In honor of midsummer, I have for you a recipe for the perfect summer drink, should you be so lucky as to find elderberry bushes where you live.
The elderflower (Holunderblüten) cordial is something I always associate with these mountains of Central Europe. I first tasted it when I was on a solo train tour of Europe in my early twenties, and arrived at the house of my Austrian friends living outside of Salzburg just when they were in the process of bottling enormous quantities of elderflower syrup. We mixed it with bubbly water. I’d never tasted anything quite like it — so sweet and delicate and aromatic. Dan and his brother remember their grandmother serving them the same beverage when they first visited this mountain house at age twelve, and it made a similarly lasting impression on them.
The elder trees grow abundantly here along the paths in hedgerows and woodlands. Right now, at midsummer, they are filled with the delicate, lace-like, fragrant flowers. To make this cordial, simply gather about 25-30 flower heads on a dry warm day, just when the tiny buds have opened. Be sure to leave some flowers on the trees for elderberry picking later on.
In fact, what an amazing plant! I’ve written before about other uses for the elderberry tree: elderflower pancakes and elderberry syrup for colds. Many people swear by the medicinal properties of elderberry; it’s also long been used for making country wine. The berries also make a really beautiful dye, with hues ranging from pink to lavender and purple. The flowers can be used in jam, sherbet… Or how about this elderflower lemon cake? (Hmm. I may just have to give it a try this weekend.)
Here’s the recipe for the cordial. Gather for free from nature, follow a few simple steps, and enjoy!
- About 30 large elder flowerheads
- zest of 3 lemons and 1 orange (unwaxed), plus their juice
- 1.5 liters/6.5 cups of water
- 1 kg/2.2 lbs sugar
- 1 headed tsp of citric acid
The next day, strain the liquid by pouring it through cheese cloth or the equivalent into a saucepan. Pour in the sugar and the citric acid, then stir while heating until the sugar has dissolved. Bring to a gentle boil for a couple of minutes, then cool. Funnel into glass bottles (sterilized if you will be storing the syrup for a long time).