Every May when the elder tree in the corner of my garden is a mass of frothy white blossom, I promise myself I'll make some elderflower cordial, and every year I fail to get organised before rain and wind spoil the flowers. This week, for once, I actually made time and we are currently enjoying the deliciously refreshing results of my domesticity.
Apart from the blossoms, only one ingredient is not a kitchen staple: citric acid. I asked at my local chemist's where I've been a customer for many years, and was surprised to be questioned about my purpose in buying the packs. According to Wikipedia, citric acid is commonly used to increase the solubility of brown heroin and is also one of the chemicals required to make a highly sensitive explosive. Thus, purchases arouse suspicion, whether of potential substance abuse or terrorist activity in my case I'm not sure.
This was the second time in forty-eight hours that I'd been questioned for suspicious behaviour. Just the day before two policemen had challenged me for snapping a group of over a dozen London Transport Police congregated at a bustop in an operation to clamp down on fare dodgers, on the grounds that I could have been a terrorist...
This is the recipe I used. It makes about a litre and a half. Take twenty or so elderflower heads and, on Sophie Grigson's advice, "shake them gently to expel any lingering insects". Mix about 1.8 kilos of white sugar in a pan with 1.2 litres of water and boil, stirring, until the sugar completely dissolves. Roughly pare the zest of two lemons into a bowl with the elderflowers and add the boiling syrup. Stir in 75g of citric acid. Cover and leave for 24 hours, then strain into clean bottles through a fine sieve (lined with a J-cloth rinsed in hot water if your household is right out of muslin or cheesecloth). Serve a splash of the cordial with sparkling water, ice and a slice of lemon. Perfect. But watch out for dawn raids.
Watch a video of Sophie Grigson preparing the recipe here: