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Friday, June 19, 2009

Lately, there has been a lot of buzz about a newly-discovered quaff -- or rather, a new liqueuer that suggests a long-lost obscurity that has found a new luster. St-Germain is a cordial flavored with elderberry blossoms that have been harvested, we are told, by Alpine gypsies on bicycles. Who knows if any of that is true -- but it sounds great, and the mysterious infusion comes in an elegant eight-sided bottle of cut glass that screams "Belle Epoque" (with an acute accent over the "E"), or -- in plain English -- "expensive!" Its price varies, usually around thirty dollars a bottle (which is considerably more than another favorite cocktail ingredient, Lillet).

I searched for some, but none of the local liquor stores carry it yet, so I'm including, below, a recipe I'm trying to make some for myself. We'll see how it comes out in about a month.

While the company's website presents an elegantly old-fashioned image, complete with tales of the procurement of the all-too brief blossoms, St-Germain is not based on some secret recipe discovered in an ancient monastery. Its exact recipe may be a secret, but it was invented quite recently (in response to a fad among bartenders: making cocktails with elderblossom syrups).

The syrup has been around for a long time (in German, it's known as Holunderblutensirup -- with an umlaut over the "u"). It often added to champagne, hot tea, lemonade and even poured over pancakes. The flowers themselves, borne on flat umbrella-like clusters called "umbels," can be dipped in batter and deep-fried. An Italian version, called called Fritelle di Fiori di Sambuca, uses a little grappa in the batter. Most of these fritter-like desserts are served with a sprinkling of powdered sugar.

One more thing: don't pick all of the available elderberry blossoms -- or there won't be any berries, later on! In the summer, you can make wine (elderberries have been known as "the English grape"), jelly, and syrup from the ripe berries. You can read a lot more about elderberries here (it's an excerpt from my book, The Herbalist in the Kitchen).

Elderflower Cordial

This recipe is a home-made version of the trendy St. Germain liqueur.

Make sure to read the notes at the end of the recipe.

4-5 elderberry blossom flower heads per cup of vodka
1/2 lemon, sliced thinly, per quart of vodka
approximately 1 cup heavy syrup per 2 cups of vodka (see note 4, below)

1. Snip the flowers off the stalks, leaving as little stem as possible, into a suitably-sized Mason jar. Add lemon slices.

2. Cover with the vodka and seal.

3. Place in a cool, dark place to rest for a month.

4. Strain the flowers and debris through cheesecloth and return the alcohol to the jar (you can filter through paper coffee filter if small bits of flowers remain). Rinse jar.

5. Add simple syrup to taste, and return to jar (the ratio given in the ingredient list will yield a liqueur of about 40 proof). After it rests a while, you may notice some fine sediment at the bottom -- at that point, when it's perfectly clear, decant carefully into bottles.

1. Flowers should be gathered before noon, when most of their nectar is still in the blossoms. Avoid picking blossoms that grow next to busy roads (no matter how convenient they may seem), as they are likely to carry all sorts of automotive pollutants.

2. Trim the flowers from the stems over a large bowl. Insects love these flowers for the same reason we do: the fragrant nectar. The insects, being heavier than the blossoms, will tend to collect at the bottom, making their removal easier. Don't worry that a few might wind in the jar; a month in strong alcohol is sure to kill any bacteria they might be carrying.

3. Heavy syrup is made by heating three parts sugar to two parts water, and stirring until completely dissolved. Add syrup gradually, tasting frequently.

4. WARNING: Parts of the plant (leaves, stems, and probably roots) contain cyanide-like toxins. Be careful to exclude any of those parts when using elderberry flowers or fruit in any recipe.

Elderberries on Foodista


Anonymous Cynthia Bertelsen said...

Very nice, Gary. I don't have any blossoms here, so you'll have to report back on the results. We used to pick elderberries in Washington state when was growing up. My parents made jam with them, if I recall correctly.

June 19, 2009 at 4:02 PM  
Blogger Gary Allen said...

I'm thinking that -- while the flowers are still around -- I should make some Elderblow syrup too. One can never have too many different sweet things stashed away in the pantry...

June 24, 2009 at 11:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That reminds me i have to make the yearly batchof umeshu/plums preserved with sugar and plent of Japanese sake and shochu!

June 25, 2009 at 11:14 AM  
Blogger Gary Allen said...


Are those the same as umeboshi -- the dried pickled plums colored with shiso?

June 25, 2009 at 11:23 AM  
Blogger Gary Allen said...

I strained and sweetened the cordial today (and adjusted the recipe slightly). I was a little disappointed in the aroma -- it's not nearly as fragrant as the elderflower syrup I made.

Why the difference?

I think it's because of the means of extraction: the cordial simply soaked the flowers in alcohol for a month, while the syrup was poured HOT over the flowers and left to sit for five days. Next year I'll try to adjust the method. I might also delete or reduce the amount of lemon.

Too late to try this year -- the flowers are gone now!

July 17, 2009 at 10:38 PM  
Blogger Gary Allen said...

A year later and it's elderberry blossom time again. I'm tweaking the recipe, gradually getting closer.

I now use three parts elderflower syrup to one part vodka (the goal is to reach 20 proof, and have flavored it with zest of grapefruit. I think tangerine zest will also help...

June 17, 2011 at 5:08 PM  
Blogger Noni said...

Hi Gary, just wondering how did the tweaking go? I made some today with 1:1 simple syrup poured over the flowers, with zest of 1/2 lemon and found that it doesn't smell like St Germain in any way, I wonder if the "tropical fruits" they list on the label are actual fruit or if it is reminiscent of tropical fruit. I look forward to your reply! Thanks.Naomi

June 26, 2014 at 10:55 PM  
Blogger Noni said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

June 26, 2014 at 10:55 PM  
Blogger Gary Allen said...

Hi Noni,

Added tangerine zest definitely helped. I might try using Everclear -- which is much better at extracting flavors than lower proof alcohols (then, obviously, diluting to potable levels!).

Reverse engineering can be a long process, especially when one has to wait a year to get more flowers for the next try...

June 27, 2014 at 6:38 AM  
Blogger Noni said...

Thanks for the reply, they are blooming here right now, unfortunately it is raining every day. I had a home wine maker suggest ever clear, will buy that hoping for clear skies tomorrow morning. I will use hot syrup, tangerines with some lemon and ever clear, might make it more than 1:1 sugar syrup too.

June 27, 2014 at 5:00 PM  
Blogger Noni said...

Whilst searching for recipes I found this site, by Andrew Schloss,this guys book on Home made liqueurs has great raves on amazon. I have tried 4 different batches today and elderflower "champagne" which is soda with maybe 1% alcohol. Fingers crossed!

June 28, 2014 at 5:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Came across your site today and wanted to let you know I used Everclear in mine. it is 'resting' now but if it tastes good (or not) I will report back.
I agree it isn't as fragrant as I was hoping but once it is ready I will see how it tastes and smells.

I made my first batch last year and made the mistake of washing the flowers first (ugh). Lesson learned!

July 7, 2014 at 12:13 AM  

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