The Elder tree is often to be found growing right next to the house or an outbuilding, making a right nuisance of itself. They get there because birds love the berries, and then the bird sits on the top of a wall or the gutter and shits out the seeds, and voila, new elder tree you get to spend ages trying to hack down, only for a bazillion shoots to spring up. Apparently a clean cut encourages shoots,so if you do want to take one down then hacking away at the stump with an axe to open up loads of cuts is recommended. Elder is no use for firewood, indeed, presumably this line from the Wiccan Rede is there to prevent people making a right prat of themselves trying to use it to light a bonfire
“Elder be ye Lady’s tree, burn it not or cursed ye’ll be”
You have to have seen someone try it to know how little success is to be had 😉
In our long ancient hedgerows we’ve got lots of Elder trees and they aren’t doing anybody any harm. Indeed Elder has its uses, and one of them is making the most fearfully strong and sweet elderflower wine. You can also make elderberry wine but that needs to get aged for over a year. Since we want something for the Harvest party in the Autumn, we’ll go for the elder flowers.
Unlike the berries, the elder flowers have a short season. It’s best to harvest on a dry sunny day, but the best we can do is a wet Jubilee Bank Holiday weekend – another week and the elder flowers will have started to go over.
The flowers come in umbels, which the decadent Germans have been known to deep-fry in a sweet batter. However, we prefer the alcoholic form, so we harvested a load of the flowers, which you have to avoid crushing which releases the fragrance.
Prefer the fresh flowers rather than the older ones that are excessively open for a better flavour – that’s the trouble with these, the short ripe season means you get only a couple of weekends to hit the trees at their best.
The season is sensitive to the microclimate, in more sheltered areas the flowers were just buds
What makes this job easier on a sunny day is that you can take a sniff of the flowers, you want ones that smell good as there seems to be some genetic variation. even with a few hundred yards of hedgerow we don’t have so many to choose from, but we had decent results last year so we used trees from these areas again.
You need a pint of flowers per gallon. The next bit I’ve simply lifted from one of Mrs Ermine’s articles as I don’t understand all the technical stuff 😉
How to Make Elderflower Wine
- 1 gallon of boiling water
- 1 packet wine yeast
- 3 lbs white sugar
- A small cup of very strong black tea
- Juice of two lemons or 1 teaspoon citric acid
- 1 teaspoon yeast nutrient
- 1 pint of Elder flowers cut from their stems and gently pressed down
- Two one gallon demijohns
- A large unchipped enamel container or stoneware crock.
- Clean cloth for covering this container
- Airlock and bung to fit demijohn
- 2 meter length of clear food grade plastic tubing
- Sodium Metabisulphite or Camden tablets for sterilising equipment
- Large plastic spoon
- Home brew thermometer
- Extra boiling water for rinsing off sterilising solution
- Large Funnel
- Clean and sterilise the enamel pot or the crock, the thermometer and the spoon. Rinse off the sterilising solution with boiling water.
- Add all the ingredients except the yeast, yeast nutrient and two of the three pounds of sugar to the crock or enamel container and pour on the boiling water and stir well. Insert the thermometer, cover, and leave to cool.
- When lukewarm add the yeast and yeast nutrient, and stir in with the spoon (which must again be sterilised).
- Remove the thermometer, cover with the clean cloth to keep flies out, and leave to ferment in a warm place for three days.
- After these three days, sterilise one demijohn, the airlock and bung, the sieve and funnel, and rinse all this equipment with boiling water.
- Pour the remaining two pounds of sugar into the demijohn using the funnel and then strain the fermented flower mix into the demijohn, over the sugar. Fill so that the wine is around and inch (2.5 cm) below the fitted bung. Fit the bung and airlock (which should contain a little sterilising solution to prevent contamination by flies) and leave to ferment in a warm place for a couple of months.
- After these two months, sterilise the second demijohn and the plastic tubing, and rinse with boiling water. Remove the airlock and bung, and carefully siphon the wine off the yeast sediment into the fresh demijohn. If necessary make up the volume with a very little boiling water. After sterilising and rinsing the bung with boiling water, and refreshing the sterilising fluid in the airlock, refit the bung and airlock on the new demijohn.
- Leave to ferment until the airlock no longer bubbles, meaning that fermentation is complete. Your wine is ready to drink, or you may prefer to let it mature a little longer by siphoning into sterilised wine bottles
How much sugar goes into that again?
Elderflower wine has a very sweet taste with a hefty kick and seems to be targeted to the female palate in particular 😉 It seems to come out about the same strength as port subjectively, but apparently wine yeasts top out at 17%-ish as opposed to 20% for port.
I can take it or leave it but it does make parties more fun, and it’s nice to have the Harvest party with some of the produce from the field.
3 thoughts on “Preparing for the Harvest with Elderflower Wine”
I used to make wine when I was a student. I am now surrounded by elder trees and, arguably, have the time. But I no longer have the kit and, recalling my erstwhile abilities, lack the inclination.
Your reminder about the sugar content is salutary and it’s probably best I don’t provide myself with cut price alcohol.
This was such a lovely post, and very informative. I never knew you could make elderflower wine, instead of elderberry! The instructions and photos are very clear, I hope to file this post mentally and come back to it some day when I have the time and equipment to attempt a batch.
@SG I don’t think you can go too far wrong with elderflower wine as the main component of the alcohol is in the sugar. DW says the sterilising process is key. That’s probably not something so easy to do as a student, ahem three decades ago 😉
@Sandra if you play your card right you get to make elderflower and elderberry from the same trees as you don’t take all the flowers. Elderflower for Harvest Elderberry for Christmas, though you really ought to make that next Christmas not this.
Elderflower wine was definitely a hit with the ladies at our Harvest party last year!