Elderflower champagne sounds like a very elegant kind of tipple and indeed, a good one really is. Lightly alcoholic with a beautiful floral flavour and an energetic fizz, it makes a fantastic summer drink. Sitting in the garden enjoying a glass of chilled champagne more than makes up for the distinctly inelegant process of making it. Firstly you need to gather your elderflowers which usually involves a certain amount of clambering through hedges, ankle-deep in stinging nettles, trying to avoid getting snagged on the brambles. Next you need to invest in a nice big bucket (very refined indeed), a spotlessly clean one reserved for ‘culinary use’ – do not, I repeat, do not let your husband go anywhere near it. (When I went to retrieve my ‘champagne bucket’ this week I discovered it had a layer of plaster clinging to the sides.) You also need Milton or some kind of gentle sterilizing fluid to make sure that bucket’s clean and some empty 2L plastic bottles.
Elders seem to grow all over the place and this year they’re in flower early so get your skates on! Try and pick the flowers on a dry, sunny day so the natural yeast needed to ferment the sugar into alcohol is in good supply. Although flowers near the roadside may seem like an easy option, they’ll have been sitting around in car fumes (yuck!). What better reason to go for a stimulating countryside walk this weekend.
A few key points to bear in mind: once bottled the pressure in the bottles will build up and needs releasing on a daily basis to prevent ‘blow outs’. After a few weeks you probably won’t need to depressurize the bottles but do keep an eye on them. Keep the bottles in a box in a cool, dark place that won’t be too much trouble to clean up if the worst should happen. That said, don’t be afraid to make your own champagne; I’ve only ever had one bottle go on me and it wasn’t a massive explosion, in fact we only noticed because the champagne was flat.
From the ever wonderful Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall
Makes just over 6 litres
- 2 litres hot water
- 4 litres cold water
- 700g sugar
- 15-20 elderflower heads
- 4 lemons
- a pinch of dried yeast
Before making the champagne, disinfect your bucket and bottles with sterilizing fluid.
Dissolve the sugar in the hot water and top up with cold water.
Shake the elderflowers to shift any insects and stir into the liquid, add the zest and juice of the lemons and the yeast. Give everything a gentle stir.
Cover the bucket with a clean tea cloth and leave in a cool, dark spot for two to three days. When you give everything a stir it should have a little fizz.
Strain the liquid through cheesecloth and pour into sterilized plastic bottles. Don’t fill the bottles too full, allow a good-sized air gap.
Leave the champagne to ferment for a fortnight before serving chilled.
The champagne should keep for several months but I can only vouch for two months, once husband’s annual birthday BBQs over, the champagne’s all gone!