It's Elderflower time. And time for wine.
You know elderflowers: you can smell them a mile off. They're on every footpath, every housing estate, every street. Someone in your road will have one. I have two, pretty black elders with pink flowers, but they're mostly just a big green bush or tree, with creamy yellowy white flowers that oftentimes smell disarmingly like cat wee.
In the interests of science and the pressing need to brew my own alcohol that doesn't taste of cat wee, I enlisted the help of friends. Kate "The nose" Walker has a fine snozzle that detects the vaguest hint of cat wee about any elder blossom. Likewise, my friend Tanya "The Brewhouse" Southern is able to spot a likely Elder at 50 foot. But what it comes down to in the end, I think, is the smell that YOU like. After a scientific assessment which involved inviting everyone I know round for a party and getting them to drunkenly sniff bits of my trees, I conclude that no one person has the same sense about a blossom. It's probably a bit like asparagus wee: either you smell it or you don't. I suggest then, picking blossoms that you don't mind the smell of, no matter what your co-picker might say.
You will need to pick 3 pints of blossom per gallon of intended wine, on as sunny a morning as you can find before they start going over. As I only have 2 demi-johns going free right now (damn you dandelion wine!), I picked 6 pints worth. You are aiming for blossoms that are open, fully flowering but not going over, and to your sense of smell, nice smelling. You need more blossom, less stalk. So snip at the main stalk (elder flowers are umbelliforous) and then snip again to release all the little umbrellas of flowers. You want a full pints worth, but not crushed down, lightly pressed is good. You'll need some scissors. Elder is very sappy, the stalks won't snap.The picture here shows my mix of pink and white elder.
Once you've got them, the process is very similar to dandelion wine. Boil water, rinse. Boil water, cover, leave for 48 hours. Then, add 2lb of sugar per final gallon, and a pint of white grape juice per final gallon. This adds sugar and body to the final wine. Heat the mixture and dissolve the sugar in as much water as is necessary, top up to your final gallon amount. Add your wine yeast and nutrient, according to instructions. Pour into your sterilised demijohns, and plug with your airlock. And Leave. Leave. Leave. No, really, leave. LEAVE IT.