Caught by the River

There! In The Bushes!

Mathew Clayton | 1st May 2009


In London the elderflowers are out. I always take this as a sign we are moving from spring to summer – although they do come out here a couple of weeks before the rest of the country. I like to make cordial with them which is dead easy to do and tastes supercharged compared to the stuff you can buy in the shops. 

Elderflowers are easy to recognise – in cities you find them on every unpromising bit of land, in the countryside just look in hedges. All parks in London have them somewhere. The flowers are cream coloured and grouped together in little umbrella shaped bunches. The season lasts about two weeks before the blossom start turning yellow and dying.

If you fancy following the cordial recipe below the tricky bit is getting hold of Citric Acid which you buy from a chemist. It comes in powder form and not everywhere stocks it. Once you find it i recommend buying their whole stock. Small, independent, out of town outlets are the best places to successfully score. 

To make the cordial pick 20-30 bunches of flowers. Give them a quick wash and put them in a large bowl. Then heat a litre of water and dissolve a 2lb bag of sugar into it. Turn the heat off, add 75 grams of citric acid and then pour this over the elderflowers. Cut up a couple of lemons, squeeze in the juice and then add the lemons too. Put a tea towel over the bowl and leave it for 24 hours (don’t worry if you leave it for longer). Then, drain it through a sieve into an old plastic bottle. I half- heartedly sterilise the bottle by rinsing it with boiling water. If you are using plastic bottles you need to do it quickly as the heat makes the bottle go wonky.

If it doesn’t taste amazing you can still fix it. Great cordial is all about balancing the sweetness with the acidity. Taste it and you can easily work what needs to be added. If you have run out of citric acid try adding more lemon juice. If you need to add sugar, it helps to warm the mixture to dissolve it – but if you can’t be bothered to do that some sugar will get absorbed if you stir it enough when it is cold. 

Also in blossom at the moment is the blackthorn. The flowers look a little like elderflowers but don’t grow in the telltale umbrella bunches. They are no use now, but worth remembering where you saw them as this is where you will find sloes in the late Autumn.

Mathew Clayton