Sylvia Kent shows us how to make elderflower wine from this city-dwelling plant.
Midsummer is the perfect time in England to collect elderflowers. I always pick on 21 June, the longest day of the year, providing the sun is shining on elderflower trees and bushes. Their pretty panicles of creamy white flowers are in full bloom now and ready to pick for use in wines, cordials and desserts.
Collecting the elderflowers
Shake off any insects and take a good sniff. Does it smell attractive? Elders vary tremendously from tree to tree and choosing the right flowers makes all the difference in fermenting a quality wine. As a rule, look for bushes with white, rather than creamy flowers. Pick only those with a clean fragrant scent. Don’t just pull off flower heads. Wait until the flowers are ready to drop, then cover them in a paper bag and shake them. This should give ample florets and scented pollen, leaving the seed containers to develop into elderberries to harvest later in the year.
Having collected your flowers, either put the bags into your deep freeze, or use them straight away. The flowers can also be dried for use in the future, by spreading them thinly on trays in a low warm oven and letting them dry gently for an hour. One or two ounces of dried flowers are usually enough to make a gallon of wine.
Most flowers supply only bouquet and flavour and perhaps a little colour, so have to be helped out with fruit juices, dried fruits, nutrients and other additives purchased from a winemaking store.
How to make elderflower wine
- 1 pint of elderflowers
- 1 kilo (2.2 lbs) of white granulated sugar
- 1 lb of sultanas or half a pint of white grape concentrate
- 1 teaspoon each of nutrient, pectin enzyme and tartaric acid
- Activated wine yeast
Stir the wine yeast, if dried, into a cupful of luke-warm water, cover with clingfilm and leave for 20 minutes. Dissolve the sugar in 1½ pints boiling water and leave to cool.
Rinse the flowers in a weak sulphite solution (1 Campden tablet dissolved in a pint of water), and leave to drain. Rinse the sultanas in hot water to remove any oil, drain and chop or mince coarsely.
Drain the flowers, put sultanas or grape juice, nutrient and acid in a fermenting bucket; add the sugar syrup and 4 pints of cold water. When the must is cool, add the pectic enzyme and yeast mix and cover.
Keep in a warm place for three days, then strain the must from the sediment and solids through a piece of muslin. Pour through a funnel into a demijohn, top up to the shoulder with cold boiled water and fit the airlock (half filled) and rubber bung. Keep in a warm place for several weeks, until the fermentation ends.
The wine will then start clearing from the surface down. Rack the cleared wine into a clean, sterilised, demijohn and add a teaspoon of wine finings and a crushed Campden tablet. Top up with cold water to the shoulder of the jar. You can also add a teaspoon of Potassium sorbate which will prevent your sweet wine from re-fermenting. This must be in addition to the Campden tablet. Sweeten the wine to taste with a little more sugar syrup or a non-fermenting sweetener and store.
Bottle after three months and enjoy.