Monday, November 3, 2014

Elderflower Champagne

I don't know if you have ever used yourself as a guinea pig - well I'm doing that right now and feeling decidedly squiffy!  I am trying the first batch of my elderflower champagne and it tastes pretty sensational.  If this post trails off you know I have keeled over!


I am fascinated by all things that can be made by hunting and gathering ie FOR FREE and, in this case, a delightful and refreshing bubbly drink (alcoholic?) made from flowers growing in every wild hedgerow in my neck of the woods and, I suspect, in many other parts of the world too.  Elderberry was certainly part of every hedgerow when I was growing up in the UK and seems to be having a revival with elderflower cordial cropping up all over the place in food articles and celebrity chef programs - it has a distinctive and delightful taste.  I think too that it is all part of the challenge and thrill of making something fantastic from wild food - I know for certain that it is deeply embedded in my DNA.

The Elderberry bush (Sambucas nigra) has long been used for making all manner of drinks, jams and relishes but I was inspired to make this after watching a episode of the TV program of River Cottage with the fantastically resourceful British gardener and chef Hugh Fernley Whittingstall.

On a brief look through my cook books I have found at least 30 recipes for using either Elderberry flowers, buds, green fruit or mature purple fruit.  Elderberry wine was certainly a common tipple in post-war Britain and my father was a master 'weird' wine-maker with earthen-ware crock pots bubbling away in our airing cupboard full of the next toxic brew.  Maybe he was just looking, like me, for the challenge of making something for nothing but I vividly remember tastings of tealeaf 'saki', potato peel vodka and one spectacular brew of rhubarb and ginger wine that exploded and seeped through the ceiling to the sleeping neighbours underneath.

What you will need: Makes about 7 litres
1 very clean bucket
A quantity of very clean bottles that have a stoppered lids (because this can GO BANG!)
15 elderflowers, freshly opened with no brown bits on them.
500 g caster sugar
2 lemons, zested and juiced
2 tbsp white wine vinegar
6 litres filtered water (don't use chlorinated tap water)

Method
1.  Put the sugar in the bucket and dissolve it with 2 litres of the water that you have heated.  Let this cool.
2.  Put the remaining 4 litres of water in the bucket along with the zest and juice of the lemons, the vinegar and the elderflowers and give it a stir.

NOTE:  It's important that you don't wash the flowers because they contain the flavour and yeast that you need for the fermenting process.  However, you may need to flick out the odd critter that floats to the surface.  Trust me, I'm a cook!

3. Cover with a clean cloth and put in a cool, dry place for 48 hours.
4. Strain the mixture through a muslin cloth and bottle-up straight away.  That's it!.

NOTE:  On the River Cottage forum on this topic Hugh clearly states that the brew does not have to show signs of fermenting before you bottle it - it WILL HAPPEN because of the yeast in the flowers!  And he was right - bubble away it did after about day 3.  I put a heavy blanket on top of the crate (stored in the garage) afraid that the whole lot would go off like gunshot in the middle of the night  - this hasn't happened so far.
5.  Put the bottles in a cool dry place for two weeks when you can start to drink it - and apparently will keep up to a year.

So this was it after day 18 - absolutely smashing.  Effervescent, flowery and refreshing, but I think I better go for a lie down!

NOTE:  Specific details about what sort of temperature and conditions to brew this champagne to maturity are hard to come by - all it says is cool??  We have just experienced some very hot weather when my garage got to over 30oC and it still worked so good luck and salut!
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