Cordials for Summer

August 5, 2009 § Leave a comment

Making elderflower cordial has become an annual event in our household with the arrival of the heady scented elderflower blooms in June heralding the beginning of summer.  I first tasted elderflower cordial at the smart London wedding of our friends Tim and Laura Davis some 17 years ago.  At last, a refreshing non alcoholic drink to suit an adult palate! I’ve been drinking it every summer since and have now settled on my favourite recipe which I discovered in Thane Prince’s slim but inspiring volume “Summer Cook”.

This year, inspired by the taste of the perfumed scarlet syrup remaining after making a summer pudding I tried out a new addition to the range – raspberry and redcurrant cordial.  Diluted with ice cold still or sparkling water they make lovely summer drinks and making your own is less expensive and more satisfying than buying a pricy branded bottle from the supermarket.

I am pleased to say I have been asked for the recipe for both cordials this year.  The recipes follow, as does a picture below.  You will see  that I recycle old wine and spirit bottles when bottling the cordial.  The Stolichnaya is not all it seems…

Recipe for elderflower cordial


1 kg (2.25 lb) sugar
1.8 litres (3 pints) water
2 well scrubbed lemons
2 well scrubbed oranges
about 20 large elderflower heads
60g (2 oz) citric acid

Note on citric acid:  this is becoming increasingly difficult to find but the more old-fashioned kind of chemist will usually have some in stock or be prepared to order it for you. Citric acid is used both as an aid to injecting heroin and also in the manufacture of the explosive HMTD so be prepared to answer the pharmacist’s questions when you go in to buy it!

Make a sugar syrup by dissolving the sugar in the water in a preserving pan and boiling for 5 minutes.

Chop the whole fruit into 2.5 cm (1 inch) chunks and add to the hot syrup along with the flowerheads.  Do not wash the flowerheads, just shake out any insects.  Stir in the citric acid, cover the pan and leave in a cool dark place for 4 days to infuse.  Strain off the syrup (I do this using a muslin lined sieve) pour into spotlessly clean bottles and cap.

I have found that the cordial has improved keeping qualities if pasteurised.  This is simple to do.  Place the uncapped bottles in a preserving pan filled with water.  Bring to boil then simmer for 15 minutes.  Cap bottles while still hot.

Recipe for raspberry and redcurrant cordial

This is my own invention which I put together after checking out a few recipes I found on the web for various fruit cordials.


5lb mixed redcurrants and raspberries
granulated sugar
2-3 lemons

Put whatever quantity of fruit is available to you into an appropriately sized pan.  I used approximately  5 lb fruit in total,  2/3 redcurrants and 1/3 raspberries.  Just cover with water and boil gently for 15 minutes.  Don’t boil for too long or too fiercely otherwise you will end up with a jelly rather than a cordial.  Allow to cool and strain off the liquid.  Measure the liquid back into a clean pan. Add 1/2 lb sugar and the juice of 1 lemon for each pint of liquid.  Bring the mixture to the boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar, then boil for 3 minutes. Pour into sterilised bottles.  Store in a cool dark place.  Pasteurise if you like by standing the filled uncapped bottles in a preserving pan filled with water then bringing the water to the boil, allowing it to simmer for 15 minutes and capping the bottles while still hot.

Danger lurks in the woods

August 3, 2009 § 3 Comments

On the final leg of a Lake District walk along the far side of Buttermere I was delighted to spot the egg yolk yellow of what I assumed were chanterelles emerging from deep green moss. Eagerly I filled a small bag with the perfect little specimens below:

We ended the walk with a celebratory ice-cream at nearby Syke Farm in Buttermere village where they make delicious and unusual flavours from their own herd of Ayrshires. Blackcurrant cheesecake flavour was definitely a winner. They don’t have their own website but further details about the ice cream and Syke Farm tearoom can be found at

Back home that evening I thought I would double check my wild mushrooms against the photo and description in my trusty Collins gem Mushrooms book. After a few minutes I was dismayed to discover that I’d gathered a bagful of false chanterelles. These are marked “POISONOUS: A minority suffer from sickness and hallucinations”. Oh dear. They were quickly consigned to the dustbin and I was relieved to have escaped unharmed. I was mindful of the widely reported story of how Scottish “Horse Whisperer” author Nicholas Evans became seriously ill in September 2008 after mistaking a deadly cortinarius mushroom for the prized chanterelle. The little Collins book is really helpful as an identification guide as long as you pay attention to each section: the key piece of information in my case was habitat: I’d gathered my mushrooms beneath larches in acid-soiled woodland, a classic false chanterelle habitat whereas the true chanterelle grows mainly amongst broad-leaved trees, only occasionally amongst pine.

I was rewarded with a solitary real chanterelle a week or so later which I discovered on the wild fringes of a Lake District country house garden. I’m going to keep the exact location secret as chanterelles are thin on the ground! The perfect thing to with a single chanterelle is to cut it into neat small dice, fry it quickly in hot butter and serve it alongside creamy scrambled egg on toast. A perfect combination.

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