It’s elderflower season which always makes me think of my Grandma. She used to make elderflower champagne every year. It was what my younger brother and I were given on special occasions when the grown-ups had wine.
It was delicious. Fizzy and sweet, obviously. But even our easily-pleased young palettes could tell there was something going on beyond those two eminently desirable qualities. It was also citrussy, floral, sharp and bitter, all at the same time.
It was only very, very lightly boozy. No more than a couple of percent at most. But enough to get Adam and me a little tooty on occasion and prone to fits of giggles. Or perhaps that was just inevitable overexcitement on the highdays and holidays we were allowed to drink it?
Grandma died (at a good old age) in 2001 and hadn’t made elderflower champagne for a long while before that. But when the frothy white flowers start appearing I always think of her and, this year, decided I would try and recreate her recipe.
I remembered my mother having a copy of it, tucked into the cover of a cookbook, so asked if it was still around. Alas, some major renovation work and the attendant cleanouts meant it wasn’t and there were a lot of varying recipes on the web. She did however recall:
“It was the natural yeasts on the flowers which did the work and the whole thing was pretty simple. She stressed the straightforwardness of it - it was one of the things which was so impressive about it. So my guess is that whenever there are options between recipes, hers would have been the simpler and quicker.
“The ingredients were definitely elderflowers, lemons, sugar and water. There may also have been a spoonful or so of cider vinegar - not sure about that.
“The recipes on the web have between six and twenty heads of flowers per gallon of water. I think she was on the higher side of this. I think she took the flowers off the stalks, or at least snipped away most of the stalky bits, before putting them to steep.
"I think the steeping was done in a large mixing bowl, covered with something (muslin?).”
Seemingly fairly straightforward. But first I needed to find elderflowers. Not so difficult. They seem to get everywhere. But Rowan trees can be a bit elderflower-y looking from a distance so best to be sure. Which you can be by sniffing. Elderflowers smell unmistakable.
I spotted some in Finsbury Park and made a mental note to come back the next day. But someone had obviously had the same idea and, what's more, got there before me as when I arrived all the low-hanging flowers had already been nabbed. Fortunately I found a tree of my own with plenty left to go round.
They are currently in a bucket in the corner of the kitchen, fermenting away.
The recipe I used was more or less the one advised by the River Cottage. I’ll let you know in a week or so if it turns out to be as good as the one that grandma used to make...