On a warm, sunny day, there’s nowhere I’d rather be than Ireland, and there’s no better drink on such a day than elderflower cordial. It’s Irish summer in a glass.
Elderflowers are at their peak at this time of year and the countryside is overrun with them. I have two elder trees of my own in my garden that I’ve been impatiently eying up since the spring, waiting for the flowers to blossom, but I can’t pass a single tree by without sizing up how many flowers it has and thinking of all the cordial I could make from it. I never had elderflower cordial before I moved to Ireland, but now I love it.
Today being Midsummer’s Eve, I’ll be celebrating the longest day of the year (and my wedding anniversary) by glamming up the usual cordial and making an elderflower Bellini instead by swapping the sparkling water for sparkling wine. In the folklore that surrounds elder trees, it’s said that the best time to encounter faeries is under an elder bush on Midsummer’s Eve, when the faery king and queen and their train can be seen passing.
I’ve lived in Ireland for 12 years, but the fact that there will still be remnants of light in the western sky as late as 11:30 p.m. is still a source of wonder. Of course, the converse of that is that it’s pitch dark by 4:30 p.m. in December, but on the shortest day of the year, when summer feels like a distant memory, I know that in only six months I have elderflowers and long, bright days to look forward to.
adapted from Forgotten Skills of Cooking by Darina Allen
Makes 500 ml (2 cups) elderflower syrup
If you can’t find unwaxed lemons, lightly scrub them under warm water with a clean scrubbing brush before you zest them.
200 g (1 cup) caster (superfine) sugar
500 ml (2 cups) cold water
6 to 8 elderflower heads, in full bloom
zest and juice of 2 lemons, preferably organic and unwaxed
1 bottle of sparkling wine (prosecco, cava or champagne), chilled
fresh raspberries, to decorate (one per glass)
Put the sugar and water into a saucepan over a medium heat. Stir until the sugar dissolves. Add the elderflowers and bring to a boil. Boil for 5 minutes, then remove from the heat and add the lemon zest and juice. Set aside to cool, then cover and leave to infuse for 24 hours. Strain and pour into clean, sterilised bottles (or freeze the syrup in an ice cube tray).
Pour 1 or 2 tablespoons of the syrup into a champagne flute. Top up with chilled sparkling wine and add one raspberry to each glass.