I’m sure this is what the fairies in my garden drink!
This is an old recipe from my very good friend Anne and her English mother Deidre, who is no longer with us. On my yearly visit to Bruny Island with Anne, Deidre would produce a bottle of this precious nectar and I looked forward to it so much I decided I needed my own supply!
Every November I watch my European Elderflower (Sambucus nigra) and the weather closely, so I can make sure to harvest enough of the creamy white blossoms to make next year’s supply to enjoy and share.
- 2 cups medium packed elderflowers (1 L uncut flowers)
- Rind of 2 x lemons
- 5 L boiling water
- 1.4 kg white sugar
- 7 g champagne yeast
- Sharp scissors
- 10 L food grade plastic container
- Tea towel
- Strainer / muslin cloth
- + 7 L saucepan
- 1 x Demijohn
- Bung for demijohn
- Airlock for demijohn
- Clear plastic tube for syphoning
Step 1. Harvest 1 litre elderflower blossoms and trim off green stems as you see here. For optimal freshness, pick early in the day before the sun is on the flowers. There is no need to wash the flowers. Discard any brown flowers.
Step 2. Snip 2 cups loosely packed elderflowers off the bitter green stems. The stems contain cyanide, so are mildly toxic and will make the wine bitter tasting. Some people strip the florets from the flower heads with a fork, but I like the gentler method of using scissors.
Using a sharp knife remove the rind from the 2 lemons, avoiding the white pith as this adds bitterness to the flavour of the wine. Store the lemons in an airtight container in the fridge for later use in the recipe.
Place the blossoms into a plastic food grade bucket with the rind of the 2 lemons followed by 5 litres of boiling water. To avoid plastic, you could use a large ceramic container.
Step 3. Cover the bucket with a tea towel and let stand for 3 days out of the reach of inquisitive pets and children. Stir with a wooden spoon once a day, recovering each time. I recommend not leaving it stand longer than 3 days as the flavour deteriorates somewhat. Don’t be alarmed at a strong smell at this stage; this will disappear by the end of the process.
Step 4. Strain liquid into a large cooking pot, add sugar and bring to the boil, stirring. Simmer for 10 minutes to kill any wild yeasts, then leave to cool with lid on. Like a lot of preserving, unfortunately brown sugar will change the flavour and colour of the drink so I recommend using white sugar. The sugar is merely food for the yeast. When the liquid is cooler but not cold, add 7g Champagne yeast and the juice of the 2 lemons you peeled and have stored in the fridge.
Step 5. Pour into the demijohns and add the bungs and airlocks (all available from wine making suppliers). We write the date of bottling on the bottles so we have a reference time.
Leave in a coolish, darkish place, not in direct sunlight, for 6 weeks, or until fermentation has ceased, indicated by the bubbling stopping. Now the yeast has used up all the sugar. It is important to rack off as soon as fermentation has finished for best flavour. I left my wine too long after fermentation ceased one year when I was busy and the flavour wasn’t as good.
Step 6. Rack it off, which means to remove the clear wine on the top from the lees, or waste product of the yeast, on the bottom of the bottles. Use clear plastic tubing (we use around 4mm diameter aquarium tubing) to siphon off the liquid into a clean demijohn. Don’t siphon up the lees at the base of the jar. Start the siphoning by sucking on the tubing and after a mouthful quickly pop the flowing wine into your clean demijohn. Most wines require more than one racking off, however we have never had to do more than one on our elderflower wine, so we usually siphon it straight into clean sterile bottles ready for labelling.
You can drink it straight away, or keep the bottles for years. The wine won’t spoil in the bottle if you open it up and drink some.
Estimated alcohol content ~15%
John’s Elderflower Spritzer Recipe
- In a tall tumbler combine 30ml native elderflower cordial (or to your taste).
- Pour in about ½ glass of your elderflower wine and combine by stirring.
- Top up with soda water.
- Decorate with a slice of lemon, lime or native finger or desert limes.
- Native elderflower cordial recipe to follow in subsequent posts.
- You can substitute European elderflower cordial from the shops.
- Native finger or desert limes are not usually in season un Melbourne until late summer – early autumn.