Fever-Tree Lemon Tonic Water (£1.80, Sainsbury’s) I’m a timid, not to say cowardly, forager. No wild mushroom hunting for me, that’s for sure – I can just about bring myself to trust the experts. I’m nervous, too, of any berries or leaves that require me to consult a book or an app to verify their identity and safety. I like food. I like growing it, cooking it, and discovering new things. But I don’t want to die for these pleasures. That really only leaves me with two occasions each year when I get out a basket and feel a little bit less anxious and urban: in the autumn, blackberry season; and starting just about now, elderflowers. Using a recipe from a book of cordials and preserves published by the insouciant, nerveless foragers of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage, harvesting the bouncy aromatic bunches and then making a cordial has become an annual ritual. Diluting it with the gently lemony, zesty, subtly bitter tonic in the Fever-Tree range makes for one of my favourite non-alcoholic aperitifs.
Antech Blanquette de Limoux Doux et Fruité, Limoux, France NV (£10.95, The Wine Society) Since I started making my own elderflower cordial, I haven’t got sniffy about shop-bought examples. Both of the most widely distributed brands, Belvoir and Bottlegreen, do the fragrant trick, whether in a posh squash or a cocktail/long drink. I find that an injection of bubbles brings out the best in elderflower’s effervescent floral characters – I like to think a foamy combination of elderflower cordial and sparkling wine, water or tonic mimics the flowers themselves, which look like they’re frothing on the tree. The bubbles also help cut through the sweetness of the cordial. I usually go for the driest style I can find, which would be a zero-sugar, no-dosage champagne if I was feeling very flush. But the gentle sweetness and fresh pear flavours of Antech’s lowish-alcohol Méthode Ancestrale combined with a dash of elderflower would set off a bowl of strawberries very nicely.
Warner’s Elderflower Infused Gin, England (£36, Waitrose) In recent years, the elderflower has become a little like Marmite. Not in the sense that it’s divisive: its flavours are far too gentle for that. But, just as Marmite has lent its name and flavours to a burgeoning range of spin-off products, from peanut butter to cheese and crisps, so elderflower has been used as an ingredient by drinks producers and marketers looking to add a little injection of spring to their existing ranges. Britain’s biggest gin brand, Gordon’s, has inevitably got in on the act, with Gordon’s Spot of Elderflower Gin (£16.50, Asda), a perfectly drinkable (if not especially vibrant or elderflower-redolent) G&T base. Better for me is the gentle infusion of fresh elderflower into Warner’s delicate, racy example, which has the full evocative floral lilt, but is in no way overbearing, while Edinburgh Gooseberry and Elderflower Gin (£24.95, thewhiskyexchange.com) combines the floral with the subtle tang of gooseberries in an infusion that is a kind of gin homage to the flavours of sauvignon blanc.