Yes, there are drink recipes as well as food recipes on this blog! I have a few non-alcoholic drink recipes, such as Elderflower Cordial, but most are for gin-based liqueurs using seasonal ingredients.
I started making flavoured liqueurs a few years ago and was really impressed by the flavour and by how easy they are to make. You just put some mid-range gin in a jar with sugar and your flavourings, wait for a month or so and you have a delicious liqueur. Much cheaper than shop-bought products! They are also a great way to preserve the flavours of seasonal ingredients.
Although there are a number of brands of ready-made Elderflower Cordial available now, it is is really easy to make your own. I think home-made Elderflower Cordial is best as it has a zesty lemony taste which ready-made versions don’t seem to have. Also, it is cheaper as the main ingredient is free!
How to find your elderflowers
Elderflowers are a good starting point for new “foragers” as they are so widely available and easily recognisable. They are the blossoms of the elder (Sambucus nigra) which is a small tree or shrub commonly found in woodlands and gardens throughout the UK.
The time to make this cordial is in late spring or early summer when the elderflowers are in bloom. When you start to look for them, you will see them everywhere in hedges in May and June. The elderflower heads consist of hundreds of small creamy-white flowers and have a distinctive elderflower aroma.
Elderflowers are best picked on a sunny day as the flavour will be stronger. Choose elderflower heads where the flowers are fully open but which have not yet started to turn brown. As with all foraged food, you need to make sure that the flowers that you are gathering have not been treated with any chemicals.
There are two views regarding preparation of elderflowers for use in cordial, gin or vinegar. The first is that you should not wash the elderflowers as this will impact the flavour and you should just shake the flowers and pick through them to remove any insects. The second is that the blooms need to be washed to remove the bugs, and any dirt, regardless of any reduction in flavour. I tend towards the “no-wash” view as I think the flavour is better but the choice is yours!
This luscious home-made elderflower cordial is so easy to make and can be used in soft drinks, as a cooking ingredient or to bring a floral note to cocktails.
About 20 elderflower heads
3 unwaxed lemons
1 kg sugar
Either shake the eldereflowers and pick through them to remove any insects or wash the elderflower heads to remove any insects.
Then place them in a large bowl together with the grated zest of the lemons. (Reserve the lemons as you will need to use their juice later.)
Pour 1.5 litres of boiling water over the elderflowers and lemon zest. Cover and leave to infuse overnight.
The next day, strain the liquid through a sieve lined with muslin or kitchen paper, into a large saucepan.
Add the sugar and the juice of the lemons to the infused liquid and heat gently to dissolve the sugar. Once the sugar is dissolved, simmer more rapidly for around 5 minutes until the liquid has thickened slightly.
Transfer the cordial into sterilised bottles or jars. (There are various ways of sterilising bottles and jars. I think the easiest is to wash in soapy water and then put in an oven at 120 C for 15 minutes).
Once bottled, the cordial will keep for several weeks in the fridge.
Although the preparation time is only 15 minutes, you do need to leave the mixture to infuse overnight (see step 3).
Home-made Damson Gin liqueur is probably my favourite of all the flavoured gins that I make. The sharp sweet-sour fruit produces a liqueur with a brilliant punch of flavour. It is also a beautiful ruby red colour. If you make it in September when damsons are in season, you can enjoy drinking it at Christmas and New Year!
It is extremely easy to make your own flavoured gin. You just add the fruit or other flavourings to the alcohol, add some sugar and leave it for a few months to transform into a delicious liqueur. Making your own also allows you to experiment with flavours and you know exactly what went into it.
There are lots of flavoured gin liqueurs available in the shops now. Many of them are delicious but they are often sold at premium prices. I find making my own very satisfying as you get a premium product at a low price. It is also a great way of using an over-supply of seasonal produce. Flavoured gins also keep for a very long time so if you make a batch in late summer or autumn, you can be sipping it all through the winter.
In praise of damsons
Damsons are small, dark purple fruit which have a strong sour flavour. Their sourness prevents them being eaten raw. However, they are excellent in a range of cooked dishes such as jams and preserves or fruit pies when their sourness is balanced by sugar.
This autumn I have been exploring the wonderful world of home-made gin. Inspired by the Rhubarb Gin and Elderflower Gin that I made in the spring, I started to think about which autumn fruits might also make a good flavoured gin.
Having made an excellent Blackberry Gin and Plum Gin in August, I started to wonder if there are any other seasonal fruit that I could use to make flavoured gin. In my local greengrocer, I spotted some damsons – small, dark purple sour plums which cannot be eaten raw but need to be cooked (with sugar) to bring out their flavour. I hadn’t seen them for years but they immediately brought back memories as my mother had a prolific damson tree in her garden. It occurred to me that they would make a good gin flavouring.
If you can’t find damsons, and they can be hard to source, you can make a great Plum Gin instead. However, if you do see them in a shop or market when they are in season in September, they are worth buying as they are great in jams and fruit pies as well as gin.
What you need to know about making Damson Gin
You can use any kind of gin in this recipe. I generally use a mid-range supermarket brand. You don’t want to use a really top-class gin – better just to drink that with some tonic – but on the other hand you don’t want to use something that tastes like lighter fluid! If you don’t have any gin available, you can substitute vodka. You just need an alcohol base that will absorb all the delicious fruity flavour of the damsons.
You need to allow four weeks for the flavour of the damsons to transfer into the liquid. However, you can leave them in for up to two months. The longer the damsons remain in the alcohol, the more intense the final flavour. Once the fruit is removed, the gin will last for at least a year.
I prefer to drink this gin liqueur on its own with no mixers. However, you can use it as an ingredient in cocktails. I have some recipes for Rhubarb Gin Cocktails where damson gin could be substituted for the rhubarb gin.
I love making fruit-flavoured gin and have lots of gin recipes. It is the perfect way to use seasonal fruit and flowers, at a time when there is often an over-supply, and preserve the wonderful flavour to enjoy later in the year. Some of my favourites are Blackberry Gin, Rhubarb Gin, Elderflower Gin and Plum Gin.
This home-made Plum Gin involves combining fresh plums, sugar and gin and allowing time for the essence of the fruit to transfer into the alcohol. The end result is a plum-flavoured liqueur which has a concentrated, sweet plum taste. It is fantastic either on its own or as an ingredient in cocktails.
Where I live in the Cotswolds, plums are in season in August and early September. This is the perfect time to make Plum Gin to drink at Christmas. If you make this recipe, you should imagine sipping a glass of dark red, fruity and delicious drink on a cold winter’s night!
You can use any kind of gin in this recipe. I generally use a mid-range supermarket brand. You don’t want to use a really top-class gin – better just to drink that with some tonic – but on the other hand you don’t want to use something that tastes like lighter fluid! If you don’t have any gin available, you can substitute vodka. You just need an alcohol base that will absorb all the delicious fruity flavour of the plums.
You can make this recipe with any kind of plum. I use Victoria Plums, as I have a tree in my garden, but there are lots of other varieties available and they all make a good flavouring for gin.
You need to allow at least three weeks for the flavour of the plums to transfer into the liquid. However, you can leave them in for up to two months. The longer the plums remain in the alcohol, the more intense the final flavour. Once the fruit is removed, the gin will last for at least a year.
You can add additional flavourings to this Plum Gin.
Star anise – put a couple of star anise pods in with the plums
Vanilla – similarly, just add a vanilla pod to the jar
I love making fruit-flavoured gin. It is the perfect way to use seasonal fruit and flowers, at a time when there is often an over-supply, and preserve the wonderful flavour to enjoy later in the year. Some of my favourites are Blackberry Gin, Rhubarb Gin, Elderflower Gin and Damson Gin.
This home-made Plum Gin involves combining fresh plums, sugar and gin and allowing time for the essence of the fruit to transfer into the alcohol.
500 g (1 lb) fresh plums
100 g (4 oz) caster sugar
500 ml (1 pint) gin
Wash the plums. Prick them with a fork and then cut them in half without removing the stones.
Place the plums in a sterilised jar.
Add the sugar and gin and shake to mix together. The gin must cover the top of the plums.
Put the lid on the jar.
Keep it in a cool, dark place for four weeks.
At the end of that time, the gin is ready to drink! Strain the gin into a sterilised bottle through a muslin cloth held in a funnel and discard the fruit.
You can sterilise your jam jars by washing them in warm, soapy water, rinsing well and then drying off for 15 minutes in an oven set at 140C/120C fan/gas 1.
Although it only takes 20 minutes preparation time, you will need to allow 24 hours for the rhubarb to macerate in the sugar and, once you have added the gin, it will take a further four weeks to allow the flavour to develop.
I have only recently started making Blackberry Gin. Having had some initial success with Elderflower Gin and Rhubarb Gin (which is great for cocktails!) last year, I started to think about other seasonal fruits that I could use to produce delicious home-made gin! I have always been a keen blackberry picker but, in the past, have used them for jam and also cakes, puddings and desserts such as Blackberry Muffins, Blackberry Crumble and Blackberry Fool. However, it occurred to me that they might taste pretty good as a flavouring for gin.
Late August and early September is blackberry season in the Cotswolds. On my daily dog walks, I see the brambles growing rapidly during early summer. By mid-summer, their flowers are turning to fruit. In late summer, within a week or so, they suddenly seem to be covered in hundreds of juicy blackberries. You can, of course, buy blackberries all year round in supermarkets these days. However, there is nothing like picking your own. Even people who would never forage for any other kind of wild produce have memories of going blackberrying. Where I live, it is a pretty popular thing to do. On my relatively short drive to work last week, I saw no less than three groups of people, equipped with plastic containers and thick gloves, picking the blackberries that grow along the roadside.
In the past few years, there has been an increase in the popularity of flavoured gins, including Blackberry Gin, produced by niche producers and selling for a premium in supermarkets. I think home-made and traditional is best in terms of both flavour and price, so why not try making your own? It is really easy!
Making your own Blackberry Gin is so easy and the end result is a delicious reminder of blackberry season that you can enjoy all year around!
450 g blackberries
225 g caster sugar
150 ml good quality gin
Wash the blackberries thoroughly.
Mix the blackberries thoroughly with the sugar in a large bowl.
Spoon the blackberries and sugar into a sterilised jar. Leave for 24 hours to allow the blackberries to macerate in the sugar and release their juices.
Add the gin to the jar of blackberries and sugar. Shake thoroughly to ensure it is mixed.
Leave in a cool, dry, dark place for four weeks.
At the end of that time, the gin is ready to drink! Strain the gin into sterilised bottles through a muslin cloth held in a funnel and it will keep for approximately six months.
You can sterilise your jar by washing it in warm, soapy water, rinsing well and then drying off for 15 minutes in an oven set at 140C/120C fan/gas 1.
Although it only takes 15 minutes preparation time, you will need to allow 24 hours for the blackberries to macerate in the sugar and, once you have added the gin, it will take a further four weeks to allow the flavour to develop.
You can scale this recipe up or down according to how many blackberries you feel like picking! Add half as much weight in sugar as your weight of blackberries. The amount of gin in ml should be one third of the weight of blackberries.
Back in April, I made a batch of home-made Rhubarb Gin. I was interested to experiment with a range of flavour combinations and so made several versions: plain Rhubarb Gin, Rhubarb and Vanilla Gin, Rhubarb and Orange Gin and Rhubarb and Ginger Gin. It is really easy to make your own Rhubarb Gin but it does take a month or so until it is ready to drink. If you don’t have the time, inclination (or rhubarb!) to make your own, there are a number of great Rhubarb Gins available now.
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My home-made Rhubarb Gins all taste great on their own but, as I love cocktails, I thought I’d have a go at creating a few using the different flavours. I gathered together a few willing volunteer tasters and the following were unanimously agreed to be the best of my Rhubarb Gin cocktail recipes.
Rhubarb Gin cocktail recipes
The method is the same for all the cocktail recipes – pour ingredients into a cocktail shaker filled with ice to mix and cool then pour into a glass and enjoy!
If you like cocktails, and want to experiment with them at home, I would really recommend that you buy a cocktail shaker. Shaking the mix of liquids in your cocktail over ice means the result will be properly combined and icy cold.
This is a lovely summery cocktail which is a delicate pink colour. I made it with my Rhubarb and Vanilla Gin but plain Rhubarb Gin is fine. If you can’t get Rose Lemonade, you can use ordinary lemonade and add a couple of drops of rosewater.
50 ml Rhubarb and Vanilla Gin
50 ml Rose Lemonade (such as [amazon_textlink asin='B01BMBAZ2S|B003JGUS0E|B00XUKANQI|B00612E3PO|B00AKFNWGY' text='Fentiman's' template='ProductLink' store='tastebotanica-21success|tastebotanica-20|tastebotani0c-21success|tastebotani0a-21success|tastebotani01-21success' marketplace='UK|US|IT|FR|DE' link_id='4ca3a3b3-68b2-11e8-a0c1-55ca867c4624'])
Pour ingredients into a cocktail shaker filled with ice to mix and cool then pour into a glass and enjoy!
I love lime so a Gimlet is one of my favourite cocktails. This one, which I made using my plain Rhubarb Gin, has a fantastic sweet-sour tang. To make sugar syrup you just need to put equal volumes of sugar and water in a pan, heat until the sugar dissolves and then allow to cool.
50 ml Rhubarb Gin
25 ml fresh lime juice (half a lime)
20 ml sugar syrup
Pour ingredients into a cocktail shaker filled with ice to mix and cool then pour into a glass and enjoy!