Friday, 12 June 2015

Of Elderflowers, Roses and Lemon Verbena

Thank you so much for all your kind and enthusiastic comments about my crochet fly-curtain. The weather has tailed off somewhat since finishing it but I am pleased to report that on those occasions when the sun has shone and the door has been open, the curtain has done "what it says on the tin" and has kept pesky, flying visitors well and truly Out. Which augurs well for future sunny days, as and when we get them.

Although it has not been very summery the last few days, the elderflowers are nevertheless boldly coming out in the hedgerows here. The wide, shallow flower-heads with their creamy, delicate blossoms, overflowing with sweet scent, remind me of shallow champagne-goblets, perched among the green leaves. They beckon me to leave my desk and get out and pick them for elderflower cordial before the heavy thunderstorms, forecast for later today, batter them down and soak the fragile flowers, beyond use. I took the hint. This morning they are still new and dry and drifting with golden pollen - perfect for making cordial. Most cordial recipes caution against washing the flowers after picking. I had assumed this was because in washing you would lose the perfume and the water that would cling to the flowers would add unnecessary extra liquid to your mixture. I discovered today, while researching one or two variations, that actually the chemical composition changes in the flowers, when they are wet. Negatively so. You only want to immerse them at the point of infusion, not before. No idea why this should be, but they do smell different in the rain and perhaps that's why. I don't wash them anyway but this is just an added incentive not to bother.

Anne floated the idea of infusing rose petals with the elderflowers for cordial in her post here and this seemed to me to be an inspiration of sheer genius. (Not uncommon with Anne in the kitchen, I have to say.) My new-last-year Gertrude Jekyll rose is a bit green and youthful still and her flowers have been hanging, slightly sadly, from her young and whippy stems, which are not yet up to the job of supporting them in a more upright position. Nudging me to pick them to enjoy them properly, rather than leaving them to trail on the ground. I've picked some to put in a vase and been enjoying them all week.

The scent is breath-taking.

As is the colour.

What about pairing that scent (and colour) with the elderflowers? What about it indeed!

As with making rose petal jam, it's a good idea to snip off the white part of the rose petals as these can be bitter so all the white tips, like the one in the pic, got snipped off before I poured on the bubbling-hot sugar syrup.

I now have two batches of elderflowers infusing in the kitchen, one with rose petals, one without, and the scent is headily distracting.

Despite the vagaries of the English summer about which I was grumbling a few weeks back, there is something about the scent both of elderflowers and old-fashioned roses that makes all my grumbles about the lack of warmth and sunshine evaporate.

The essence of summer. In your face, literally.

Do you make your own elderflower cordial? If you don't, I recommend having a go, with or without experimental variation. It is extraordinarily easy and, personally, I find it a marked step-up from the commercial variety, as well as being cheaper, of course.

There are lots of recipes for elderflower cordial. It's child's play and boils down to the following:

1 Pick the flowers.
2 Pare and squeeze a few lemons.
3 Boil up a simple sugar syrup.
4 Pour the hot syrup over the flowers and lemons.
5 Cover and leave for twenty four hours.
6 Strain and bottle / freeze.
7 Drink diluted with water (and / or something alcoholic)

For more detailed instructions of how I go about it, you can find the recipe that I use here where I posted about it last year. The frozen cordial keeps beautifully for a year or more. I know because this week I have been drinking the last of the batch I made last June.

The rose variation on the elderflower theme has sparked one or two other possibilities for experiment - elderflower partnered with lemon verbena, for example. Apparently very good indeed with gin. As I have recently planted out some little lemon verbena plants, I am wondering whether, if the thunder and rain will just hold off a smidgeon longer, I might have time to pick some more flowers for a third batch. I think I might!

I have no idea as to quantities with these variations. For the rose one, I picked four generous Gertrude Jekyll roses because these were the flowers drooping lowest that would otherwise see out their days sweeping the flowerbed and because Anne said two were insufficient in her initial experiment. They have partnered about twenty seven elderflower heads. The lemon verbena plants are new and not very bushy as yet, so I didn't want to pick too many leaves off them. A generous handful of the aromatic, pointy, green leaves leaves with half a lemon sliced up for good measure, to eighteen elderflower heads is what I ended up with for this batch.

The kitchen now looks (and smells) like some kind of summery alchemist's cave with assorted pans and bowls emitting similar, but subtly different, fragrances from beneath their lids. I keep going in there, just to breathe them in. I hope no one wants any rice with their chilli con carne this evening - all my big pans are now occupied! Oops!

Wishing you a cordially happy (and flowery) weekend!

E x


  1. Heavenly! I made elderflower cordial for the first time last year and you've just reminded me that it's that time again. It is very nice splashed into gin and tonic and I love the idea of adding lemon verbena; I imagine it would go very nicely. I planted a Gertrude Jekyll rose this year but, as yet, there are no flowers. Do let us know how the rose and elderflower cordial goes. No point in picking any blossoms today though - it's pouring down! Have a lovely weekend. xx

  2. Wow, it really does sound wonderful. Its not something that I have tried but your evocative description of the smells has made me want to give it a go. I think a stroll down the lane is in order. Have a great weekend.

  3. I didn't realise that washing the flowers changed the chemical composition. Interesting.
    I doubled the quantity of roses and the cordial is a glorious pink. I notice you use a hot syrup; I've noticed that the elder flowers can turn a bit brown with hot syrup so have used cold water this year. Seems to work though I have no idea if it affects the flavour or keeping.
    Lemon verbena sounds a wonderful idea. I also wondered if there was a way of incorporating strawberry juice but will have to work on that one. Enjoy your sweet smelling kitchen this weekend.

  4. J'ai aussi un rosier (grimpant) Gertrude Jekyll dans mon jardin :-) ! J'essaierai d'infuser des pétales l'année prochaine, car dans le sud de la France les fleurs de sureau sont déjà passées...Et cette année encore mon "champagne de sureau " est raté !...Mais peut-être (comme tu le dis) est-ce parce que le temps avait été trop humide dans les jours précédant la récolte ?...
    Bon week-end (une lettre part demain!)

  5. It looks like a beautiful as well as tasty thing to make.

  6. All of your different variations sound delicious!!!!! I really like the idea of freezing the cordial, that is a great thing to do! xx

  7. Your different combinations all sound delicious, the elderflowers aren't quite out yet here so I'm waiting patiently. I love lemon verbena and all things rosy. Your Gertrude Jekyll roses look fantastic. Hx

  8. Your post was poetry for me this morning. I envisioned flowers, colors, nice scents for a few moments. Sadly, elderberries do not grow in the high desert area here, so I virtually toured your kitchen with you and immersed myself in the pinks, yellows and vanilla whites of your concoction. Bliss.

  9. Oh wooow, those pics!! The roses in this brilliant pink, fantastic! ♥ And beautiful in combination with elderflower. I've never homemade something like that, but it must be great and your kitchen's smell must be wonderful! Happy Sunday! Nata xxx

  10. That rose is beautiful and the color is one that I associate with you! :) Am I the only one who got distracted by the beautiful doily that the rose was sitting on?! I am envious of the smells in your kitchen as I am currently trying to grow a sourdough starter and my kitchen smells a little like old bread and beer...blecchh! Now I have more things to add to the "someday I would like to...." list!

  11. I love homemade elderflower cordial and make some every year. I was checking for elderflowers the other day and ours are nowhere near ready yet. Your rose is beautiful. Again, none of ours are even close to flowering yet. It's been a strange year so far, weather-wise.

  12. What you're saying is completely true. I know that everybody must say the same thing, but I just think that you put it in a way that everyone can understand. I'm sure you'll reach so many people with what you've got to say.

  13. Hi, Elizabeth. I have been neglecting my blog reading, but, my seniors graduated on Friday of last week (and Jonathan on Thursday), so yesterday I finally sat down to catch up. After spending the morning cleaning out clutter in your garage, opening your blog in the afternoon reminded me of the pleasures of summer that await. Such pretty pictures, and I imagine the end result is delicious.

  14. Dear Elizabeth, I wanted to make elderflower cordial last Sunday but we had heavy rains and storms. I was really dissapointed that I didn't do it earlier but I just didn't have the time. I wonder if I could use the elderfowers heads that were not yet opened in full extend before Sunday. Maybe I will have a look at them tomorrow. I never tried to mix elderflower with something else but your suggestions are wonderful. I will give it a try, maybe using my chocolate mint. Your rose looks just fabulous, what a stunning colour. I hope you have a nice week, Viola.

  15. I've just bottled my first batch and I'm sipping a glass now. Haven't made it for years and I'd almost forgotten how easy it is. Thank you for the recipe and reminder Elizabrth.

  16. Beautiful flowers and a beautiful drink x


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