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Jim Coleman Recipes

Elderflower Champagne
from Down and Dirty: Fun and Funky First-time Projects to Get you Gardening by Ellen Zachos

For this recipe you will need:

  • 12 c. water
  • 4 c. water
  • 6-8 large clusters of elderflowers
  • 2 Tbs. cider vinegar
  • 3 lemons

Bring twelve cups of water to a rolling boil in a large pot, then remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature. In a saucepan, boil four cups of water, remove from heat, and dissolve the sugar in it. Pour the resulting syrup into a clean, non-reactive bucket (e.g. plastic or stainless steel; cast iron is reactive and shouldn't be used for this) and let it cool to room temp. Slice the lemons very thinly and add them to the cooled sugar syrup, along with the cooled twelve cups of water, the elderflowers, and vinegar. Stir it all up, cover loosely, and let it ferment without disturbing for four - five days in a warm spot. The top of the refrigerator is one of the warmest places in most homes and that's where I do this. It's ok to peek if you're curious. You'll notice little bubbles collecting on the floating solids as the brew ferments.

Collect four, 1 liter soda bottles, rinse and sterilize. To sterilize you can either use a commercial product like One-Step (if you're a home brewer) or bleach. Pour two teaspoons of bleach in each bottle, fill the bottle half way with water, shake it around a lot, empty, and rinse.

After four days, strain the fermented liquid through wet muslin (or a jellybag) then pour into the four sterilized bottles. It will be easier to fill the bottles with a funnel or from a pitcher with a good lip. Leave a few inches of air space at the top of each bottle and screw on the tops firmly. Squeeze the bottles to feel how much give is in them and store them in a cool dark place for at least a week (in the cellar or at the back of a closet).

As the liquid ferments it produces carbon dioxide, which builds up pressure in the bottles and forces the gas to dissolve in the liquid. The pressurized gas will be released as Champagne-like fizzy bubbles when the bottle is opened. Check the bottles every day or so, gently squeezing on their sides. When they are rock-hard (no give at all beneath your fingers) they're ready to be drunk. You can either move them to the refrigerator for immediate consumption (this beverage is best chilled) or keep them in the dark until you're ready. Elderflower champagne will keep for just a few months, so don't wait too long.

But please N.B.: Pressure may continue to build as the bottles sit in your cellar, and here's where it gets tricky. One summer night I bolted awake, certain I'd heard a very loud noise. I confess, I often wake up thinking I've heard a very loud noise and most of the time I'm wrong. Finding no evidence of disaster, I chalked this one up to a dream state and went back to bed. The next day I was looking for something down cellar and found a sharp shard of thick, white plastic on the floor. When I picked it up, I noticed that the floor was sticky. Light dawned and I checked my elderflower champagne bottles. Two of the four had exploded, bursting the plastic bottles and their white screwcaps into pieces.

Since then, once the bottles have reached the rock-hard state, I leak a little gas from them once a week. Not enough to let any foam out, but just a crack so I can hear the gas escape for about three seconds. Then I tighten the cap and can once again feel a little give in the bottle. After a week the bottle is rock hard again and I repeat the process. Since I've started taking this precaution I've been explosion-free.

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