Friday, April 26, 2013

In the Meantime: Elderflower Cordial

I know I decided over a month ago that it was spring, but certain things have happened since then that make it really true: Cedar and I picked our first two buckets of strawberries at the farm down the street last week, I bought rhubarb on Monday, I made a pie version of my rhubarb-strawberry crisp, the favas are in, the Eureka lemons are out, the loquats are turning color (and I've located a foraging spot), I made a small batch of limoncello, and I picked just enough elderberry flowers to make my very own elderflower cordial. Oh, and I've worn shorts for two weeks now. It's that warm.


Life is good, and I have somehow slipped into vacation mode. A little early. Maybe it is the weather or the fact that I've been packing in every book reading event I can (from Elissa Altman's Poor Man's Feast, to Anne Lamott's Some Assembly Required--almost, to Deborah Madison's Vegetable Literacy). I also just happen to be going on another wee jaunt down the California coast, this time to see the Vultures.

We are, after all, just about to close the "high-energy," "feel-good" part of pregnancy, and descend into the stillness of the "beached whale" third trimester, when you've got to have latrines mapped out every 100 yards, insomnia begins "preparing" you for a newborn, and doing much else but floating in a pool draped over a plastic blow up raft feels like an unnecessary effort. Can we tell I am thrilled? Looking forward to it? Hmmm....let's just say this time I am mentally prepared. Early Extended Vacation. Now we're onto something.

We shall have it all: slow movements, long sleeps (in between bouts of that insomnia), laid-back schedule (as in--no schedule at all), lots of silly self-care (like smoothies with chocolate and peanut butter for breakfast, or second breakfast, or both, and afternoon iced mint tea, and dinners appreciatively made by someone else but me), books to read (while I still can), frivolous lists of culinary to-do's (again, while I still can) that involve a little too much liquor (oh the lime bitters, the green walnut liqueur, the elderberry brandy, the loquat-infused gin, the drunken apricots), a lot too much cracking of noyaux (hopeful for an affordable mahleb stand-in, and for more apricot noyaux macaroons, not to mention the obvious use of the kernels of peaches, nectarines, and apricots in a nice frangipane tart).

Are we getting hungry now? Thirsty? I could really go for a dark and stormy right now, or a shandy, but like many good things, like making a baby and steeping fruit in liquor, it'll have to wait.

For now I can take solace in this odd, citrus-y, flowery syrup I've made. Cedar loves it, Kevin too, and though it is nothing like I remember the Ikea version I used years ago for catering gig, this homemade elderflower cordial is newly on my list of seasonal musts. If you can find some elderberry trees away from the highways and railroads and country lanes, identify it well (no hemlock please--it'll kill you), and pick enough flowers to make the recipe, do. The cordial is still a little bit of a novelty in the states, at least where I roam. But the cordial and the liqueur (which is on my list for the next venture) are on cocktail menus everywhere. I personally have not had the pleasure. But I'll bet you can guess what is also on my list of what to do with all this syrupy stuff once the babe is born (I am not too proud to freeze the stuff). Yes, more cocktails--well spaced and timed so as to not booze-out the newborn.

In the meantime, I'll be sipping this cordial with filtered water and a lot of ice, with cold sparkling water and a lemon slice, or like my mother and I did this afternoon, with strawberries. I am plotting some wee cakes too, yellow and crusty and  brushed while still warm and maybe a fruit salad with more strawberries (and loquats!), but that is another post for another spring day. Happy cordialing!


Elderflower Cordial

Adapted from River Cottage and Hank Shaw

A couple notes on picking flowers: pick them just opened and in the morning and process within a couple hours to maximize fragrance; be responsible and considerate to the plant and to yourself and others--don't pick too many heads from one tree/bush; and . Good foraging practices include not stripping a plant so that it will remain healthy and produce fruit later (and flowers next year). And again, make sure you have positively identified the plant as Elderflower. It is pretty obvious, but just be aware.

30-35 heads of Elderflower, depending on size (mine were wimpy)
6 cups water
2 pounds sugar
juice and zest of 3 lemons
1 teaspoon citric acid (optional--makes it last longer)

Tap flower heads on the table or otherwise inspect and pick off obvious bugs. Snip flowers from the stems and into a bowl, keeping as much stem out as possible; it is toxic (a little is assumed and won't hurt, but the less the better).  Add zest, juice, and acid, if using.

When you are done, heat the sugar and water to a boil and stir until dissolved. Let cool a bit and then pour over the elderflowers, etc. Stir to combine. Cover with a plate or cloth and let steep for 2-4 days.

Strain the liquid through a fine mesh sieve and press out any excess. Strain again, this time with the sieve lined with cheesecloth, butter muslin, or a paper towel. (I tried a coffee filter and it just doesn't seem to work for me). Store in the refrigerator for a few weeks (if no acid) or more (with it). I hear if you sterilize your bottles, it will last even longer, but I didn't. Enjoy!


  1. It would not be an overstatement to say I adore Elderflower. We served a sparkled featuring Elderflower syrup at our wedding. This sounds refreshing! And, a noyaux tart- impressive.

    1. Oh, lovely...perfect for a wedding! Elderflower is my new adoration, as it should be. So glad you agree.