7.18.11 Extremely Cordial

Elderflower porch 790 xxx
photos by gluttonforlife

I find that summertime requires its own repertoire of refreshing drinks. Bubbles or not, with or without alcohol, thirst-quenching coolers are essential for those moments by the pool, when you come in from gardening and when you're relaxing on the porch after a long, hot day. I love the idea of taking what you have on hand, what's around in your garden or at the farmers market, and transforming it into something far better than bottled sodas and syrups. (As you reach for your Pepsi or Diet Coke, never forget that it's loaded with sugar, high-fructose corn syrup or the artificial sweeteners that essentially trigger the same insulin response; it has zero nutritional value; and it causes tooth decay.) Sun tea is a great alternative. You just fill a big jug with water and add a few tea bags (herbal, black or green) along with whatever flavorings you like—rosemary and lemon, mint, pineapple sage, ripe strawberries—then let it brew under the hot sun. Try this without the tea for a delicately flavored, herbaceous water. I'm also a big fan of infused simple syrups, which you can easily make with honey or organic cane sugar. To capture one of summer's most ephemeral flavors, gather elderflowers at their peak—they love riverbanks and lush hedgerows along back country roads—and brew up a batch of lightly effervescent, citrusy cordial. It's delicious over ice, topped off with some seltzer and a slice of Meyer lemon, or mixed with gin for a truly relaxing tipple.

Elderflowers 790 xxx
elderflowers are lacy and delicate

Look for elderflowers in early-to-mid-summer when the broad creamy umbrels are at their frothy peak, and before they begin to form the little berries that are among the birds' favorite summer snack. Elderflowers are aromatic, with hundreds of tiny blossoms that emit a subtle, pleasing fragrance.

Elderflowers closeup 790 xxx
you must inspect them closely for bugs
Elderflowers detail 790 xxx
the cloudlike blossoms are made up of tiny star-shaped flowers

Combined in a large jar with sugar, water, fresh lemon juice and zest, the elderflowers, stripped from their stems (weigh them out after you do this), sit, sealed, for several days at room temperature. A fermentation process takes place, so you need to "burp" the sealed jar every day, or expect dire consequences. After a light fizz has developed, you strain all the solids out and bottle the elixir. This can be stored in the fridge, where additional fermentation is radically slowed. 

Elderflower cordial 790 xxx
bright yellow, tart and lemony
Vera napkin 790 xxx
the taste of summer, straight from the fields

A cold splash of this mixed with seltzer, sparkling wine or spirits is a revelation. Add a few tablespoons to fruit salads or your next batch of popsicles. Join the flower child generation.


Elderflower Cordial

makes about 2 liters
  • — 8 ounces elderflowers
  • — 1 pound granulated sugar
  • — 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
  • — 1 teaspoon citric acid
  • Zest from 3 lemons
  • — 6 cups water

Shake each flower upside down to remove any critters, then strip the white flowers away from the green stems. Pack them into a large glass jar (1 1/2 or 2 liter capacity) and cover with the sugar, the lemon juice and the citric acid.

Bring the water and lemon zest to a boil, then remove from heat. When cool, pour water and zest into the jar with the elderflowers and stir gently until sugar is mostly dissolved. Screw the lid on loosely and set aside in a corner of your kitchen for 4 days. A slight fermentation will occur and create gas, so be sure the lid is not tightly sealed, or open it to vent gas once a day.

After 4 days, strain the cordial through a fine mesh strainer or doubled piece of cheesecloth and transfer to a clean bottle. Seal and keep refrigerated. To enjoy, mix with bubbly water, prosecco or gin.

Download recipe  Download Recipe


This sounds divine! I'm going to the farmers market Wednesday and plan on looking for elderflowers for sure!!
OnMyPlate on July 18, 2011 at 1:05 pm —
You may not find them--they are really delicate and don't travel well. It may require a trip to the country!
laura on July 18, 2011 at 1:51 pm —
Girl, you are really living the dream. I love reading about your relationship with nature. Heavenly.
Mily on July 18, 2011 at 4:54 pm —
And I love seeing your travel photos, Mily, a testament to your own relationship with nature...
laura on July 19, 2011 at 3:06 am —