Spring is for elderflowers, and these blooms are good for a lot more than flower arrangements. As pretty as they are, the thing I like most about elderflowers is making elderflower champagne. The magic ingredient is the natural yeast in elderflower pollen. This allows for fermentation without adding packaged yeast.
Be sure to harvest your elderflowers during a dry spell. Rain washes away the pollen (and thereby the yeast), which means you’d probably need to add a package of champagne yeast to this recipe. It tastes just as good, but I get a little thrill out of knowing my beverage is naturally carbonated.
What You’ll Need to Make Elderflower Champagne (one gallon)
12 cups water
4 cups water
6 – 8 large clusters of unwashed elderflowers
2 Tablespoons cider vinegar
3 lemons, washed and thinly sliced
1 1/2 pounds sugar
What You’ll Do to Make Elderflower Champagne
Bring twelve cups of water to a rolling boil in a large pot, then remove from the heat and allow the water to come to room temperature.
In a saucepan, boil four cups of water, remove from the heat, and dissolve the sugar in it. Pour the resulting syrup into a clean, non-reactive bucket and let it cool to room temperature.
While the syrup cools, separate the elderflowers from their stems. Add them to the cooled sugar syrup, along with the sliced lemons, the cooled twelve cups of water, and the vinegar. Stir everything together, cover loosely with a dishtowel, and let it ferment for 4 – 5 days at room temperature.
Stir the brew once a day. By day three, you should notice small bubbles forming when you stir.
Collect five, one-liter soda bottles, then rinse and sterilize them. To do this, pour two teaspoons of bleach into each bottle, fill the bottle with water, shake it around, pour out the bleach solution, and rinse the bottles thoroughly.
After five days of fermentation, strain the elderflower liquid through a jelly bag, then funnel it into the sterilized bottles. Leave a few inches of air space at the top of each bottle and screw on the tops firmly. Squeeze the bottles to feel how flexible they are, and store them in a cool dark place for at least a week.
As the liquid continues to ferment it produces carbon dioxide, which builds up pressure in the bottles and forces the gas to dissolve into the liquid. The pressurized gas will be released as Champagne-like, fizzy bubbles when the bottle is opened. Check the bottles every day, gently squeezing on their sides. When they are rock-hard (no give at all beneath your fingers) they’re ready to be drunk. You can either move them to the refrigerator for immediate consumption or keep them in the dark until you’re ready. But elderflower champagne will keep for just a few weeks, so don’t wait too long.
Note: Pressure continues to build as the bottles sit, and left untended, they may explode. One July night I bolted awake, certain I’d heard a very loud noise. Finding no evidence of disaster, I chalked this one up to a dream state and went back to bed. The next day when I went down cellar, I found a sharp shard of thick, white plastic on the floor. Then I noticed the floor was sticky. When I checked my elderflower champagne bottles, two of the four had exploded, bursting the plastic bottles and their white screwcaps into pieces.
To avoid a repeat of that experience, once the bottles have reached the rock-hard state, I leak a little gas from them once a week. Loosen the cap for about three seconds, just enough to hear gas escape. Then tighten the cap and notice that you can once again feel a little give in the bottle. After a week the bottle is rock hard again and it’s time to repeat the process. Since I’ve started taking this precaution I’ve been explosion-free.
Solid particles settle out of the beverage and fall to the bottom of the bottle, so try not to shake the bottle around when pouring so as not to stir up the sediment. The sediment is harmless, but makes the beverage cloudy. When it’s time to open a bottle, you’ll need some patience. There’s a lot of carbonation in there and you’ll need to crack the bottle top just a smidge and let it sit in the sink while the gas escapes. Open it too far too fast, and the foam will overflow. What a sad, sad waste that would be.
Elderflower champagne is delicious on its own, or used as a cocktail mixer. I can’t think of anything else that tastes more like spring.