Late May into mid-June, depending on the weather that year, is elderflower time. And that is a very important time for me because it means it is time to make my own home brewed alcoholic beverage that is elderflower champagne. To me it marks the start of summer as they only flower when there has been enough sunshine. I have just finished the last bottle of last years brew and the date on it was July as last spring was awful. It is a delight to see the hedges filled with frilly lace caps of the elderflower heads and I start planning how many litres of the stuff I will make and if I have enough sugar and the lemons… The best time to pick the flowers is late morning on a dry, sunny day. You need a few hours of sun on the flowers to bring out the aroma but not too much otherwise they turn musky, almost a cat-pee smell, and I can’t image that is nice to drink. The best flowers are the ones that are still creamy coloured and not all the individual flowers have opened on the head; avoid the bright white or slightly brown heads as these are past their best. It is best to collect the flowers with scissors into a basket so that any insects drop off the flowers on the way home with your precious load. Use the flowers as soon as you have picked them. Remember not to pick all of the flowers as you want to be able to return in the autumn for the fruits!
A few care warnings about this brew. I have no idea how alcoholic it is. In fact, it seems to vary from batch to batch as to its leg wobbliness effects. It is very much like cider in its effects; its doesn’t taste alcoholic and goes down easy and you don’t realise it has any effect until you stand up! Also, and this is VERY important, the brew is highly explosive, especially for the first few weeks as the pressure builds up. For this reason I reuse plastic pop bottle because if they do go bang you don’t get shards of glass everywhere and with a screw cap you can gently release the pressure as necessary. For the first couple of weeks I keep the bottles in the kitchen and feel the bottles daily for the tenseness of the plastic and I tend to release the pressure daily for a week then every second day for another couple of weeks until noticing that they are not completely taught when ready to be released. They perhaps get one more release before being stored somewhere cool and dark.
I also make several litres of elderflower cordial which is a wonderfully fragrant ingredient for flavouring ice creams, panna cottas, other creamy desserts such as cheesecakes and the perfect pairing with gooseberries (which annoyingly come a few weeks later so the cordial is a great way to store the flavour until the gooseberries are ready for their turn). I also love the cordial diluted down with ice cold sparkling water; a refreshing summer spritzer. I have seen recipes for deep-fried elderflowers or fritters and I am dying to try them, if only I get long enough off work to pick some more flowers!
This year I have also made a variation on the champagne theme as my parents brought me a huge bag of rhubarb from Scotland. So there are also 3 bottles of rhubarb champagne to try in a few weeks. It is a pretty pink colour. Anyone for a glass?