Papa’s Elderflower Cordial

I hesitated over the title… It used to be Mum’s Elderflower Cordial – she made it most years just because she hated seeing all those pretty blossoms go to waste – but now that she’s no longer here to do it, my father has gone and surprised us all by making a dozen bottles of it, all by himself! 

The grandkids love it and drink it with still or sparkling water. We use it in the kitchen for desserts and to give a bit of flavour to fruit salads and things. Papa puts it in his champagne for a different kind of Kir Royal, and it is a great mixer for fancy-schmantzy cocktails, too.

What you need:

1.5 l of water

2.5kg white sugar

20-80 heads of elderflowers (you choose how strong you want it – I would go for more!)

2 untreated lemons

1 untreated orange

85g citric acid (or Vitamin C powder)

What you do:

  • Combine the sugar and water in a large saucepan.
  • Gently heat until the sugar has dissolved.
  • Bring to the boil and keep boiling for 2-3 minutes. Turn off the heat.
  • Gently wash the flowers in a sinkful of water.
  • Put the flowers, citric acid and lemons/oranges in the syrup.
  • Cover and let infuse for 24-72 hours.
  • Line a colander with a cheese cloth and strain the liquid (or whatever way you prefer to strain it: tie a cheese cloth in a knot and suspend over a large pot in the shower, or put a stool upside-down and tie the 4 corners of a cheese cloth to the 4 feet of the stool and drain the liquid in a large bowl…)
  • Throw the stalks and other bits in the compost
  • Sterilize glass bottles and fill them with cordial (like you would with jam jars). Add pretty labels. If the bottles are well sealed, you can keep them in a store cupboard or the garage (or the wine cellar) for over a year. If not, refrigerate.

You can handle the zest in different ways: You can simply slice the lemons and oranges, like my father did, or you can peel them with a zester or a potato peeler, then eliminate as much of the white pith as possible. You do this to avoid bitterness. Some people grate the zest and let the whole lot infuse for a longer time. You have the choice! 

You could also add a bit of vodka to the finished cordial and reserve a bottle for the adults of the household – in the freezer! Actually, the cordial itself can be frozen. If you freeze some in ice cube trays, and then pop them out and into a freezer bag, you can use them as flavoured ice-cubes in drinks.

Papa’s cordial is still a bit cloudy – you can strain it a second time if you want it clearer.


Quick recipe for a summery Cucumber-Elderflower G&T:

  • Grate 10cm of peeled cucumber (or purée it, or juice it, but that means washing all the bits of your juicer for very little cucumber juice)
  • Combine 100ml gin, 100ml elderflower cordial and the cucumber in a jar and let infuse in the fridge for an hour.
  • Strain the liquid (through a sieve, cheese cloth, garlic press… whatever).
  • In a tumbler, mix 1/4 cucumber/elderflower gin with 3/4 sparkling water and a couple of ice-cubes for a refreshing drink.
  • For decoration, you can peel a strip of cucumber with a potato peeler and line the inside of your glass.


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