Homemade Elderflower Cordial and a Walk on the North Downs

Elderflower is having its moment right now both in the real world and on instagram, where everyone seems to be making elderflower cordial. From the end of May until mid-July you can find it all over the place, both in the city and in the countryside, although you want to gather it away from roads and above hip height for obvious reasons.

It’s very easy to identify and the scent is heavenly – the only thing that you could mistake it for is cow parsley, but once you know the difference its easy to tell the two apart. Each elderflower head is called an “umbel” – such a cool little word don’t you think? The weather was so beautiful last weekend we thought we would head out of town for the day, which also gave me the opportunity to gather some.

Just beyond Croydon – literally 5 miles south – you suddenly hit countryside and rolling hills and wheat fields. Off the main roads, you wind down narrow lanes where passing traffic gradually changes from cars to horses. We headed to the “White Bear” at Fickleshole – even the name of the place sounds enchanting – where we left our car in the car park. On the Inn’s website there are a few recommended walks so we opted for route twoa circular walk over the North Downs. ‘Downs’ is from the old English word ‘dun’, which means hills. I grew up near the South Downs, which pretty much runs parallel to the North Downs, but with a good 31 miles (50km) between them. I don’t know the latter at all, so felt it was a good opportunity to stretch the legs and explore the beautiful countryside.

I had printed off the instructions and we headed off on what was to be a beautiful 8 mile walk down ancient pathways, rolling fields, Saltbox Hill nature reserve and Biggin Hill airstrip. There were a couple of brief times when we had to walk down a lane/road, one time was a little scary as there was no pathway so it was a case of running at breakneck speed about 100m to get to the pathway, which was on a severe bend. Nothing like a little bit of adrenaline to get the heart racing.

We almost missed this sign, so thought I would take a photo of it if you plan on doing the walk yourselves. It’s on Downe Road as you head towards Holwood Farm Shop. You cross the road and then walk down a little pathway that comes out into a large field with crops growing and a clear pathway leading through them and a couple of unsightly large pylons in the field (just ignore that bit).

I adore circular walks that I have not been on before as there is so much so see and take in. At one stage we walked alongside Biggin Hill airstrip, which has private planes landing and taking off at intervals and we even managed to see an old spitfire fly above us. We passed a church on our travels, which had a baptism going on when we poked our heads round the door.

The North Downs, like it’s sister counterpart, are made up of chalk and flint. The latter you can see being used as part of the facade on the local houses – rather pretty I thought!

We seem to come across a lot of horses on the footpaths (in fields). This beauty below was rather special. Just shortly after walking along the top edge of the field we came to ‘Saltbox Hill Nature Reserve’ a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest. Each Sunday, during the summer months, there are guided nature walks through the reserve.

The walk was not particularly demanding, although there were some inclines from time to time and we did keep a close eye on the instructions so as not to get lost.

Back at the White Bear we drank some ginger beer before ordering lunch. In hindsight a picnic on the walk itself may have been more preferable as the walk took a little longer than expected.

The pub is very atmospheric, with cosy corners, black and white photos of owners long gone and a ghost or two apparently. It’s a great place for a drink, although the menu let it down – far too long and the quality of the food was not memorable for us, which was a shame.  It did provide, however, the perfect place to set off on our adventure.

With a bag full of elderflower umbels I left them to rest back at home for a while so that any creepy crawlies could escape. Do not wash them as this can spoil the flavour.

One very important ingredient you need for elderflower cordial, if you want it to last for a long period, is citric acid, which you can easily pick up from your local pharmacy.

Other than that it is very straightforward. You do add 1 kg of granulated sugar – this sounds a huge amount, but you need to remember that the cordial is concentrated so will be used sparingly and added to sparkling water or perhaps a gin cocktail or with some prosecco. The amount I made will easily last for quite a number of months.

The reason I have not been precise on the number of umbel heads required is because the size of the umbel differs from umbel to umbel so it really isn’t an exact science hence I have not given a specific amount.


Elderflower Cordial

makes around 2 litres of cordial

1 kg granulated sugar

2 litres of boiling water

4 unwaxed lemons, grated and sliced

50g citric acid (can be found at your pharmacy)

20-30 elderflower umbels (heads)

4 x 500ml glass bottle – sterilised


  1. Place the sugar in a large bowl or pan and cover with boiling water. Stir gently to help the sugar dissolve.
  2. Add the citric acid and stir into the water.
  3. Add the grated and sliced lemon.
  4. When the water has cooled add the umbels and submerge them as much as possible.
  5. Cover with a tea towel and leave in a cool place for 24 hours, stirring occasionally.
  6. Sterilise your glass bottles by throughly washing them and then placing them in an oven (on the lowest temperature) for 10 minutes and then remove them from the oven to cool completely.
  7. Use a muslin/clean tea towel over a large bowl/jug and pour the contents of your original bowl into the muslin. Gently squeeze so that all the juice comes through.
  8. Seal and use as and when you want a refreshing summer drink or cocktail. Keep in a cool place and once opened store in the fridge.
















Indian Spiced Tea – the perfect hot drink for stormy weather

Indian Spiced Tea

Oh its been mighty stormy recently in the UK. The type of storm that wakes you up in the middle of the night and your mind begins to play tricks and convinces you that the house will take off torpedo style like Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz . Since I’m living in England and not Kansas or along a typical hurricane belt, I normally manage to get back to sleep in the knowledge that the wind will pass and we won’t be reliving the 1987 hurricane.

For the last few days however, the winds and rains have been battering our doors and keeping us cooped up inside. So when they gave us a little respite and a clear sky was visible we grabbed our wellies and headed out to face the cold wind on a country walk and to stretch our legs. We are spending a few days out of London so a walk in the fields with the pheasants and sheep was overdue.

After a bracing walk we returned to the warmth of the house and drank Indian spiced tea from elegant antique bone china cups, as you do.

In Kolkata, where Mr B is originally from, they often serve it in delicate little clay mugs, like this, at the side of the road from chai wallahs. They are often made from river clay that is then baked in an open fire. After use you literally discard your clay mug and it dissolves back into the earth. Environmentally friendly and far more hygienic than having a glass washed rapidly in unsanitised water at the edge of the road.

The drink is sweet, creamy and fragrant with ginger, cardamom, cloves and cinnamon all vying for attention. It’s the perfect drink to transport us to warmer climates and exotic locations. Try it and let me know. If you prefer a stronger tea then add one more tea bag and a little less milk and more water.


Please note that I have not added the water in this photo and you will need more milk than what is shown, the jug was too irresistible not to photograph.

Indian Spiced Tea

Serves 6

600ml full fat milk

600ml cold water

1 tbsp soft brown sugar

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1tsp ground ginger

1tsp ground cardamom (this works out to be approximately 5 cardamom pods)

1/2 (half) tsp ground cloves

3 tea bags (black tea such as PG)

6 cinnamon sticks, for serving

Please note that I have used ground spices, however, if you do not have these to hand or do not have a spice grinder you can use fresh ingredients and then simply strain the liquid after the tea has infused and before serving. 

1. In a saucepan add the water, all the spices (except the cinnamon sticks which are for serving) and the tea bags. Bring to the boil and then simmer for  5 minutes before adding the milk and sugar and then simmering for a further 10 minutes.

2. Let the spices and tea continue to infuse off the heat. You can leave them in the pan to cool. All this can be prepared in advance a few hours before drinking.

3. When ready to serve reheat the tea, removing the tea bags and simmering gently for 5 minutes. Serve immediately and place a cinnamon stick in each mug/glass. This is done more for effect than a major flavour enhancer so do not worry if you do not have any to hand.