Making my own rowanflower cordial has been one of the most satisfying and exciting things I ever did in the kitchen, it was just so magical from beginning to end, and has opened up a whole new world to me! It is the most delicious drink, and full of happy memories, good intentions and adventure, adding so much more to an already complex and interesting flavour, packed with goodness, citrus, floral and woody notes.
OUR FORAGING ADVENTURE
It began with a happy accident, finding what we thought were elder trees, (only they were rowan, as a helpful instagram friend later pointed out!), trees that we had passed many times, and suddenly there they were, these wonderful plants, an ancient and revered part of our landscape, laden with freshly opened flowers, fragrant in the morning sun.
We picked what we needed and felt truly thankful to the tree, which is such a lovely part of foraging I think, that you are in touch with the natural world around you and not strangers anymore. I said thank you for what I was taking (in my head), for the twigs I had cut and flowers taken. It probably sounds totally barmy, we did get quite carried away, but it felt so right! Both rowan and elder trees have a similar and rich folk history. They have long been used for medicinal purposes and much folk-lore is woven around them, much superstition. The rowan in Norse mythology is known as the tree from which the first woman was made. I love that, and it is powerful to me at the moment, as I open up to the world and its rich symbols and flow of the unknown, energies and happenings. You’ll often find rowan next to the hawthorn up in the hills where we live, also thick with snowy blossom amongst their gnarly branches and thorns. Just try to pick the blossom, those dense sharp thorns put you off! In the past it was said you shouldn’t bring hawthorn into the house. And it is said that if you cut down an elder tree you will see the devil, and to damage a rowan is equally dangerous. Oh dear… I am not a superstitious person, but reading about elder lore and then going to harvest (what we thought were) its flowers did have an impact on the way I approached it all. My creative imagination loves such stories and meanings, and also there is much wisdom to be found in approaching the world with such an open mind and with respect. I think being thankful and aware for what we are taking from other creatures is a good way to live, and one we are so often denied, when the food we eat is so abstract from its origins.
It was so exciting walking home with our basket laden with blossoms, intent on the task ahead. Dan was so thrilled by it all and quickly set to removing all the insects, of which there weren’t many, a job made for him as he is very careful about such things, unlike me, and a prodigious rescuer of insects down to the smallest fly.
Then we took off the thicker twigs and grated the zest of the lemons and orange, juiced them, and mixed it all up with the rowanflowers and water in a large bowl, which happened to be my Granny’s baking bowl. She was on my mind as she was a traditional small-holder and made many such drinks, which I remember enjoying so much. I’m really looking forward to the elderberries, they remind me so much of her (note to all that rowan berries are toxic raw but can be cooked). Granny also had a great knowledge of proverbs and sayings and country ways of living, and I wish so very much that as a woman I could sit down with her and learn what she knew, and ask, amongst many things, how she made her flower and berry cordials! I know it must have been a happy time, as there is something so satisfying and nurturing about it all. They’re all such beautiful ingredients to work with, visually and in aroma, the flowers, the citrus fruits, the leaves too, it just felt so wonderfully right!
The recipe is pretty standard, except for our use of fructose instead of white sugar and rowan flowers, it can be used for elderflower or indeed a variety of blossoms, (as long as they’re not poisonous, do research!) why not experiment? We had researched online the technique, following mostly this recipe, and tweaking it to our needs. You steep the flowers and zest in the juice, sugar and water overnight. I love the look of the flowers underwater. I’m such a water-baby, I love a watery world…
We used fructose as I can’t have refined sugar. Dan also avoids it completely as it is so bad for teeth. Fructose, though refined, is far better for me as a diabetic as it raises blood sugar half as much. Another natural sugar such as coconut would have a strong impact on flavour, and also be very expensive. If you want a really low sugar drink substitute stevia for half of the fructose, but this wont keep long, and you must keep it in the fridge, which I am doing anyway as I don’t want to risk it becoming alcoholic (ahem Granny… accidentally giving all the grandchildren elderberry wine instead of cordial much to my teetotal parents’ horror I’m sure). Maple syrup would be delicious, but again, very dear. Fruit sugar’s good as it just lends its sweetness. It is half the GI/GL of refined sugar, or honey. I notice this directly as a type 1 diabetic. I don’t often have very sweet things like this, but you need the sugar to preserve the juice, and you only have a relatively small amount in a single drink. It’s such a delicious treat ♥
The drink is so refreshing, and quite layered in flavour, with strong orange, floral and even licorice notes. We drink it with sparkling mineral water, with or without a slice of lemon or lime. I find it so revitalsiing and it is just lovely to drink something different, and that we have made from foraging local trees, and to be living in that way. It is so much more sophisticated in flavour than the drinks I would normally have, and that’s the botanical element, and the zest and juice working together. The orange is quite strong coming through, which is really good. Next time I’m going to use limes instead. I’m really looking forward to experimenting! Now we have to track down some elder trees before the end of the season sometime in June, soon! Quick! The hunt is on! It’s such a wonderful adventure!
- approx 25 heads of rowan (or elder) flower
- 5 unwaxed lemons
- 1 unwaxed orange
- 1kg fructose
- 1.5 l filtered water
Pick the flowers preferably in the morning and in sunlight, never when wet, for the strongest fragrance. A sweet smelling flower will make a sweet fragrant drink. Some trees have an overtly muskier smell, choose the sweeter smelling flowers to pick.
Inspect the flowers closely for insects. Remove the twigs. Grate the zest of the orange and 4 of the lemons and juice them removing the pips. Put the flowers, zest, sugar and the juice of all the fruit in a bowl, cover with water and leave overnight, for 24 hours or so. The flowers may brown a little this is fine.
Heat gently in a saucepan and stir for a few minutes. Strain, using muslin, a jelly bag, or a sieve, and pour into strong sterilised bottles with a swing top lid or cork top.
Shake the bottle before pouring to get the full flavour and enjoy!
Many recipes call for citric acid, which you can add, but we have used the juice of the lemons and orange instead. You can add citric acid on top of this also if you like.
This recipe makes a very sweet cordial that goes a long way, reduce the sugar to 750g for a less sweet version, but you may need to drink it up quicker!
For a much lower sugar and lower GI/GL version substitute stevia for much of the fructose, say half half, but again it will not keep as long and will need to be kept in the fridge.
You can also use only lemons, substituting a another lemon for the orange, or add citric acid instead of the juice, though I prefer the natural route.