Our first attempt was elderflower champagne which, strictly speaking, isn’t champagne at all. It hardly has any alcohol, yet it sparkles and is a refreshing spritzy drink even for kids.
· approximately 10 liters of water
· 15 big elderflower clusters
· ¼ liter wine vinegar
· 2–3 untreated lemons
· 1 kilogram sugar.
Besides these ingredients, you need a big stone or earthenware pot and thick-walled glass bottles, preferably old champagne bottles that can be secured with a cork and wire. Screw tops do blow off under pressure. Wait till you hear that story!
First, go for a walk to cut these elderberry blossoms, fully blown, but not over yet. Boil the water, dissolve the sugar in it and cool down. Wash the untreated lemons in hot water and cut into slices.
Check the elderflower blossoms for little critters and dirt. Use as much as possible from the thick green stems and then put the blooms together with the lemon slices into the stone pot. Add the wine vinegar to the cooled sugar water and pour over the flowers and lemons in the stone pot. Cover with a cloth and leave in a sunny place for 4 days. Stir every day with a wooden spoon.
Pour the liquid into the bottles; filter it through a muslin cloth or very fine sieve. Leave 4 to 5 cm from the surface to the rim.
Seal the bottles and secure the corks! The best place to store them is in a box. Bring to a cool place (like the basement) and leave at least 14 days to mature (bottle fermentation). The champagne sparkles a little already, but at maturity, there's real power, or then again sometimes not.
The development of carbon dioxide differs from year to year. It must depend on the weather or the condition of the blossoms. You can’t predict the amount of CO2 in the bottle.
So be careful when opening the first bottle, unless you want to paint the ceiling anyway. Or even better, open the first bottle in the garden. Elderberry champagne tastes best chilled — a great refreshing drink on hot days.
OK, now to that explosive story. We had started to make out own cider. We poured it into screw-top bottles, laying them on the shelves in out pantry. We waited patiently through the fermentation process until we could have our first degustation (tasting).
One night, we were woken by a loud banging from downstairs. Terrified, I clung to my husband who was a sound sleeper and had barely heard a sound. There it was again. Another loud bang and Mac was wide awake. “Burglars,” I whispered. He sealed his lips with his finger and grabbed the rifle he stashed behind our wardrobe. “Stay here, I’ll go and have a look”. He made it down the creaky staircase as quietly as he could. My heart almost stopped beating when I heard another gun-shot like noise … and then loud laughter emanating from the kitchen below. “You must come down and see this for yourself!”
“Is it safe?” By now the children were peeking from behind their doors.
Some of the three dozen bottles had decided to explode one after another, creating the racket. The sticky cider was leaking down from the shelves onto the sacks of wheat that were stored underneath. Shards scattered everywhere and the sweet juice also stuck to the floor and windows. “Mind where you step! I’ll get it in the morning.” I said. For weeks to come our home-ground flour had the distinct flavor of apple and cider.
We never used bottle fermentation after that, and wine-making in the following years was never as exciting.
Siggy Buckley (Excerpt from I once had a Farm in Ireland)