I’m fed up with moaning about the weather, but it has certainly give cause for us to do so over the last few years and this spring has been no exception. I did think though, when I took the dog for a walk last night, I’d have a quick look and see if the elderflowers had even thought about developing yet. I was actually surprised at how far on they are. Give it a week to ten days and they will be ready for picking, so I thought it time to post this back up so you can make sure you have everything you need, ready to make a drop of the good stuff, when they finally burst into life.
Finally elderflower champagne season arrives!
My word its been a long wait this year but finally the elderflowers have graced us with their presence and heralded the beginning of a new season of hedgerow goodies. Now it’s no secret that I’ve already drunk my share of booze and hence haven’t touched an alcoholic drink for over 4 years now and God willing long may that remain. Also the internet is crammed with recipes for normal elderflower champagne and to be honest it ain’t much of a challenge to make anyway – the yeast do all the hard work! So I thought I’d set myself a real challenge and see if I could come up with a way of putting the fizz into elderflower champagne without having to add the alcohol.
After a little head scratching and a considerable amount of kitchen chemistry I think I’ve come up with a delicious elderflower champagne solution which is also a bit of fun to make into the bargain. Now you’ve all seen the trick with vinegar and bicarbonate of soda, where you mix them together and whoosh a huge volcano of foam is created which usually ends up all over the ceiling. Well getting the fizz in the bottle of our non-alcoholic elderflower champagne is based on that principle, not using vinegar I hasten to add, but using citric acid instead. The trick though is how do you get the bicarbonate of soda in the bottle and the lid on before the foam erupts out of the top? Well here goes.
Ingredients for Non-alcoholic Elderflower Champagne
- 6 ltrs Water
- 250g Sugar
- 20 heads Elderflowers
- 2 Lemons
- Bicarbonate of Soda
- Citric Acid
- Glucose Syrup
To Prepare Non-alcoholic Elderflower Champagne
- Pour 6 litres of water into a large stock pot, put the lid on and set to boil
- While the water is heating up grate the zest of the lemons into a straining bag using a microplane grater if you have one. If you don’t I suggest you get one they are great (grate) – get it, boom, boom! I know don’t give up the day job! Make sure you don’t break into the pith while grating as this gives a bitter taste to the elderflower champagne. Also snip off the elderflowers into the straining bag. It is worth snipping them off with as little stem as possible, as too much stem leaves a bit of a grassy type taste in your elderflower champagne.
- Tie the straining bag off tight with a piece of butcher’s string and once the water is boiling add it, the sugar and the juice of the lemons. Give a good stir to dissolve the sugar and beat the bag about a bit with a wooden spoon to start releasing the flavours. Now at this stage it is all down to personal choice. I’ve suggested 250g of sugar and 20 heads of elderflowers. This gives a slightly sweet and delicately flavoured brew. You can add more sugar and elderflowers if you like it sweeter or stronger – it’s up to you, but in any case remove from the heat and leave to infuse for several hours. This again is a matter of taste, the longer you leave it the stronger the elderflower flavour.
- Once infused remove the straining bag and discard the contents. Now here is another decision you need to make. If you want to store your non-alcoholic elderflower champagne for any length of time, and I’m talking more than a week or so, you will have to reboil the liquor. The reason being the elderflowers are covered in yeast, most should have died in the original boiling water, but they can be persistent little blighters, so to kill what is left a reboil is necessary. The problem with this is that some of the beautiful perfume of the elderflowers will be lost. It is a judgement call you will have to make. The result will still be very pleasant, but not quite as fragrant as if it’s not reboiled. Might I suggest you decant some off to bottle for immediate consumption and boil the remainder for storage. I think they call that a win win situation.
- Once reboiled for 5 minutes or not depending on your intended consumption rate, decant the liquor into bottles through some form of filter. Those who are into home brew will have all the kit. I just use a piece of kitchen towel folded in 4 to make a filter cone and placed in a funnel. Now here is the big word of warning, make sure you use bottles that can withstand the pressure. The very best thing to use, albeit not very pretty is old plastic pop bottles. Firstly, they are designed to withstand enormous pressures and secondly if for some really weird reason your elderflower champagne managed to burst them, being made of plastic they would do no harm. Now I know lots of you like to use fancy jars and bottles and I agree that part of the fun of all of this is making it look really nice, especially when you want to give your hard labours as presents or entertain guests with them. If this is the case, make sure you use glass bottles that are certified for the job. Good old Wares of Knutsford are more than happy to supply bottles that are perfectly safe and look the part into the bargain. Obviously, there are other suppliers I just know that I can trust Wares not to slip something else in place if they were low on stock. It really isn’t worth taking the risk, you’re a long time blind!!
- Okay, lecture over, here comes the fun bit. How do we get the fizz in. Right first add 15g of citric acid to every litre of your elderflower champagne. So that is two and a half flat teaspoons in a one litre bottle or 5 in one of those big plastic pop bottles. Put the lid on and shake it around until it dissolves. So there is your acid part ready, now for the bicarbonate of soda.
- For every litre of elderflower champagne put 2 level teaspoons of bicarbonate of soda in a small mixing vessel; I use a plastic disposable cup. To this add a small blob of glucose syrup and mix the two together to get a kind of crumbly texture. It takes quite a lot of hard mixing and the secret is to not put too much glucose syrup in. You’re trying to get a consistency that will just hold together if you squeeze it in your hand. Now if you’ve got lots of bottles of elderflower champagne you can do this on a larger scale rather than one bottles worth at a time. If you do that you will need 10 to 12 grams of the finished mixture per litre of elderflower champagne.
- Now take the appropriate quantity of bicarbonate of soda mixture and squeeze it together in your hand to make a sausage shape that will fit through the neck of the bottle.
- Holding the lid of the bottle in one hand drop the sausage into the bottle, quickly place the lid on and tighten down immediately.
- You should see a huge eruption of fizz from the bicarbonate of soda sausage and it will slowly start to disappear. Gently turning the bottle end over end will help this happen. Once all the bicarb sausage has dissolved the elderflower champagne is ready – how cool is that!
How the bicarb mixture should look
I personally would leave it all to settle for a few days. It is obviously best served chilled from the fridge. Make sure you open the bottle over a sink as it can be very, very lively!!
Finally, I cannot stress enough how important it is to use bottles that are up to the job. Please, please be careful, the gift of sight is so precious and only missed when it is gone! Having said that, if you are sensible then this really is a fabulously refreshing drink without the need for alcohol. It is also great fun to do a bit of kitchen chemistry and if you get the kids involved its something they will find fascinating and who knows it might just spark their interest to become budding chemists.
Oh, one last point, you can of course adopt this same method to make all sorts of fizzy drinks, either with natural flavours or as I sometimes do using ersatz tutti-frutti flavouring and green food colour – see the kids light up at that one!!