The Essence of Summer, Distilled
It’s always more fun to DIY. Every week on Food52, we’ll spare you a trip to the grocery store and show you how to make small batches of great foods at home.
To me, elderflower cordial is the essence of early summer, distilled. Every year there’s the patient wait until the elderflowers look just right, the trip spent snipping and stashing blooms in a bag, and then the careful process of making the cordial.
More: Make your table match your drink with these flower arranging tips.
My mum’s recipe is simple and elegant, and it results in a nearly magical flavor, especially when it’s homemade. When she was little, my mum was told to only pick elderflowers on a sunny day; I’m pretty sure that’s not necessary, but I follow the rule regardless.
It is important to pick your elderflowers away from the road so that the fumes from cars and trucks haven’t settled on them; you can’t wash the flowers, as they will lose their pollen. Choose flowers that are in full bloom: You want a big froth of creamy five-petalled flowers that haven’t started to go brown. Snip the flowers off near the top of the stem — you don’t need any leaves. Their season usually runs from late May to June, with a bit of variation depending on climate (in the Swiss Alps, for example, the flowers bloom later than they do in the UK.)
More: Looking for another way to eat your flora? Try arugula flowers in your next salad.
In addition to the flowers, you’ll need a couple of other items to make the cordial. You can buy the food-grade citric acid online (in my mum’s day, they’d stock it at the pharmacy, but no longer), and you can find a square of muslin for straining the cordial at your supermarket. To drink the cordial, I like to dilute it with cold sparkling water, though some people prefer to use still. Either way, you only need a splash of cordial in each glass — the result is sweet but strong.