make and the Rose and Elderflower version looks pretty and tastes good. There’s no sugar, so it’s not sweet and cloying like some elderflower cordials and the taste is floral, but subtle. Sometimes the rose dominates, sometimes elderflower.
Strip the elder flowers from the main stem of three large heads – I don’t bother to remove the flowers completely, but you may wish to – and snip seven or eight large, petals from a scented, unsprayed rose into strips. Put the flowers into a jug, or a jar if that’s your thing, top up with 750ml water, cover and stand in the fridge. After a couple of hours, you’ll have delicately flavoured water. Use more flowers if you favour a stronger infusion or wait a bit longer until you start to drink it. I keep the flowers in the water for no more than a day, so if I haven’t finished the jugful, I strain out the flowers and keep the flavoured water in the jug.
Making infused water means foraging each day for your elderflowers, which can be a bit of a pain. Making a batch of Elderflower Fizz gets your foraging done in one day and then you have a few weeks to enjoy the fruits of your labour.
There are numerous commercial versions of Elderflower Presse or Sparkling Elderflower available but elderflowers are so widespread and this recipe is so easy, that it seems a shame not to make your own. Making your own also gives you the chance to vary the flavour a little; try adding some scented rose petals or lemon balm leaves. It’s a particularly English summer drink: floral, delicate and immensely quaffable.
A floral drink for summer
- 20 heads creamy coloured elderflower heads
- 700 g granulated sugar
- 2 tbsp cider vinegar or white wine vinegar
- 2 lemons
Put the peel (use a potato peeler) and juice from the lemons in a large bowl with the sugar and vinegar.
Strip the elderflowers from the main stems. Discard the stems and add the flowers to the bowl.
Add 1 gallon of cold water and stir to dissolve the sugar. Cover the bowl with a tea towel or mesh cover (not cling film as it needs to breathe) and stand for 48 hours in a cool place.
Strain into bottles. Use either flip top bottles that can withstand the pressure of a fizzy drink or reuse plastic fizzy drink ones.
Keep for a week or two as it builds up some fizz. If too much pressure builds, untwist the lid a little to release the pressure and reseal. This is best drunk within three months.
If you’ve picked your elderflowers, made your Elderflower Fizz and Infused Water and still have some left over, you might be interested in: