Cordial invitation to forage for drinks

Buckshee fizz: Elderflower champagne
Buckshee fizz: Elderflower champagne

In the immortal words – no, immortal word – of that cantankerous Craggy Island resident, Father Jack: “Drink!”.

The hedgerows are blooming and it’s time to wade towards them through waist-deep grass to pick stuff.

From now until the end of autumn, our plentiful Borders hedges are full of flowers and fruit that you can make drinks out of.

Yes, my fellow foragers, it’s time to laugh in the face of hay fever and brave clumps of nettles and jaggy thistles, forests of sticky willie, abandoned farm implements and hidden drainage channels lurking beneath the grass.

Our first brew is always elderflower. Last year we made wine, champagne and cordial to cover all bases – wine for our Scottish pals, champers for the posh folk who visit from deepest Englandshire, and cordial for any church elders who drop in unexpectedly. Done.

But first, before you pick, don’t forget the citric acid for your cordial. In my eagerness, the first year I tried making it I bought about 2kg of the stuff. Big mistake. You only need 50g to make six 500ml bottles (for the over-50s/church elders, that’s 2oz and 17fl oz). If you’ve never tried it before, it’s easy-peasy.

What? You thought I was going to give you a recipe to make alcohol in a family newspaper?

Pick about 20 elderflower heads (sweet-smelling, not the one’s that smell like cat’s pee), and shake them to get the creatures off (if you’re vegetarian. If you’re not, then don’t worry too much). Don’t wash them, and stick ‘em in a bucket.

Then boil 1.8kg of granulated sugar with 1.2 litres of water (that’s 4lbs and 2 pints) to dissolve the sugar and leave to cool. Peel six lemons (just like tatties, with a peeler) and then slice them. Add these to the bucket and then pour the sugar syrup over and add your citric acid. Leave for 24 hours, then strain all the bits out and bottle.

It’s supposed to keep for three months, but we make at least double this amount and are usually finishing it just before picking time comes around again. I don’t know how something with sooooo much sugar in it could go off before the next Olympics, frankly. Alternatively, you can buy it off the supermarket shelf for about £4. But I’ll bet you it won’t taste half as good.

Elderberries are great for wine too, just watch out when it’s bottled. My granddad used to make it and gave 6 bottles to my mum one hot summer. After a series of small explosions from the pantry, she opened the door gingerly to find a scene from a horror film – gooey red stuff dripping off every jar, can and packet.

I can only imagine what Father Jack would have said about the waste of drink. And so must you, because it certainly couldn’t be printed in this newspaper.