Monday 25 June 2012

Respect your Elders - Rhubarb and Elderflower Cordial

We've knocked up quite a few bottles of elderflower cordial over the past month, blessed as we are with an abundance of the frothy white flowers nearby.

I have been devouring a wonderful book called Hatfield's Herbal - the secret history of British Plants.  A heady mix of tradition and folklore together with science, anecdotes, stories and recipes, it has opened my eyes to our woodland, wasteland and hedgerow's secrets.

Planting an elder near your home is said to protect the occupants from evil, and so powerful it was thought to be, standing under the branches of an elder was once considered protection from lightening.

Much as I enjoy the fragrant, musky taste of elderflower, I've been looking for a more kick-ass cordial and reckon my culinary experiments have struck gold.  First I paired it with basil - hurling handfuls of leaves and flowers from my now bolted herb into the mix.  This gave a more aromatic flavour and a slightly greener tinge to the colour.

But by far the best cordial I've come up with so far is my elderflower and rhubarb.  I had to bitch-slap myself for exclaiming out loud that it was a 'taste sensation', but it really is!

Remember the sweet yet sharp cheek-sucking hit of old-fashioned granular sherbet?  This is it recreated in liquid form.  Mix it with ice and sparkling water for a fizzy fruity summer cooler, or pour with vanilla flavoured cream soda for rhubarb and custard in a glass.

Make sure you pick your elderflowers on a dry sunny day, and avoid those which are not yet fully open, or which are starting to turn brown.  However squeamish you are, don't wash or rinse the flowers to get rid of creepy crawlies, you will wash away all the fragrant pollen which is what you need for the flavour.  To make regular elderflower cordial, follow this same recipe but omit the rhubarb.

Ingredients and equipment:

About 20 large elderflower heads (shake to remove any large bugs)
2 large unwaxed lemons
50g citric acid (buy from a chemist)
1.2 litres water
500g sugar (use more if you prefer less sharpness)
2 or 3 stalks of pink rhubarb

Large mixing bowl or container
Clean tea towel or muslin
Clean, sterilised bottles
Jug or funnel

Place your flower heads into a bowl.  Roughly peel off the zest from your lemons (I use a potato peeler for this) and add to the bowl.  Slice the lemons and add also.  Sprinkle over the citric acid.

I tend to use a white bowl - adding the lemon will send any little critters scurrying up the side of the bowl and you can simply scoop them out or wipe away with kitchen paper - but frankly they'll all be sieved out anyway!

Meanwhile, pop the water in a pan and heat, stirring in the sugar until dissolved.  You can then add your sliced rhubarb and cook for about 5-10 minutes until soft and the pink colour is released.

Pour the hot syrup over the flowers and lemon and stir so the citric acid dissolves.

Cover with a cloth and leave for 24 hours.

Strain through a muslin or linen tea towel over a sieve and pour into sterilised bottles (I generally clean my bottles in hot soapy water, rinse then lay flat in a low oven for 10 minutes or so).

Keep refrigerated and enjoy (I'm gonna say it again) the taste sensation!

I've got lots more ideas and blogs to follow on how else to use this cordial.  Keep your eyes peeled. x


  1. Yes, yes this is the post I was looking for!!! We have an elder bush in our garden that's in full bloom and I want to make cordial so much. Thanks for the great tutorial.

    PS Nowt wrong with using superlatives like 'taste sensation'!!!!

    1. Yay! You MUST try it with rhubabrb, it's SO different from elderflower on its own.

      Wish I had a bush in our garden. And I guess it also means good luck to you. You must never cut it down, well if you do according to my book you must ask the druids permission first ;0)

  2. This looks yummy. Now I just have to find an elder bush! :)

    1. Ah thank you. They are pretty much everywhere - edges of woods, hedgerows, roadside verges, wasteland, car parks. Follow your nose and I'm sure you'll find one soon. Good luck x

  3. You are right, our photographs are almost identical! It's sounds delicious, I love rhubarb!

    1. LOL they are aren't they (although obviously yours are better)

  4. That looks rather nice. I must find some elderflowers

  5. Oooh interesting idea adding rhubarb! I have picked my elderflowers yesterday all ready for making the cordial - yipee! I love the stuff :)

    1. I like Elderflower cordial on its own, but this is my favourite by miles now!

  6. Oh I really, really must try this.

  7. Cute tray and looks deliciously chilled!

  8. Just made 15 litres of this hope its good looking forward to the taste test in a few days time ....