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

  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.Charlie

  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. Charlie

  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 MaryThanks 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. Charlie

  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 :DLast 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. Charlie

  13. Hi AnnaI can see why you wanted to adopt the chicks – they're ridiculously sweet. But I'm not going to succumb.Charlie

  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. Charlie

  15. Hi InduThank 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.Charlie

  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 RushedThank 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.Charlie

  20. Beautiful colour – that will make fabulous sorbet and boozy summer fizz. YumAnd 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 oxslipI 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! Charlie

  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!Charlie

  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 AliceBakesCakesThe chicks look a lot more butch now than they did then – the elderflowers are just as pretty though.. Charlie

  28. Hi JoannaI 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. Charlie

  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.

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

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