Like sunstroke, undercooked sausages, and the unmistakable sound of willow on bare buttock, the elderflower is an evocative symbol of British Summertime.
Appearing from May until mid July, these delicate flowers can be found beaming from hedgerows, their big white faces full of sunny promise, even under the all too familiar slate grey victorian skies* of our traditionally crappy summers.
Because of their relatively short lifespan, you’ll need to act fast to secure your blooming bounty. For the best results, it’s preferable to make your champagne (or wine) the same day as harvesting, but if time is short, just pick them and bung ’em in the freezer for elderflower adventures later in the year.
If you enjoy stinking up your kitchen, you can also air dry them, as expertly instructed by Nick, here.
An old wives tale states that you have to pick the flowers before 11am, which is actually not too far off the mark. As soon as the midday sun starts heating the flowers up, they give off the heady smell not dissimilar to multi-story car-park stair wells. Or the piss of a cat. And no-one wants their booze to smell like that, do they?
How to make Elderflower Sparkle**
First, head to your nearest elder bush and plunder 10 hand sized blooms.***
Shake them to remove traces of insect, then set aside.
Boil two litres of water, pour into a sterilized bucket and add 600g of sugar. Stir to dissolve.
Add to this 2 litres of cold water, the juice of two lemons, two tablespoons of cider vinegar and your fancy collection of elderflowers, then stir gently.
When cool, add half a teaspoon of champagne or white wine yeast. You can skip this if you like, as the natural yeasts found on the flowers should start the fermentation process after a couple of days. We prefer to add a dried yeast, as it gets things started quickly, reducing the chance of any nasties spoiling your concoction.
Cover with a tea towel or something similar, then wait 5-7 days before filtering the liquid through a muslin cloth and into a pair of two litre plastic coke bottles. Leave for about a week before consuming with gusto.
NOTE: Like our chilli ginger beer, the booze will continue to ferment in the bottle, so it’s important to to release the excess gas daily to prevent messy explosions.
*With thanks to Mozzer.
**This drink is commonly referred to as ‘elderflower champagne’ but seeing as it’s not made in France and contains no grapes we prefer to use the less misleading (and less illegal) ‘sparkle’.
***Unless you own hands the size of tennis racquets, In which case we suggest you use 5 handfuls of elderflower bloom and immediately sign up for your local volleyball team.
Make more fizzy booze!
Our book Brew it Yourself has plenty more sparkling booze recipes including lavender sparkler, Mexican tepache (made with pineapples), Finnish sima (the best lemon pop you’ve ever had) and an outrageously firey chilli ginger beer.
Elderflower fans can also learn how to make elderflower wine and the delicious cidery booze scrumpleflower.
You can find it on Amazon here.