This recipe is adapted from Roger Phillips’ excellent book, “Wild Food”. If there is a tastier, more refreshing, easier to make summer drink than this, please let me know! All my guided walks kick off with a glass of this “efferv-essence of summer”!
- Flowering Currant (which also makes a delicious spring champagne using this recipe)
- Sweet Cicely Champagne
- 10 – 16 Large elderflower heads in full bloom – if you can pick them on a sunny morning, so much the better. Shake them free of insects or other bits but don’t wash them. This recipe also works for meadowsweet, japanese rose, flowering currant, honeysuckle, mugwort, hawthorn blossom, sweet woodruff, sweet cicely and any other safe-to-eat aromatic blossom and/or leaf you care to try. You could also use a combination of different aromatics to reflect your locale. For subtler tasting plants, just scale up the quantity of plant material. If using dried elderflowers, I work to about 1 tablespoon of dried elderflowers = 1 good sized umbel of fresh elderflowers.
Safety Note: The leaves, stems (and berries) of elder can contain alkaloid compounds which can be poisonous to humans in high dosage. Read in depth about this here. Using whole umbels of elderflowers (green twigs and all) is entirely normal for this traditional recipe – the gentle cold infusion does not liberate significant amounts of alkoloid. I am perfectly happy to use whole umbels, but only you can decide what you are comfortable with: those of a nervous disposition may wish to remove the flowers from the umbels. The elderflowers themselves contain only trace quantities of the compound, so are perfectly safe for cold infusion, tinctures etc.
- 4.5 litres (1 gallon) cold water
- 1 Lemon – it’s juice plus it’s skin quartered. A really nice variation is to add 5 tablespoons of sea buckthorn juice instead. It gives a slightly tropical tang to the whole affair, though does leave some orange clouds.
- 650g (1.5lb) white(ish) sugar. I use organic golden granulated sugar.
- 3 tablespoons white wine or apple cider vinegar. I sometimes use infused vinegars to add further dimensions to the mix – pineapple weed vinegar adds a lovely tropical hint.
- Dissolve the sugar in the water – it will help if you warm a little of the water, add the sugar, then allow it to cool before mixing with the remaining water.
- Mix you sweetened water with all the other ingredients in a large jug, bucket or basin.
- Leave covered for 4 days (preferably somewhere cool or you run the risk of the surface going mouldy – it isn’t a disaster if this happens: just scrape off the flowers that will have formed a “carpet” on the surface, and continue).
- Fine strain and pour into clean screw-top bottles – plastic fizzy drink bottles are ideal. Don’t use bottles with corks, as the pressure of fermentation will just push the corks out. You can use flip top glass bottles, but these make it harder to monitor pressure build-up in the bottle, and are considerably more hazardous than plastic bottles in the event that they do explode under the pressure of fermentation. Leaving a few inches of air in the bottles makes explosions a little less likely.
- Leave at an ambient temperature for 6 to 14 days, testing after 6 to make sure it doesn’t get too fizzy. This is where plastic bottles are really useful, as you can feel the pressure without opening them. If the dimples at the bottom begin to round out, you urgently need to release some pressure!
- Its quite important to check the bottles regularly as they will explode if you you forget about them. Most experienced wild champagne makers have an exploding bottle story! Its something of a foraging rites-of -passage. One foraging friend even boasts a scar near her eye from an exploding glass bottle. You’ve been warned!
- Once you feel the pressure building, gently unscrew the lid every few days to decompress. Be ready to quickly screw it back tight before you loose your precious liquid in a foamy fountain! Let off enough pressure to feel there is no imminent danger of explosion, which shouldn’t be all of the pressure. If you constantly depressurise, your champagne will become flat, so don’t get too nervous.
- If you are storing your champagne in a cool place it may need longer to get going, so be patient – the natural yeast in the flowers is doing the work and can take a wee while to get going.
The longer you leave it fermenting, the stronger it will be in alcohol. Once you are happy with it, keep it in the fridge to slow down fermentation. Once refrigerated the risk of explosion is vastly reduced, though you should still monitor pressure.
When is it ready to drink? That’s up to you. It is a living thing, evolving from light, low-alcohol drinking after a week of fermenting, to stronger, starting-to-get-vingary at about 5 or 6 weeks. For me, the sweet spot for drinking is between 2 and 4 weeks, but you can slow it right down by keeping it in the fridge once its to your liking.
Once you have opened a bottle and drunk some, you can re-seal the bottle and leave it to ferment back to full fizziness. This is quite unlikely, as its delicious and very more-ish!
Drink chilled on a sunny day with sunny friends.
It makes a good mixer for gin, and is great for topping up cocktails with a bit of fizz.
Elderflower Champagne Vinegar
If your champagne should ferment to the point where it loses effervescence and starts to become “vinegary”, you can turn it into a delicious elderflower vinegar by simply mixing it with some live vinegar (including some vinegar “mother”) and leaving in an open container covered with a cheese cloth (to keep out bugs) in a dark place for 2 to 3 months. After this point it should have reached a tart 3 – 4% – great for pickling next years green elder buds, or anything else you fancy.
- Drinker’s Guide to Elderflowers and elderberries
- Browse more wild booze recipes
- Wild Ideas from the Gin Deck
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