Limeflower cordial – sirop de tilleul

linden 012My very favourite period of summer in London is just about to begin……when the lime trees (linden) come into flower and the perfume wafts down the street – you can see the bees going literally crazy, getting tipsy in a massive honey fest. Different trees come into bloom over a period of 2 or 3 weeks, mainly depending on how much sun they get, but there are different varieties. Some of the later flowering trees seem to have a muskier perfume, which I’ve never used for this syrup.

Continental Europeans have being using the flowers for tisanes and syrups for eons but it’s not quite so commonly used in the UK, so I originally got this recipe from
(which is a really good site for forage recipes – it’s in French, but the recipes are so simply written that even a web translation usually comes out reasonably understandable, if you’re not fluent) – over the past couple of years, I have changed the quantities a bit ( less water, more flowers), but I’ve used the same process, which is the same as I use for elderflower cordial. As ever, you want freshly picked, newly opened blossoms – if you live somewhere with lots of trees, there’s less need to be quite so responsible about foraging, because there are so many blossoms and mature trees are so, so big and tall, you’ll spend half your time finding a tree with low hanging flowers 🙂 As far as I know, there aren’t any of our fellow creatures that depend on the seeds for food.

Ingredients – for every litre of water
250-300 grams of limeflower clusters – this translates as half a carrier bag, loosely packed, when you’re out collecting
500g sugar
5-10 grams of citric acid

Lime flowers grow in clusters on a stalk with a pale green, paddle shaped bract. Remove the stalk and bract and put the flowers into a bowl big enough to take the amount of water you’re using. Boil the water, pour over the blossoms, cover with a teatowel and leave to infuse overnight or for at least 8 hours.
Strain through a sieve lined with muslin. Leave this to do it by itself, don’t try and squeeze the cloth to hurry it up.
Bring the infusion to a simmer with the sugar and 5g of the citric acid until the sugar has dissolved, then boil for 5 minutes. Taste and add more citric acid if desired. It keeps fine for a month in the fridge – I freeze mine in small containers – but if you’re going to bottle it to keep, use the hot water bath method and definitely use 10g of citric acid per litre of water.
The syrup has a flavour that most reminds me of honeyed pears, and it’s lovely as a drink, made into a sorbet or poured over icecream.
I also make a version which includes a sprig or two of lavender at the boiling stage, which was inspired by the ‘tranquility’ chocolate by the Belgian chocolatiers Newhouse.

London gets totally transformed in summer, at least on the side streets and in the parks, when it seems like the whole world has burst into bloom with cascades of sweetly scented roses, jasmine, lavender and honeysuckle.
On some roads, even the litter on the streets gets partially hidden by fallen petals, their colours sundried and scattered like the confetti of a thousand fairy weddings. I LOVE my city 🙂

Elderflower Cordial

This is so easy to make. Because I haven’t got a reliable way to sterilize my bottles, I freeze mine – which also helps me stop myself from guzzling it all in a couple of months.
Pick the elderflowers on a sunny, dry day – you want perfect heads with flowers just opened, no brown blossoms. Before you pick a head, check it’s not too infested with greenfly, and don’t take all the heads off any one tree (please). Obviously, choose trees as far away from busy roads as possible.

25-30 elderflower heads
1.75 litres boiling water
1kg white sugar
4 unwaxed lemons
NB if you are bottling your cordial, you may want to add 20g of citric acid

Wash your flowerheads, drain, shake dry(ish)and then place them in a plastic bag in the fridge overnight or for several hours – this helps the flowers come off the stalks. Peel one lemon very finely – you don’t want any of the white pith. Shake as many flowers free as you can, then snip away as much of the remaining stalks as possible, and place flowers and zest from the lemon in a bowl large enough for them and the water. Pour over boiling water, cover with a teatowel, and leave overnight or for at least 8 hours. Strain liquid through a fine sieve or piece of muslin. In a non reactive pan, add the infused water, sugar, the juice of the lemons and the citric acid if you’re using it and over a gentle heat, bring up to a simmer until the sugar has dissolved.
If you’re bottling it in glass, decant while still hot into your sterilized bottles, leaving 2cm at the top (to allow a mini vacuum to form as it cools), and seal straight away. If you’re freezing it, allow to cool and then transfer to your containers, again allowing some free space as it will expand a little as it freezes.
Dilute to taste with still or fizzy water, 1 part cordial to 4-5 parts water.

more homemade soft drinks – the basics

You only have to look at the ingredient list on cans and boxes of juice drinks to see how little fruit you’re getting and how much you’re paying for water, sugar and citric acid. On top of this, even if it isn’t marketed as lo-cal or no added sugar, they often add some form of artificial sweetener, which leaves a nasty taste in your mouth if you’re a sensitive soul like me. 🙂
Some drinks also list malic acid, which naturally occurs in apples, grapes and in unripe fruit, and abscorbic acid, which is vitamin C.
Once upon a time, chemists used to sell Vitamin C powder BP really cheaply, but now you have to go a shop selling supplements, like Holland and Barret or order it from a chemist – it is no longer super cheap – but as the body can only absorb so much per day, you only want to use a little and it is of some health benefit, unlike the other two.
Citric acid and malic acid are both supersour – you will only want to use a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a teaspoon for a whole jug of drink – citric acid is generally the easiest to find – in any Asian shop selling spices – and costs about 60p a packet, which will last you months and months.
So using juice or tea, simple sugar syrup (half water, half sugar), a small pinch of your chosen acid and still or fizzy water, you can make your own soft drinks. Not only will this be cheaper, but you have some control over how much sugar your family consumes.
HOWEVER, these should still only be consumed in small quantities! Try to persuade your family to eat a whole piece of fruit instead – apparently the huge amount of sugar/sweeteners we consume in soft drinks leads to fatty liver disease and diabetes and is just as harmful as full on alcoholism – but if you consume it as whole fruit, the fibre in the fruit stops it attaching itself to our livers – so now you know why I seem to be forever eating oranges!
Finally, the excess juice from a vacuum packed packet of boiled beetroot and the coloured water from boiling annatto seeds (known quaintly as the lipstick plant)can be used as entirely natural colouring…annatto is used to colour custard powder and double gloucester cheese – so it’s not some weird thing you’ve never eaten before….a small amount of these two or a mixture will give you pink, red, orange or yellow.