Sorry, guys. I meant to come home and make the most delicious-sounding rhubarb and rye scones from my new favourite place for finding things to do with rhubarb. I also meant to make watermelon lemonade, because somehow it’s been 30 degrees out for the last two weeks and I’ve sort of forgotten what to do when that happens but I’m pretty sure long, refreshing drinks are in order, and what sounds more refreshing than watermelon lemonade?
Instead, though, I didn’t. Firstly, I got distracted by a boyfriend (mine, just to be clear) in a pub garden with a glass of pimms and some calamari – not a good start, productivity-wise – and then, then, somebody on twitter posted that the water at Claverton Weir, my
second new favourite swimming spot, is at a perfect temperature right now. I am not so good at resisting that kind of temptation, apparently.
I can live without watermelon lemonade for a little while longer though, thankfully, at least until we run out of elderflower cordial. This is probably quite imminent – every year I make thousands (yes, literally) more bottles than I did the last year, and every year we run out in about August. The same happens with marmalade, but I have my suspicions on the culprit for this one. I have known John to eat a quarter of a jar in one go.
It’s a good time for picking elderflowers at the moment – firstly, they’re out, which always helps (and don’t fret if the ones nearest you are over; they are near us, too, but a quick stroll round a field boundary or two should easily yield enough heads to make a decent amount of cordial), and secondly, the cordial will be tastier if they’re picked in the sun. Quite often, this means that I spend the first two weeks staring at the elderflower blossoms and willing the sun to come out, but apparently this year I am in charge of the weather, as this actually seems to have worked for once. You can thank me later.
When I have ten minutes spare between staring out of the office window at the sun and chasing the last four square inches of it around the garden (this gets tricky when it gets to the holly seedlings), I need to work out which quantities my new favourite (and, in fact, everyone else I know’s new favourite) cocktail is best in – I know, life is hard, right? – and then I’ll tell you something awesome to do with the cordial, as well. Then maybe I’ll finally get round to making some lemonade with the watermelon that has sat on the counter looking at me accusingly for the last week. Don’t hold your breath, though.
Recipe from John’s mum. If you can, pick the blossoms in the afternoon, while the sun’s out. Try to choose creamy yellow heads rather than bleached-looking ones; these will have more of the pollen and so will be tastier. It’s wise to wear trousers on your gathering expedition, as well, however buried at the back of the wardrobe behind all the summer dresses they are – strappy sandals and floaty dresses are not much defence against the stinging nettles and brambles you will likely need to
battle through wave gently aside to get to your elderflowers.
This recipe doesn’t include any citric acid, which is commonly used to lengthen the shelf life of cordials. This means it tastes much nicer, but needs to be stored in the freezer, and then – once open – in the fridge.
Makes around 4-5l
40-60 heads of elderflower
zest of 2 lemons and one orange
up to 3kg granulated or caster sugar (either is fine, but granulated is cheaper)
up to 400ml lemon juice (from 3-5 lemons)
Shake any bugs gently out of the flowers, and put them into a huge bowl with the lemon and orange zest. Cover with 3-4l of boiling water and a clean tea towel, and leave on the side overnight.
Strain the mixture through muslin, a jelly bag or a clean tea towel into a measuring jug, then dispense into a large pan and for every 500ml of liquid add 350g sugar and 50ml lemon juice. Heat the mixture gently to dissolve the sugar, then bring to a gentle simmer. Skim the mixture, turn off the heat, and strain again through muslin once it’s cool enough to handle.
Pour into bottles, leaving a few inches of room at the top for the liquid to expand as it freezes, and store in the freezer.
To serve, dilute 1:5, or pour a slug into a G&T.