Wild recipes: How to make elderflower champagne
Have you seen elderflower in your local park or hedgerows? It’s got the lovely country name of ‘bread-and-butter pudding’ because of its flat white fluffiness. Come June it’s ready to pick in the UK, so head down to your local park and gather it up in the bag of your choice. Just make sure you pick the higher bits so that no dogs have had their wicked way with the flowers!
So you know what to look for: These are elderflower heads on a plate. You are fine to keep the green stems. You do not, however, wish to keep the leaves.
There, now you’ve got nearly everything you need to make the most delicious, fizzy, cloudy, sparkly champagne. The key ingredient is absolutely free, it’s wild food plucked from your environment, and it tastes of flowers.
Please note – it will have alcoholic content, this wine of yours (about 1-4% depending on the sugar levels and how long you leave it to ferment). So if you prefer to avoid that sort of business, this recipe is not for you.
Otherwise? It is so very perfect. It tastes of summer and country walks and proper perfumed joy. It is definitely for you.
- 750 g caster sugar
- A carrier bag’s worth of elderflower heads (about 25 should do it)
- The grated zest of 2-3 lemons (plus juice)
- 2 tbsp of white wine vinegar
- A pinch of dried yeast (this really helps with the fermenting)
- Muslin cloth for straining (cheap to get at supermarkets, sundry shops or online)
- Biggish glass jars or bottles – make sure they can be sealed airtight
- A big plastic bucket.
How to make the thing
It’s time to make the thing. How do you make it? Well, aside from the things above, you will need just under half an hour, and two weeks. Set aside that less-than-half-an-hour to fill your bucket with what-will-soon-become-fizzy-perfection, and two weeks (tops) to transform sugared flowery water into sparkling wine.
This is probably what your big plastic bucket will look like. It is what mine looked like.
The ‘making it happen’ bit:
First, make sure your big bucket is clean. This is not a posh recipe. It uses buckets. Nevertheless, they must be clean. Next, add 5 litres of water to your big clean plastic bucket. Then your sugar. Now stir it in, until the sugar has dissolved.
Now, run your elderflower heads under the tap to clean them up a bit if you feel you need to. But not too much, and you don’t really need to. It’s fine, you’ll be straining the liquid anyway. Now, add your elderflower heads to the sugary water in the bucket. It’s absolutely fine if the heads still have a bit of the stem that holds them all together. Don’t worry. But you can snip away at the green stems if you like. Then there’ll be an even higher percentage of flavour-y flowers. It’s your choice, and your time.
Next, add the lemon zest, the tart juice, and the vinegar.
Ooh. You’re ready for the next bit now…
Cover your bucket with the muslin cloth (pronounced muh-slin). Feel free to tie the cloth in place with string or sellotape or duct tape, because there’s never been a thing that wasn’t improved with duct tape. Pop the bucket in a cool, airy place where it will not get knocked over or sloshed. Leave it there for two days.
Keep looking at your bucket every few hours. Don’t open it, though. Also, looking at the bucket doesn’t help. It doesn’t help at all. But looking at it and wondering what kind of alchemy is happening inside can be fun.
After two days, lift the cloth and have a peek. Hopefully there will be some foam! Yes, some strange and lovely foam! If there is no foam, pop in a pinch of dried yeast. This will make the recipe-magic happen, and also the foam. If there is foam, however, then pop in a bit of yeast anyway. It makes little difference to taste and you’ll achieve even more of the wonderful foamy goodness, which can only be a good thing…
Leave for another four days. That’s six days in total you’ve left stuff in a bucket! Onto the next bit… Arrange your glass jars and/or bottles, and sieve your elderflower champagne straight into them, straining the liquid through the muslin cloth so there are no bits in the bottles, just liquid. It can be handy to have funnels around for this sort of work. Don’t worry, you’ll do fine. The worst that happens is you make a mess. So long as some of that gorgeous non-bitty liquid makes it into the glass bottles or jars, your task is a successful one!
Seal your bottles, seal tight your jars. Leave them for a week. That’s two weeks, now, that your flowered nectar has been fermenting.
Hello, you. I forgot to take a picture of my bottles before we drank them. I do forget to take photos of things. The contents of these bottles were made by the lovely Secret Seed Society.
That is long enough. Two weeks. Two whole weeks. Why on earth would you want to wait any more? No, you don’t want that.
Chill. Serve. Drink.
Extra wild recipe tip: Did you know you can also batter and fry elderflower heads and dust them with icing sugar or honey for the perfect summer pudding? Because you can…