Elderflower Champagne: a recipe
Elderflower champagne is the original and guaranteed garden party show-stopper and the secret to a good elderflower champagne is all in the timing.
I get a little twitchy every year come mid-May. My Sunday walks have more purpose than at other times of the year. I make sure I’ve got all the ingredients well in advance – so I’m ready for action at short notice.
For most of the year elders are relatively unremarkable small trees that cluster country lanes, roadsides and the edges of meadows. But after even a short patch of warm weather they transform from dull shrub to royal bride. This transformation – that marks the arrival of early summer – is part of the reason I'm rather fond of these hardy trees.
You have to catch the florets as they are opening and this is a relatively short window of opportunity. Short but unmistakable. The moment the florets open – creamy-white like a wedding dress, and the air all around them fills with a light, sweet scent – is the time for action. Drop whatever you are doing, grab your secateurs and get out there.
As soon as the perfume sours – think cat pee – I'm afraid that the ideal moment has passed, and you’ll have to wait until the following year.
If you followed my instructions you’ll now be feeling rather chuffed and the rest of the process is sublimely easy and one of the true treats of summer. For such a delicate and delicious drink, it really is simple to make, and it’s quick to become drinkable.
1lb /450g golden granulated sugar
8 pints /4.5 litres hot water
2 tablespoons good quality mild white-wine vinegar
juice of 2 lemons
8 elderflower heads (remove the stalks)
There many, many variations on this recipe – for instance, you can add a cup of wild rose petals, replace the sugar with honey, or use mild cider vinegar instead.
Put the sugar in a large plastic container and add the hot water. Stir until dissolved, add the vinegar and lemon juice, and then add the elderflower heads.
Cover with a cloth and leave to steep for between 1 to 4 days.
Strain through muslin and pour into screw-top bottles or flagons – I find that old tonic bottles are more than good enough – but avoid anything with thin glass.
Store in a cool place for 8-10 days. At which point your champagne
will be ready for drinking.
Beware! It’s explosive stuff. Take great care when handling the bottles.
Making sure the bottles are well chilled reduces volatility – it’s wise to refrigerate them the night before you intend to drink them.
If you aren’t ready to drink your champagne after 10 days,
don’t worry – it keeps for about 3-4 months. But after 8-10 days you must release some gas and retighten the tops.