The Cottage Smallholder

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Fiona’s elderflower vodka/liqueur recipe

hoto of a bunch of plucked elderflower blossoms

A bunch of elderflower blooms

I was looking through Rose and David Mabey’s book Jams, Pickles and Chutneys (Penguin handbooks) last week to see if the had any recipes for elderflowers. They did have one – elderflower vinegar.

“If you can make vinegar then you must be able to make elderflower vodka,” I mused.
A brief sojourn on the internet threw up two recipes Hank Shaw’s Elderflower Liqueur and Elderflower Vodka from Eating From The Ground Up. As our liqueur cellar is running very dry I vowed to have a go.

The Chicken Lady was up for the challenge too.
“We must make some. We can gather and make it on the same day. Perfect.”
The 48 hour soaking period for the elderflower cordial had stretched her patience. When we eventually bottled our cordials she was the first to taste them. A long glass, ice cold water. I was on tenterhooks as she sipped.

She paused and smiled and drank some more. I had to demand a taste before she drained the glass. We made elderflower as well as elderflower and lemon cordial. The latter is my favourite. Very chic on a hot day and good with a splash of vodka and fizzy water in the long dark moths of winter when summer seems so far away.

Having bottled the cordials we returned to the local park to forage for elderflowers. Even though we had both stocked up on vodka neither of us had enough to completely fill our chosen jars.
“Don’t worry.” I soothed. “I often harvest berries and just cover them with gin or vodka and then when I’m in funds I top up the grog.”

Being an elderflower vodka virgin I had no idea that this skinflint method would not work with elderflowers. Both our jars quickly developed a centimetre of brown petals at the top of each jar. The smell was of pungent rotting debris.

Clearly the air was causing this nasty reaction.

When the brown layer was carefully removed and the filled so full that not even a gnat could breath in the space the aroma was just as it should be.
“But the cordial smelt far more delicious when it was soaking.” TCL declared.
“Yes it did but this has no sugar or lemon.”
Between you and me I was nervous about this grog. TCL had one jar. I had three –each containing a litre of vodka. A sizeable investment in today’s money.

Since then I’ve examined my jars – sniffing and tasting for several days now. I reckoned that the elderflower flavour could be enhanced and improved with the addition of lemon zest. So as an experiment I added a teaspoon of lemon zest to one jar (this was the zest of one unwaxed lemon to a litre of vodka). Within hours the aroma was more inviting with that elderflower buzz that seemed to have got lost in the process. Perhaps killed by angst? It tasted much better too.

Danny was hauled down from The Rat Room for a blind sniffing. He closed his eyes and I proffered the jar with added lemon zest.
“That smells sweet and enticing.”
I unscrewed a plain elderflower jar. He wafted his nose expectantly over the opening.
“Dull and a little bit unappetising.”

So my trusty zester went into overdrive and now all three litres have received that special added ingredient. The lemon zest zing.

This was not as wild a move as it may seem. Lemon gin, made with lemon zest and sugar, is to die for. Don’t use lemon juice, it just doesn’t work as I found to my sorrow several years ago.

So I was all set. Confident that lemon zest was the answer and if it was not I could blend. Gooseberries are ripening in the fruit cages as my fingers fly across the key board.

There was just one small last minute glitch this afternoon.

I suffer from a syndrome called ‘bluejumperitis’. I long for a blue jumper/terracotta pot/garden shrub. I finally find the perfect one and buy it. But I can’t stop checking in other shops to see whether I actually found the best one. This is a dangerous game – sometimes I underline the fact that this was a great buy. Every now and then I find something better. But in the kitchen ‘bluejumperitis’ is what makes most hands on foodies tick and feel alive.

Well I had a touch of ‘bluejumperitis’ with my jars of elderflower vodka. They’ll be a week old on Sunday. Having decided to go with a 4 week infusing period I couldn’t resist searching deeper and deeper on Google. How do the Russians or Scandinavians make flower infused vodka? They are after all top of their game on the vodka stakes.

The answer came back clear and sharp. Their flowers are infused for just 48 hours or less! Oh…

What will happen if the vodka is over infused? It will taste too strong but can be diluted and tinkered with if necessary. There are lots of helpful hints on tinkering with your infused vodkas here. I also trust Hank Shaw – he made his recipe and if it turned out to be vile he would have scarpered back and changed or deleted it. All his recipes work and I trust him. I haven’t read Alana’s site before but I reckon that my search for Elderflower vodka has led me to a blog that is well worth visiting regularly.

I’m going to experiment a bit with my three jars. One is going to be strained on Sunday (after infusing for the giddy heights of just a week), the second next Sunday and the final jar will steep for four weeks. Of course I’ll post the results on the site – lots of chances for tippling and tweaking. Danny is nodding expectantly at the prospect.

Fiona’s elderflower liqueur/vodka recipe

• At least 20 large heads of elderflowers, flowers open and picked at midday or when the sun is on them. Discard any heads with even one brown flower as this will foul the flavour. Shake the heads to remove unwanted wildlife.
• 1 litre of vodka
• The zest of 1 medium lemon
• Sugar to taste

• Select a 1 litre Kilner/LeParfait/Mason jar
• Remove the thicker stems from the flower heads leaving only the ultra thin stalks that hold the flowers.
• Meanwhile wash and sterilise the jar.
• Pack the heads into the warm jar, add the lemon zest and fill the jar to the brim with vodka. Seal tightly.
• Leave to infuse for at least 48 hours but no more than 4 weeks, in a dark dry spot. Shake (and taste if you want adventure) occasionally. When the vodka has infused enough to your liking (remember that you will be adding sugar later) strain the vodka through 2 layers of muslin twice.
• Bottle the vodka using a funnel or small jug. Leave enough space to add sugar. Use white sugar – granulated is fine. Add the sugar incrementally 5g at a time – shake (top on) and taste.

Apparently this vodka does not improve with age so it can be enjoyed when the sugar has dissolved completely.

If you try this I’d love to hear how you get on.

N.B. Here is an update on the elderflower vodka

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  1. Kit Niamh

    Just make elderflower cordial, 2.5kg sugar, zest two unwaxed lemons, then thick slice the lemons, 50g of citric acid, 1.5lts of water, boil this take off heat, add twenty to thirty heads of elderflower, use fork to separate flowers from stalks, leave twenty four hours, strain. Then use this mix 1:4 (adjust to taste) in vodka. Freeze your cordial in ice cube trays, to enjoy all year around.

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