I have been a bit busy lately, and nearly managed to completely miss the elderflower season. At the weekend I set out to rectify this. The flowers were out very early this year, but there are still a few around that are useable if you look.
I was very proud once when a freind told me she thought the wine I had made was “not completely awfull”. Bearing in mind that this is where the bar is set I always feel much happier serving people some elderflower champagne, I think it tastes really nice. If you get it right it tastes like summer in a bottle, and chilled on a sunny evening with friends it goes down a treat.
There are loads of recipes out there, a quick search on the internet will throw up a whole load which are all broadly similar. The best advice I can give is to actually smell the flowers as you are picking them. The weather, the time of day and the ages of the flowers all seem to make a big difference to how nice (or otherwise) the flowers smell, and this comes across in the finished article.
Here’s what I do. Gather 35 or so nice big elderflower heads. Make sure you leave plenty behind for the local insects on each bush.
You will need a vessel in which to ferment the champagne, a sterilised clean bucket will do if nothing else is available.
Boil 10-12 litres of water and allow to cool in the bucket. Add 2.5 kg granulated white sugar and stir until dissolved. Add the juice and zest from 5 lemons and 1 lime. Add 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar. Give the elderflowers a good shake in the garden to remove the small insects that have hitched a ride and then add these as well. Cover with a clean cloth.
Leave for a couple of days, then check to see if the natural yeasts on the flowers have started a fermentation (you should see bubbles and froth on the surface of the liquid). If for some reason the natural yeast isn’t working add a sachet of general purpose white wine yeast. Leave for 4-5 days to ferment. Then once the fermentation has slightly slowed strain and bottle. Don’t worry about the fact it will be a bit cloudy.
The idea is that the fermentation will finish in the bottle, this gives you the fizz. But, elderflower champagne comes with a warning, ignored at your peril! Depending on the point when you bottle it can be very, very fizzy. I have exploded a number of glass bottles over the years and would recomend caution. By far the safest is a plastic fizzy drink bottle, when the pressure builds up too much you can crack the lid open a bit to release pressure before it splits. If you do choose to use glass bottles make sure they are strong ones and keep one bottled in plastic alongside so you can see when to release the pressure.
It doesn’t keep for more than 3 or 4 months, so wait 5 or 6 weeks for a nice sunny day, chill and then enjoy!