We’re in the thick of berry season, and what better way to conserve a glut than by learning how to make cordial. From blackcurrant cordial to blackberry cordial, food writer, Malou Herkes, with advice from Natasha Steele – founder of London’s The Urban Cordial Company – guides you through the process.
Cordials are a combination of fruit, sugar and water. You can make cordial with any fruit, from blackcurrant to blackberry, raspberry to rhubarb to orange, following a fairly standard process of heating fruit, straining it, adding sugar and bottling it. It’s really as simple as that.
The base flavour: what can you make into cordial?
When making cordial, it starts with heating fruit or flower with a bit of water. So what can you make into cordial? There are the favourites of course. Blackcurrant cordial is a nostalgic reminder of Ribena-soaked childhoods. While orange is just as popular with kids. Elderflower cordial – the early summer classic – is bottled to contain its fragrant but short season, and is amazing in gin-based cocktails. But don’t stop there. Try gooseberry or blackberry, apricot or peach, or try a combination of several.
You can also add extra flavourings. Lemon juice acts as a natural preservative and goes wonderfully with elderflower, for example. Or get inventive with flowers, spices and herbs. The Urban Cordial Company sell cordials with flavour pairings that include blackberry and lavender, pear and ginger, raspberry and rosemary, and apple, lemon and fennel. Great inspiration when making your own.
Some recipes call to add sugar at this first stage as your fruit is heating, and others add it later – a little confusing. Natasha says this; “as a general rule, add your sugar after you’ve heated and strained your fruit. Some fruits are high in naturally occurring pectin and you run the risk of it turning into a jam if you add the sugar too early“. Got it.
The sugar: how much is too much?
You’ve heated and strained your fruit, and you’re left with a concentrated fruit juice. Now’s the time to add your sugar. The beauty of knowing how to make cordial is you can decide how much sugar you add to it. Some shop-bought versions are packed with sugar and sweeteners, but they really don’t need to be.
“A lot of recipes will tell you to put in equal amounts of sugar to juice, so 500g of sugar to 500ml of juice. We found that this was a terrible way of doing things. It just tastes like sugar syrup! You want the flavour of the real fruit to come through so we’d recommend a starting ratio of 1:5 (100g sugar to 500ml juice). Taste it and if you feel it needs more sugar, you can always add more.” – Natasha, The Urban Cordial Company
The amount of sugar you need to add will depend on the fruit you’re using. Rhubarb’s tart flavour requires a lot more than, say, strawberry or blackberry. Use your instincts, taste and make your own call.
The preservative: what is citric acid?
If you intend to keep your cordial for longer than a month, citric acid will help to preserve it (although sterilising your bottles properly will also help with this). Citric acid occurs naturally in citrus fruits. It looks a bit like white sugar, and you can buy it from most pharmacies fairly cheaply.
How to make blackcurrant cordial (or any cordial!) in 4 simple steps
To make cordial, you’ll need a medium saucepan, a measuring jug, a sieve and bowl, a muslin cloth or a clean tea towel, a funnel and a sterilised bottle. Here goes…
Place 500g berries, such as blackcurrants, blackberries or raspberries, into a large pan with 150ml water. Gently cook over a low heat for 10 to 15 minutes, squashing with the back of a spoon to release the juices.
Pour the hot berry mixture into a muslin-lined sieve set over a bowl, pressing with the back of your spoon to get out as much of the juice as possible.
Measure the juice to calculate how much sugar you need to add. Use a ratio of one part sugar to five parts juice. If you have 500ml of juice, add about 100g of sugar.
Return the juice and sugar to the pan and place over a low heat. You want the sugar to dissolve, but you don’t want the mixture to boil. Remove and stir in ½ teaspoon of citric acid (if using). Funnel your cordial into a sterilised bottle and seal.
Now what? A few favourite ways to use cordial
Dilute your homemade cordial with still or sparkling water for a refreshing summer drink. Shake cordials into party cocktails, add colour to a glass of Prosecco, or use it to jazz up a Gin & Tonic. Pour it over ice cream, freeze it into ice lollies or use it instead of sugar syrup on a drizzle sponge cake (elderflower cordial is especially good!). If you have more ideas, please do comment below.