In retrospect, it may not have been a good idea to open a bar tab at the hotel for my sister and I when we were kids.
Left to our own devices, probably to watch Gladiators, while my Mum and Dad dined and key-note-spoke respectively in the restaurant across the hall, we ran amok with our elaborate cocktail orders: “I’ll have a lime cordial and coke, with a little bit of Fanta, and she’ll have a sprite, blackcurrant cordial and a cherry, please.”
This was one of those aggressively Country hotels – all dark wood and ornamental scythes and organic this that and the other at a time when Happy Eater pretty much defined our experience of food and drink on the go. We’d been looking forward to chips and a cheeseburger, so our Ploughman’s Plate was a total let down. Then Gladiators finished, so we turned back to pick n mix cocktails for fun, and that’s when we saw it. Traditional elderflower cordial.
At that age I had a touch of the Victorians, brought on by reading too many stories in the Little Princess / Secret Garden vein. I longed for a china doll I could form a meaningful relationship with, for example. I wondered mutinously why I had not been born a tragic yet fragil-y beautiful orphan heiress to a diamond mine. Was it the word “traditional” that piqued my interest, or had I read about elderflowers in my treasured Illustrated Flower Fairies? Either way, I ordered a glass.
It smelled the way hedgerows look in illustrated books. Ethereal fairy-scent of flowers. Sarah ordered a glass, and we sat up on our bar stools drinking nectar with straws. This is the life, we agreed.
Years later, prompted by Sarah, I tried it with gin. And a new obsession was born.
Gin elderflower and tonic jelly (makes 1 ring, or 4 – 6 individual jellies)150ml water 100g sugar (superfine or caster) 100 ml gin 100 ml tonic water 75 ml of elderflower cordial Juice and zest of 1 lemon 4 ½ leaves of Gelatin (5 if you prefer a firmer set)
- Put the gelatin leaves in a bowl of cold water and let them soak
- Meanwhile, heat the sugar and water gently in a pan until all the sugar has dissolved
- Off the heat, add the lime zest and squeeze in the juice
- Wring the water out of the gelatin, which should now resemble gunge. Add to the warm jelly mixture and whisk to dissolve
- Pour into glasses or a jelly mold and leave to set in the fridge for 5 hours. Dip the mold in hot water to release the jelly
Though it’s fine to use bottled elderflower cordial to make the jelly, it’s really fun to turn a bunch of foraged flowers into a drink. Jon has fond memories of doing this every year as a child. His neighbors would strain buckets of home made elderflower syrup and turn it into jam. If you pass a hedgerow full of elderflowers, stop the car, pick a big bunch and try this out – totally worth it.
Elderflower Cordial25 Elderflower heads 900g granulated sugar 2 lemons 50g citric or tartric acid (optional) water
- Sterilize 3 1 liter bottles
- Rinse the elderflowers carefully to make sure they’re clean. Pick them off the stems and make sure there are no leaves – the leaves are pretty bad for you.
- Pour 3 liters of boiling water over the sugar in a huge pan, or even a clean bucket, stir well to dissolve the sugar and leave to cool
- Slice the lemons and add to the cooled liquid along with the acid if using – it’s a preservative, so if you’re going to use the cordial within a week and have room in the fridge, leave it out
- Add the elderflowers. Cover the pan / bucket and leave in a cool place for 24 hours, stirring occasionally
- Strain the mixture through muslin into a jug, and thence into bottles
- Dilute to taste