he warmer spring weather can bring a thirst to anyone’s lips. Fortunately, spring also brings us a bounty of natural goodies to make the tastiest drinks. From elderflowers to dandelions, partnerships with nature will provide young children with delicious cordials and sparkling treats. With a little skill and patience, parents can also treat themselves to fantastic country wines.
Dandelions are everywhere in the spring, a cheerful and brightly coloured flower like sunshine in one’s garden. Children love dandelion clocks and following this simple recipe will ensure they get more joy from these plants.
1. Pick and wash 100 dandelion flower heads. Remove from bases so only the yellow petals are used.
2. Place the flowers in a large saucepan. Add a litre of water, bring to the boil and remove from heat. Cover and leave overnight for flavours to infuse.
3. Sieve the mixture, discarding the flowers. Add a little lemon juice to the liquid.
4. Weigh the liquid. Add 0.95 grams of sugar for every gram of liquid.
5. Return the liquid to another large saucepan and heat gently until all the sugar is dissolved. Filter through a sieve once more.
6. Allow liquid to cool and then bottle.
Traditional English folklore forbade the felling of elder trees for fear of bringing bad luck on the person responsible. I would suggest keeping the axe away from these trees for a more practical reason: their flowers and berries can be used to make delicious drinks.
Elder trees come into flower in late May or early June.
1. Pick 20 elderflower heads and place in a large bowl.
2. Pare the zest of two unwaxed lemons, slice the lemons themselves and add to the bowl.
3. Add 1.8 kilograms of sugar to 1.2 litres of water in a large saucepan. Bring to the boil, stirring until the sugar is fully dissolved.
4. Pour the boiling liquid over the elderflowers, zest and lemons in the bowl. Stir in 75 grams of citric acid. Cover with a cloth and leave at room temperature for 24 hours.
5. Strain the cordial mixture over a muslin or clean tea-towel and pour into clean bottles.
These two recipes are best enjoyed on warm sunny days when added to ice and sparkling water.
When the creamy white flowers of the elder tree die away, they are replaced by clusters of shiny black berries. According to herbalists they are excellent at fighting off influenza. The berries are harvested in September and used for making a deliciously rich cordial. However, red berries are best avoided and all berries must be cooked before using as they are filled with harmful toxins when raw.
1. Collect a bucket of elderberries, removing the berries from their stalks and placing in a large saucepan. Add enough water to cover, bring to the boil and simmer for 20 minutes.
2. Sieve the liquid mixture through a clean muslin or tea-towel.
3. Measure the liquid mixture. Add 0.45 kilograms of sugar and 12 cloves for each 0.568 litres of water.
4. Boil the mixture for ten minutes.
5. Allow mixture to cool and pour into clean bottles, adding an equal amount of cloves to each bottle.
With all of the above recipes, ensure that yeast is not present by thoroughly washing the bottles and cleaning any towels or muslins with boiling water before use. Otherwise, you may well pour a glass of refreshing cordial and find it has turned into alcoholic fizz!
Talking of alcohol, why not craft a country wine to enjoy once the children have gone to bed?
Experts tell us that wines can be made out of everything from old tea bags to the bark of oak trees, but those made from dandelions, elderflowers and elderberries are great for
To make wines, one needs a fermenting bucket, demi john, glass bottles, a corker and the all-important corks. One also needs a lot of patience; for example, dandelions should be picked on St George’s Day for a wine that’s drunk at Christmas. They also need to be picked at midday to ensure the flower heads are at their most open.
This easy-to-follow recipe should ensure a delicious desert wine with which to toast this year’s Christmas cake.
1. Pick two quarts (approximately 675 grams) of dandelion flower heads and put into a sterilised plastic fermenting bucket. Cover with 4.5 litres of boiling water. Tightly cover and leave for two days, stirring both days.
2. Peel four oranges, ensuring the pith is discarded, and add to the mixture. Boil for ten minutes.
3. Strain the mixture through muslin onto 1.5 kilograms of sugar, stirring to dissolve the sugar.
4. Leave to cool. Once cooled, squeeze the four peeled oranges over the mixture. Add brewer’s yeast and nutrient, available from homebrew shops, then place in a demi john. Fit an air lock, leave it to ferment and HEY PRESTO! there will be sweet dessert wine ready to drink on Christmas Day.
Of course, those living in big cities may wonder where they are going to get dandelions and elderberries. But with fruits from all over the world so readily available, city-dwellers can also get involved in making refreshing cordials and wines.
Classic lemonade was a thirst-quenching treat in bygone days. With a simple recipe of one cup of sugar, one cup of freshly squeezed lemon juice and one cup of water heated together until the sugar is fully dissolved, it could not be easier to make. Allow to cool and then dilute in four cups of sparkling water for a delicious drink. An alternative recipe allows for the juice of freshly squeezed oranges to be added. If this interests you, create your syrup from ¾ cup of orange juice, ¾ cup of lemon juice to one cup of sugar and one cup of water. Dilute with three cups of sparkling water, add ice cubes and serve in a pitcher. As with the other recipes above, this is a drink to make granny proud!