Making Elderflower Cordial and Preserving it Through Pasteurisation

Home made elederflower cordial recipe served with ice

The fresh and zesty flavour of elder­flower cor­dial is one of the great joys of spring­time. The sad­ness comes when it is all fin­ished. For­tu­nate­ly by pre­serv­ing elder­flower cor­dial by pas­teuri­sa­tion it is pos­si­ble to hold on to this lit­tle slice of spring through the depths of winter…

Foraging for Elderflowers

By the end of May the Euro­pean elder Sam­bu­cus nigra begins to bloom. The abun­dant white clus­ters of sweet-scent­ed flow­ers adorn elder trees in hedgerows, parks, woods and gar­dens across Europe and North Amer­i­ca. Gath­er­ing the flow­ers for your cor­dial is the eas­i­est part. The sea­son is quite long and usable fresh­ly opened flow­ers are avail­able into July. Make sure you are gen­tle when col­lect­ing, much of the flavour is in the pollen which is eas­i­ly lost through rough han­dling. It is also worth not­ing that flow­ers from dif­fer­ent trees can have very dis­tinct scents, from super sweet to to urine-like. This will affect the taste of your cor­dial so as you for­age so make sure you smell the flow­ers before col­lect­ing them! 

The Elderflower Cordial Recipe

This is my own recipe for elder­flower cor­dial. It tastes great, is easy to make, and has the high acid­i­ty need­ed for safe pas­teuri­sa­tion and storage. 

Ingredients

I like to make a lot of this and then pre­serve it for year-round stor­age, feel free to scale down the quan­ti­ties for small­er batch­es. For mak­ing around 6 litres of elder­flower cor­dial you will require:

  • Around 120 elder­flower heads.
  • 4 litres of water.
  • 4kg gran­u­lat­ed sugar.
  • 6 unwaxed lemons.
  • 160g cit­ric acid.

Method

  1. With scis­sors gen­tly cut away as much of the larg­er stalks from the elder flow­ers as prac­ti­ca­ble and dis­card. Set the flow­ers aside.
  2. Thin­ly slice the lemons and set them aside.
  3. On a hob heat the water in a large stock pot and add all the sug­ar until ful­ly dissolved.
  4. Allow the result­ing sug­ar syrup to cool to 75oC. This is impor­tant as high­er tem­per­a­tures will destroy ben­e­fi­cial Vit­a­min C and strip flavour from your elderflowers.
  5. Trans­fer the sug­ar syrup to a large food safe plas­tic or stain­less steel vessel.
  6. Add the cit­ric acid next and stir until dis­solved. Take pre­cau­tions to keep it away from your skin and eyes!
  7. Add the sliced lemons.
  8. Add your elder­flow­ers last. There is a good rea­son for this as they will burn to brown if they make con­tact with the cit­ric acid pow­der before it is ful­ly dissolved. 
  9. Stir, cov­er and allow to steep for 48 hours.
  10. Strain first through a sieve and then through sev­er­al lay­ers of muslin. Don’t squeeze the lemons when you do this or your cor­dial will be far too lemony.

Pasteurising Your Elderflower Cordial

You can enjoy your new­ly made cor­dial for a few weeks if sim­ply refrig­er­at­ed. Pre­serv­ing elder­flower cor­dial by pas­teuris­ing can extend the shelf life to sev­er­al years. The pas­teuri­sa­tion tech­nique used here is very sim­i­lar to tra­di­tion­al water bath can­ning or bot­tling. How­ev­er instead of bring­ing the water bath and cor­dial bot­tles up to 100oC we will raise the tem­per­a­ture to just 70–75oC. This will help main­tain the qual­i­ties and flavours of the cor­dial that would be lost at high­er temperatures.

Pasteurisation Equipment

No spe­cial­ist equip­ment is need­ed for pre­serv­ing elder­flower cor­dial by pas­teuri­sa­tion, you may well have every­thing need­ed lay­ing about your kitchen:

  • Large, deep stock pot or pur­pose built can­ner. I will refer to this in the method as a water bath.
  • Triv­et or tea tow­el to line the base of the water bath.
  • Swing-top glass bot­tles or screw-cap lids with good seals.
  • Fun­nel.
  • Long stem thermometer.

Pasteurisation Method

  1. Sani­tise your bot­tles. Remove the caps and place the bot­tlesin an oven. Bring the oven up to 130oC for 30 mins. When done leave the bot­tles in the oven to cool. 
  2. While wait­ing for your bot­tles to cool sani­tise your bot­tle lids and seals. Sim­mer them in a pan of water for 30 minutes.
  3. Place the water bath on a hob. Add the triv­et, if you don’t have one of these place a fold­ed tea tow­el at the bot­tom of the water bath. Your bot­tles will sit on top of this.
  4. Using a fun­nel fill the bot­tles with your elder­flower cor­dial. Leave a good bit of head­room as the con­tents will expand up the bot­tle necks when heat­ed lat­er on. 
  5. Place the lids back on the bot­tles very, very loose­ly so air can escape.
  6. Place your bot­tles in the water bath. 
  7. Add enough water to the water bath until it is around 4cm from the rim.
  8. Switch on your hob and start heat­ing the water bath rapid­ly. Use a ther­mome­ter to peri­od­i­cal­ly check the tem­per­a­ture of the cor­dial inside the bot­tles. You need to bring the con­tents of the bot­tles to 70–75oC and then hold this tem­per­a­ture for 20 min­utes by adjust­ing the heat. This is much eas­i­er than it sounds.
  9. After 20 min­utes at this tem­per­a­ture tight­en down all the lids ful­ly. Remove the bot­tles from the water bath. 
  10. Allow to cool. Now you can enjoy your favourite elder­flower cor­dial all year round!

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