The pictures above are of an ornamental cut-leaf elder being grown in our garden. It's a little too pretty to use the flowers or berries! Left shows foliage and flowers, right is detail of the flowers. Both pictures taken 22nd July 2008.
4 or more large elderflower heads in full bloom
4 ½ litres (1 gallon) water
650g (1 ½ lbs) sugar
2 tablespoons white vinegar (cider or white wine)
Dissolve the sugar in some warm water. Pour into a bucket or other suitable container, ideally one with a lid. Top up to 4 ½ litres (1 gallon).
Cut the lemon in about 4 pieces and squeeze the juice from them into the bucket. Add in the pieces of lemon rind and the vinegar.
Check the mixture is not too hot: warm is fine but if hot, it could destroy any natural yeast on the flowers.
Finally add the flowers.
Allow to steep for about 4 days in a warm place by which time the ferment should have started using the natural yeast that was on the flowers.
Strain off the liquid into suitable pressure bottles - the plastic ones that fizzy drinks are sold in are usually adequate.
Making elderflower champagne is not an exact science and quantities of ingredients can be varied a bit to taste.
We normally make it in 2 gallon batches!
The traditional way of making elderflower champagne is to rely the wild yeast that should be present on the elderflowers. However this is can be unreliable so you may wish to add a little yeast (bakers yeast is fine) either to the initial mix or before you strain it, if it has not started to ferment naturally. Or you can simply add a small pinch of yeast to each bottle as you bottle the brew.
It's best not to leave the initial steeping stage much longer than four days - after a week it can grow mould on the top and look off-putting, although we have bottled it at this stage and had a perfect brew. The liquid brew ast this stage, especially at the top, where the flowers will be floating, can appear quite viscid, even appearing slimy. This doers not seem to affect its drinking qualities at all!
The final champagne should be ready to drink 6 to 10 days after bottling, depending on the temperature and how good the yeast is, but check it at this stage anyway in case the pressure in the bottles gets too high. PET bottles, as used for fizzy drinks, will take quite a pressure (they can visibly expand) but if the pressure gets too high they may mishape, buckle and eventually split, leaving you with a sticky mess to clear up.
It's a cloudy white (from yeast as well as the pollen) drink which should be served chilled. Alcohol content will depend on the time it's been brewing for, but is probably around 4%.