When I was a child, we weren't allowed any soft drinks - on rare occasions, when we had visitors, my Mum would buy some apple and orange juice and the only time when we had fizzy drinks was when we went to a restaurant. And we didn't have any Ribena either... instead, home-made cordial, or syrup, was the word! My parents used to grow large quantities of red currants in their vegetable garden and once a year, our backs sunburnt and our fingers bright red from picking kilos of these tiny jewels, they would set out to make tons of jam as well as a supply of syrup that would last for the whole year to come. My Mum cut right down on the sugar, which made it a very refreshing drink to have, but not really my favourite thing.
When we went to my granny or my great aunt, though, we always chose to drink elderflower syrup. I am not too keen on elderberries, but the syrup you make out of the flowers is so deliciously fruity, yet refreshing, it's hard to beat. Although I usually prefer flat to fizzy water, elderflower is great with sparkling - it really makes the "bouquet" stand out much more.
And since I am already borrowing wine jargon, let me confess that I love to add some of this syrup to a glass of champagne... the perfect aperitif, and certainly a favourite of mine for the summer... forget Pimm's, Buck's Fizz or Kir Royal, champagne with elderflower syrup really plays in a different league!
(Quite obviously, anything promoting the consumption of alcohol should be followed by some health advice: so here it goes: apparently, elderflower syrup contains loads of vitamin C, so prepare a tankful of it - it'll keep your immune system ready to fight the winter, not matter what the temperatures!)
100 elderflower heads
5 kg sugar
8 lemons (cut in wedges or rounds)
8 limes (cut in wedges)
5 l boiling water
150 g citric acid
Elderflowers seem to attract lice in large quantities, no make sure your's are not infested with uninvited guests before using them.
Stuff the elderflower heads, lemons and limes into large heat-resistant glass jars, divide the sugar evenly amongst them and top off with boiling water. Leave to cool (uncovered), then place on the windowsill and let infuse for 3 days, covered, but not tightly sealed - just enough to keep any insects out.
On the third day, remove the elderflower and citrus fruits, drain through a fine-meshed sieve or a filter. Put into a large pot, bring to a boil, then add the citric acid and simmer for 10 minutes.
Fill into hot, sterilised bottles and keep in the fridge.