Shear your sheep, they say in Devon, when the elder blossoms peep. With buds normally appearing at the end of May, the clotted-cream coloured heads of the elder bush are ready for picking during 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 £9.49.
If picking elderflowers isn’t your thing, try one of these.
Lyme Bay Elderflower wine
Specialist winery Lyme Bay elderflower is now available from Waitrose. Refreshing.
River Cottage Sparkling Elderflower wine
Cornish sparkling wine made with Cornish grapes and made in the same way as champagne has an added dash of elderflower juice.
£17 Celtic Wines
Country wine specialist based in rural Wales.
English Heritage Stonehenge Elderflower Wine
£11 English Heritage shops and online
The keeper of historic monuments and buildings sells its own branded country wines – now that’s a surprise. Made by the Lyme Bay winery.
Blossom Hill Spritz Elderflower and Lemon
Italian Chardonnay with added elderflower and lemon aromas. Lightly sparkling.
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