Shear your sheep, they say in Devon, when the elder blossoms peep. With buds appearing at the end of May, the clotted-cream coloured heads of the elder bush are ready for picking by the first week of June. If you want to turn elderflowers into a delicious wine, now’s the time to get picking. Look along the edge of any footpath, or corner of a field, and you’ll find the gangly many-stemmed Sambucus nigra bearing hundreds of tiny elderflower blossoms arranged in heads the size of an outstretched hand.
Folklore says that after rain the flowers take on the characteristic urinal smell of tom-cats, but I have never noticed it. The elderflowers I picked in rain-sodden Otford, Kent made an award-winning wine. Fully opened elderflowers give off an overwhelming vanillary-citrus scent: sniff out the ripest because they are the best.
My damp elderflowers were turned into wine by placing ten flower heads into a large bowl and pouring over a kettle-full of boiling water. I added the juice and rind of two lemons and a pound and a quarter of sugar, then sprinkled in a teaspoon of wine yeast (available from homebrew shops) when the mixture had cooled. After five days the elderflowers were removed and a couple of weeks later the immature wine was bottled. It was ready by Christmas.
If you can’t wait that long, why not let someone else do all the hard work? Lyme Bay Winery sells their vegetarian elderflower wine for £8.90 a bottle and a sparkling version at £19.99.
If picking elderflowers isn’t your thing, try one of these.
PG Wine Reviews
£16 Celtic Wines
Country wine specialist based in rural Wales.
English Heritage Elderflower Wine
£10.50 English Heritage shops and online
The keeper of historic monuments and buildings sells its own branded country wines – now that’s a surprise.
£10.95 Orkney Wine Company
Based in Orkney, this blend maker and purveyor of fruit wines really know how to package their wines attractively. Square shouldered bottles add appeal to this blend of elderflower, gooseberry, rosehip, rhubarb and barley. Now as someone who has designed country wine recipes I can say that that sounds mighty good.