In moments of misguided optimism I like to think of the old ceramic sink outside the back door as my “herb garden”. It’s got a few rangy chives growing in it and some slightly woody mint. Alongside sits a small but determined-looking rosemary bush. But the gang’s undisputed alpha herb is a luxuriantly unplanned crop of lemon balm.
I’ve never been quite sure what to do with it. I crush and sniff a leaf in passing every now and then and think that a lemon-balm flavoured ice cream would be nice but haven’t yet got round to making one yet.
Running out of squash the other day, whilst in a particularly frugal mood, gave me the opportunity to try something else.
This cordial is the result. It’s refreshing and not too sweet, with the herb a definite but subtle presence. Despite its bullying persona in the garden the lemon balm comes second to the lemon in the taste stakes here.
Most recipes call for citric acid to act as a preservative. I didn’t have any but you can get it from the chemist. There seems to be disagreement as to whether you should add sugar for the steeping process or not. I didn’t want mine to be sickly so put it in afterwards, tasting as I went.
This cordial therefore would probably benefit from being kept in the fridge after opening, just in case. If it lasts that long. I’ve drunk half my bottle already - it’s delicious with sparkling water in a 1:3 ratio.
The process of making it reminded me that I really need to buy some cooking muslins because I had to use a facecloth for straining. That’s in addition to the one out of commission for cleansing after being soaked in butter and draped over the Christmas turkey.
But that was a long time ago. It’s summer now. And I have some flannels...
Lemon Balm Cordial (makes one litre)
- 2 colanderfuls of lemon balm leaves (approximately 200g)
- 3 (unwaxed) lemons
- 300g sugar
- Chop the lemon balm and put it in a large saucepan
- Use a peeler to remove the lemon zest in strips and add it to the pan. Slice each fruit into three or four and do likewise.
- Pour over 1.5 litres of boiling water and leave for 24 hours.
- Strain through a muslin and return to the pan.
- Add the sugar, tasting as you go, and bring to the boil.
- Bottle in sterilised containers whilst still hot and seal.
Ifs And Ands
- Add booze. Vodka or maybe gin and then dilute with tonic.
- Try using mint leaves, lemon verbena or a combination .
- Dilute 1:1 with still water and freeze into ice lollies
If you don’t fancy drinking lemon balm you could put a few sprigs in the bath to make the most of the lovely smell. Or, although this isn’t a personal recommendation, strew it on the floor amidst the reeds and rushes (you have reeds and rushes on your floor right?) as they did in Elizabethan times to disinfect and disguise odours. You could even rub it on your furniture. In Act V, Scene 5 of Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives Of Windsor, Mistress Quickly orders the “fairies”:
“The several chairs of order look you scour
With juice of balm and every precious flower.”
Again though, I am not endorsing this as a course of action. Do try the cordial though!