There is nothing like the sweet, fresh scent of lilacs. If spring had its perfume, it would smell of fresh fruits and flowers, but not overbearingly so – just like the lilac. It is a scent that flows through late spring nights like perfume and smelling lilac cordial during the winter brings me straight back to the end of may.
Most people have one of these bushes in their garden and little do they know how tasty they are. Lilacs make some of the best cordials and jams around. The flowers come in any shade ranging from snow white, pale yellow and burgundy to the darkest purple. While they are as decorative as can be, they are far more than just ornamental. Just like the elderflower they can be turned into a cordial. This lilac cordial takes a little bit longer to make, but it is well worth the wait. It tastes like a mixture between rose hips and gooseberry and is one of my favourite things to mix into cocktails.
Before you get to make the cordial, you have to pick the flowers. You could buy them on the market but make sure they are not treated with pesticide because most commercially grown flowers are. I prefer to pick mine in the grasslands or forest nearby. They are relatively easy to spot due to their colour, and you can’t possibly confuse them with anything else. Their smell is very distinctive, and the four-petaled flowers grow in large panicles. Once you spotted them, carefully cut off the flower clusters and don’t rip them off the tree. Collect them in a basket to give small wildlife the chance to flee or fly away. Don’t pick too many, only about four handfuls of flowers are needed for this recipe. Please also remember to leave about two-thirds of any flowers on the bush you are picking from as these are very important to the local wildlife.
Once you get home, carefully shake your harvest and pick the flowers off. Resist the urge to wash them, you will lose way too much flavour, and the petals will start wilting immediately. It’s safe to say that your lilac cordial will not be as good if you fuss around too much with the flowers. Clean them as much as possible but don’t worry if there is a tiny bit of green stem left on a few flowers – it won’t ruin the cordial.
Once you cleaned your petals, you are left with the task of bringing sugar and water to a boil, adding citric acid and pouring it over the flowers. You then seal the mixture in an airtight container. The flowers will look beautiful for a few minutes but will very quickly start losing their colour, but this is just what you want them to do. From here on the waiting game begins. I let my cordial develop for about a week. If you are in a hurry, you can open it after five days but wait the full week would be best. I like to give my mixtures a gentle shake every day or so to combine the flowers with the liquid. You will see that the colour of your lilac cordial starts going more and more ethereal – it is one of the most beautiful things I have in my kitchen.
Once you open the jar, you will already smell the delicious fragrance of the cordial. Sieve the flowers out with a mesh sieve, and you are ready to enjoy your very own lilac cordial. It is divine with just cold water, a few ice cubes and a slice of lime but you can mix it into whatever you prefer or add it to baked goods. It adds a nice tartness to anything that you think tastes too sweet – I particularly enjoy using this in jams and jellies.
- 40g (3 cups) of clean lilac flowers, about 8 flowerheads
- 1½ l (6⅓ cup) of water
- 1kg (5 cups) golden sugar or sugar of your preference
- 1 lemon, the juice of it
- 5 tsp citric acid
- Pour the sugar and the water into a pot and bring it to a boil. Be careful with it; hot sugar water is dangerous since the boiling point is a lot higher than water.
- Once the sugar as fully dissolved take the pot off the hot plate, add the citric acid and let it cool down just a little bit while you assemble your other ingredients. It is important because the liquid is so hot at this stage that it could crack your jars.
- Add the cleaned petals and juice of one lemon to a big jar or split it among smaller jars.
- Pour the hot sugary water over your flowers and seal the jars immediately. Store in a dark and cool place for 5-7 days, gently shake the mixture every day.
- After 5-7 days, strain the liquid through a mesh sieve and discard the flowers. Store the liquid in clean bottles or freeze it in an appropriate container.