Elderflower, the taste of the hedgerow, becomes toast of drink exporters

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The Independent Online
Move over, alcopops: the elderflower spritzer has arrived, writes Roger Dobson.

With a hint of the flavour of English hedgerows and a modest 3 per cent alcohol contest, it is a version of one of the oldest drinks in Britain.

Elderflower, the flavour of some of the most popular drinks down the centuries, is making a comeback. For the past two weeks, hundreds of pickers in the West Country have been out harvesting the flowers of the elder tree for the Bottle Green Drinks Company which will turn two--and- a-half tons of the creamy white blooms into more than two million bottles of cordial, spritzer, presse or sparkling wine.

The company, which employs 24 people and began eight years ago, is planning to introduce the rest of the world to the taste of a drink that traditionally marks the start of summer. Exports to Canada and several European countries are in the pipeline. Pickers have been paid pounds 1 a pound for the flowers in one of the biggest harvests of elder for several years and most of it is being turned into non-alcoholic presse and cordial.

Pauline Edgington, general manager of the company, said: "When we get the flowers we put them into vats, add natural sugar solution and mix it all up. It gets stirred for several days before it is stored. We need the elderflower fresh and in peak condition. If it is picked and stored in plastic bags it begins to go off. Elderflower seems to thrive in the soil in the Cotswolds. We pay by the pound and an average-size bucket contains around two-and-a-half pounds. We have had a huge cross- section of people helping us: ladies with wicker baskets on the front of bicycles, families with children, unemployed young men and students."

Elderflower cordial:

A Wiltshire recipe:

Take a one-gallon jar and put in sufficient elderflower to cover the bottom.

Add a gallon of water, one pound of sugar and two tablespoons of white wine vinegar or cider vinegar. Stir until sugar dissolves, cover, and leave for one day. Strain and bottle.

Cordial is drinkable within two weeks. Serve diluted with still or sparkling water, or with white wine, and ice and a slice of lemon.

Elderflower sparkling wine:

Six or more elderflower heads, two pounds of sugar, two tablespoons of white vinegar, two large lemons, sliced, and one gallon of cold water.

Pick the heads as the flowers start to open in the morning.

1) Put all the ingredients into a fermenting bowl. 2) Cover and leave to stand for 24 hrs in a warm place. 3) Strain and bottle. The longer it is left the more bubbles will form.

Drink after 10 days.