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Few things say summer’s here like the arrival of the first elderflowers. The vivid white of their blossoms, the vibrant green of their leaves and their deep, heady scent, bring with them the promise of warm, golden evenings and lazy summer picnics.

Elder trees are surprisingly abundant in this part of the Alps. Indeed, it is difficult to walk anywhere in the Vallée d’Aulps in early summer without inhaling their gorgeously intoxicating scent, redolent of muscat. The trees themselves appear to have been considered deeply significant wherever they are found: across much of Europe the Elder tree was associated with warding off evil, whilst in many societies it was forbidden to cut the tree down. There is then, something deeply satisfying about foraging the blossoms for our cordial from within the ruins of the 11th century Abbaye d’Aulps – the gateway to the village of St Jean for nearly 1000 years.

It is of course not essential to collect your flowers from the ruins of an 11th century Cistercian Abbey, but it might help. And I’m inclined to think that the monks would have approved. The recipe we use has been adapted from Diane Henry’s classic Salt sugar smoke – a beautiful book and essential reading for any food lover. Do be warned though: always use the freshest elderflowers. Leave them hanging around in the kitchen too long and they will turn a disappointingly brown colour and start to exude a singularly unpleasant aroma. Ingredients:

  • 50 heads of freshly picked elderflowers, cleaned of bugs
  • 3kg granulated sugar
  • 6 lemons, unwaxed
  • 3cm of fresh root ginger
  • 150g citric acid

Makes approximately 4 litres

  1. Make a sugar syrup by placing the sugar into a large saucepan or preserving pan and adding 3 litres of water. Bring to the boil, stirring occasionally until all the sugar has dissolved.
  2. Pare the zest from the lemons and pop into a large bowl along with the elderflowers. Slice the peeled lemons and root ginger thinly and add them to the bowl.
  3. Pour the hot sugar syrup over the flowers, lemon and ginger. Add the citric acid, stir to combine, then cover with a clean cloth and leave in a cool place for 24 hours.
  4. Strain the cordial through muslin lined sieves or jelly bags into large jugs. Decant into warm, sterilised bottles and seal (we use water bottles put through a hot dishwasher cycle).

Once cooled, the cordial will keep for up to 6 weeks in the fridge; it’s also great from the freezer. At Chalet La Moussière we tend to freeze enough to bring a hint of summer into the snowy depths of winter. This makes a fantastic cordial; it’s even better when added to Champagne or Prosecco for a truly summary Kir Royale. It’s also a key ingredient in one of our favourite chalet desserts – Champagne and Elderflower Jelly with Chocolate Sorbet. Of which more later…