I never know what to call this kind of beverage. A cordial? A soda? To some people, the word cordial means a liqueur, but this drink is alcohol-free. And the word soda brings up mental images of two-liter bottles of Coke (at least to me!), so that’s not right either. This is an effervescent, naturally fermented, non-alcoholic beverage that will knock your socks off. So I’m calling it Queen Anne’s Lace Tonic, and here’s how you make it.
Foragers have made flower sodas/cordials for years. Fermentation is achieved by natural yeasts, which either come from the flowers themselves, or from the air. Either way, this beverage is light and delicious, and very simple to make.
What You’ll Need to Make Queen Anne’s Lace Tonic
- 20 umbels of Queen Anne’s Lace flowers
- 2 cups sugar
- 6 cups water
- 1 lemon, washed and thinly sliced
What You’ll Do to Make Queen Anne’s Lace Tonic
Inspect your flowers and get rid of any insect hitchhikers. No need to rinse the blooms, in fact, you want to leave any naturally-occurring yeasts on the flowers. Snip the umbels just below the bloom and transfer the flowers to a large jar. Add the lemon slices and set the jar aside.
In a large pot, combine the sugar and water, and whisk to dissolve the sugar. With the sugar to water ratio specified above, you probably won’t have to heat the water to dissolve the sugar, but if you’re having trouble dissolving the sugar, feel free to warm the water. Just be sure to let it get back to room temp before moving onto the next step. Overly hot water may kill the yeasts before they can do their job.
Pour the sugar-water solution over the flowers and lemon slices and stir, using the handle of a wooden spoon (or some such instrument) to submerge the solids. Cover the top of the jar with a few layers of cheese cloth and fasten the cloth with a rubber band. Leave the jar on your kitchen counter.
Once a day, remove the cheese cloth and give the brew a stir. You’re looking for bubbles that indicate fermentation has begun. How soon this happens will depend on the temperature of your home and the amount of natural yeasts present. It may take two days, it may take more. Once fermentation begins, watch your jar carefully. I put mine on a cookie sheet to catch any overflow that occurs as a result of vigorous bubbling.
Start tasting your brew after five days and see if you like the flavor. I like it best after eight – ten days. Any earlier, and the flavor of the yeast overwhelms the flavor of the flowers. Like elderflower champagne, this is a light and summery drink, with just a hint of lemon. Speaking of which…many flower cordial recipes call for much more lemon than I use. While I appreciate the hint of acid that a single lemon brings to the party, I don’t want to overshadow the subtle flavor of the Queen Anne’s Lace flower. (If I wanted lemon soda, I’d make lemon soda.)
Once the flavor suits your taste, strain off the solids and bottle your brew. Now you have choices. If you want a still (non-fizzy) drink, you’re all set. Move your bottles to the fridge and drink up.
If you want a fizzy drink, don’t refrigerate your tonic. Keep the bottles in a cool, dark place for about a week, where the liquid will continue to ferment, producing carbon dioxide. This builds up pressure in the bottles, and forces the gas to dissolve into the liquid. The pressurized gas will be released as fizzy bubbles when the bottle is opened. Check each bottle every day to release some CO2, and relieve the pressure. (Otherwise, you risk explosions!) After a week, move the bottles to the refrigerator and enjoy.
This tonic has no preservatives, and should be drunk within a week or two. It’s delicious on its own, and I also have a few ideas for some very special summer cocktails, so stay tuned!