Seeking Chicks and Finding Elderflowers

The pot­ter Edmund de Waal, author of the mem­oir The Hare With Amber Eyes, describes his favour­ite Japan­ese net­suke, or mini­ature sculp­tures, as ones where you can ‘feel the wear’. They’re the ones that have ‘been changed by being handled; they’ve had a life, and a his­tory, and been knocked around and rubbed away.…’

I was just think­ing that my favour­ite people could be described in exactly the same way when I got a mes­sage from my very clev­er friend. If you’ve been read­ing Eggs on the Roof over the months you will know that she’s my neigh­bour who grows end­less amounts of deli­cious things, appar­ently effort­lessly, in a garden that can best be described as bucol­ic. The brief mes­sage said 3 chicks now. Newly-hatched chick­ens soun­ded worth see­ing, so I stopped think­ing about people who’ve had a life and star­ted think­ing about creatures just about to embark on theirs.

Trail­ing through the orch­ard at this time of year is like inhab­it­ing the pages of a Laurie Lee nov­el. The chicks were ludicrously cute and barely an hour old.

As they were tucked back under­neath their moth­er to keep warm, my eye was drawn to a trio of frothy, flor­idly pink bushes in the orch­ard.

They’re eld­er­flowers,’ said my v.c.f. ‘Would you like some?’ I had no idea that eld­er­flowers came in bubble-gum pink and the answer was ‘of course I would’. Although I’m ter­rible at grow­ing things, I love turn­ing what she grows into some­thing worth eat­ing or drink­ing.

In Oxford later in the day I bumped into three friends in quick suc­ces­sion. I asked each of them if they had a favour­ite eld­er­flower cor­di­al recipe ‘because’, I boas­ted, ‘I have pink eld­er­flowers’. Know­ing what an incom­pet­ent garden­er I am, each asked if I was quite sure that I wasn’t about to pois­on myself by try­ing to cook rhodo­den­drons or camel­li­as. They may have faith in my culin­ary skills, but not my hor­ti­cul­tur­al ones.

The recipe I devised is a little bit of Alison’s, a touch of Richard’s, a smat­ter­ing of Anwen’s and a sprink­ling of my own. The flowers were pink… but would the cor­di­al be?

Elderflower Cordial

  • 20 eld­er­flower heads
  • 1.5 litres water
  • 1.7 kg sug­ar
  • 50g cit­ric acid
  • 4 unwaxed lem­ons

Tap the flower heads before you pick them, to get rid of dust and any insects. You don’t need to wash them. Put them in a large ceram­ic bowl. Boil the water in a pan and add the sug­ar and cit­ric acid. Take off the heat and stir until the crys­tals are com­pletely dis­solved. Thinly slice the lem­ons, add them to the bowl and tip the water and sug­ar solu­tion over the top.

Stir, cov­er lightly and allow to steep for 24 hours. Strain through a sieve and muslin cloth and pour into ster­il­ised bottles. I filled five 50cl plastic water bottles. One is in the fridge, four are in the freez­er for anoth­er day.

The day that began with chicks ended very hap­pily with the flash­i­est, show­i­est eld­er­flower cor­di­al I’ve ever seen. And yes, it’s PINK.

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36 thoughts on “Seeking Chicks and Finding Elderflowers

  1. Com­pletely deli­cious… sweet, per­fumed, fra­grant and refresh­ing. It’s alto­geth­er more inter­est­ing than white-flowered eld­er­flower.

  2. Sorry to com­ment a little off-top­ic, but there surely can’t be two of us called Anwen in Oxford? I’ve nev­er before heard of any­one that shares my name!

  3. Yes, there is anoth­er — a very old friend of mine! Is that good or bad from your point of view? I’m not sure. But it’s a very good name.

  4. Its nice to know there’s anoth­er per­son out there with the name. The eld­er­flower cor­di­al looks lovely — I made some this week­end too, but just the plain white vari­ety, so not nearly as excit­ing.

  5. I’m glad you’re pleased Anwen. And yes, I don’t know why its pink­ness should make it so much more excit­ing, but it really does. I think it tastes more per­fumed than the white vari­ety, but it might be because it looks so much more glam.

  6. I also thought eld­er­flowers only came in White but I must say these look sen­sa­tion­al and the cor­di­al does indeed look glam. If, as you say, it tastes bet­ter than the usu­al sort I think you’re on to a win­ner.

  7. How lovely, I noticed some pink eld­er­flowers only this morn­ing in somebody’s garden — and wondered if they’d make cor­di­al. But the com­mon ones in my garden seem very frothy and creamy-look­ing this year and not too insecty! Those little black flies always put me off.

  8. Hi Mary
    Thanks so much for your com­ment. It was a bit of an exper­i­ment, but one that def­in­itely worked. How lovely to have eld­er­flowers in your garden.

  9. What a refresh­ing and divine sound­ing drink.…. will be mak­ing some with the eld­er­flowers grow­ing in my garden. AJ

  10. That looks beau­ti­ful and would prob­ably be deli­cious straight out of the freez­er. I’m at work, so of course I’m dream­ing boozy dreams 😀
    Last time I was in Ukraine we went to a mar­ket and they had a giant cor­al of a box full of every col­or of fuzzy little chick­ies you could ima­gine. I wanted to adopt them all.

  11. Charlie, you can have them … they’re a pest! And that’s not even think­ing about birds over-indul­ging on the ber­ries and their purply splodges!

  12. And there was me think­ing how romantic it was to have them in your garden Mary — shows what I know about plants.

  13. Hi Anna
    I can see why you wanted to adopt the chicks — they’re ridicu­lously sweet. But I’m not going to suc­cumb.

  14. Hi AJ
    Let me know what you think of the cor­di­al when it’s made. I was think­ing how lovely it would be to have the flowers in my garden, but Mary says they’re a men­ace.

  15. Hi Indu
    Thank you so much for leav­ing a com­ment — I’m very glad you enjoyed the post. The cor­di­al really did turn out to be an amaz­ing col­our.

  16. A post of abso­lute gor­geous­ness! I don’t know what to love most, the fluffy chicks, the eld­er­flower or the pink cor­di­al. Inspir­a­tion­al.

  17. Hi Sarah and thank you, thank you. I don’t know what to love most, ‘abso­lute gor­geous­ness’ or ‘inspir­a­tion­al’. Charlie

  18. Pink Eld­er­flowers, how won­der­ful. Hope the Cor­di­al is fab, I made my first ever (com­mon white!) batch last week, and it’s deli­cious.

  19. Hello A Trifle Rushed
    Thank you so much. I think eld­er­flower cor­di­al is one of those things that is extra sat­is­fy­ing to make because the ingredi­ents have lit­er­ally been plucked from the hedgerow. I’m sure your cor­di­al is deli­cious.

  20. Beau­ti­ful col­our — that will make fab­ulous sorbet and boozy sum­mer fizz. Yum
    And the hen chicks are just super. I saw three Cres­ted Grebe chicks yes­ter­day on the Thames where it meets Port Mead­ow. They have stripy heads to com­ple­ment their par­ents’ punky looks, and were hitch­ing a ride on the back of their Mum. I’ve nev­er seen the babes before, they were great

  21. Hi oxslip
    I read some­where that eld­er­flowers are good deep-fried, but I’m not sure if I fancy them that way. Sorbet sounds bet­ter, as well as health­i­er.
    Sadly I’m avoid­ing Port Mead­ow — my dog and I got attacked by anoth­er dog there recently and we had to be res­cued by a man in a van!

  22. Hi Louis and thanks so much for com­ment­ing. The chicks are ador­able, it’s true. And if it wasn’t for the chicks I wouldn’t have seen the pink eld­er­flower, so I’m very grate­ful to them!

  23. Pink eld­er­flowers?? That seems almost too good to be true! How fant­st­ic. Won­der if they would grow from a cut­ting?? Don’t know if I am more in love with the pink cor­di­al or with the chicks. Lovely, lovely post.

  24. Hi Jeanne Aren’t they amaz­ing? I’m told by those that know that they grow incred­ibly eas­ily and suc­cess­fully from cut­tings. I’m plan­ning a new recipe using the cor­di­al over the next couple of weeks. x

  25. Maybe my hus­band is right and we should be liv­ing in the coun­try. Ador­able chicks and such pretty pink eld­er­flowers (from one black thumb to anoth­er, I nev­er even knew what they looked like!). And the Cor­di­al is so pretty!

  26. Oooh, lovely. Although they look so beau­ti­ful in a vase I’d prob­ably not get round to using them! THe chicks are gor­geous too.

  27. Hi Alice­Bakes­Cakes
    The chicks look a lot more butch now than they did then — the eld­er­flowers are just as pretty though..

  28. Hi Joanna
    I gath­er that pink eld­er­flower grows really well from cut­tings. It would cer­tainly be worth try­ing. Thanks so much for leav­ing a com­ment — I really appre­ci­ate it.

  29. How won­der­ful to find this today, I make cor­di­al every year but only dis­covered pink ones in my sis­ter in-laws yes­ter­day !!!! I am just mak­ing a batch of pink now and am look­ing for­ward to try­ing it.

    • That’s what’s called serendip­ity — how sat­is­fy­ing. Let me know how it tastes, com­pared to your usu­al white eld­er­flowers.

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