First off – never use elder as fire wood. Very bad luck.
Elderflowers, roughly speaking, are on the tree from late May to late June or early July. They’re best picked very early afternoon on a sunny day. The scent increases over the hours when the sunlight is on them. Some elderflower drink recipes will tell you to remove the flowers from the stems. I never have and the results are lovely. Likewise, some cordial recipes will call for a massive amount of flowers, up to a gallon in volume, but there’s really no need. I think it was John Seymour who said a good cordial was made with a sparse amount of flowers.
[ I found the quote – The classic self-sufficient writer John Seymour claims the secret of good cordial is, ‘never put too many in your brew’ and ‘harvest on a sunny day when the fragrance and nectar are at their height’. ]
John Seymour’s Elder Champagne
12 heads of elderflowers in full bloom and scent, picked on a hot day
1½ lbs|0.7kg sugar – white sugar is best
2 tablespoons wine vinegar
Put the blooms in a bowl with the juice of a lemon. Cut up the rind of the lemon and put that in (no pith). Add the sugar, vinegar, one gallon|4 litres water [cover with muslin] and leave for 24 hours. Strain liquid into bottles, cork, leave for a fortnight and drink the following week.
Elderflower Cordial – this is pretty much the recipe I’ve used for several years, except I put in 4 lemons and no citric acid. I make sure I have quite a few ½ litre screw top water bottles ready, fill them to about ¾ level then chuck in the bottom of the freezer. Nothing like suddenly remembering you have some elderflower cordial in the middle of winter.
I’m using the phrase ‘seasonal food’ to indicate those foods which, generally, are only available in their growing season, so many are wild and all grow in the UK.