Behind The Blue Door

Afternoon Tea | February 4, 2016 |

Home brews:

Delicious drinks to bottle at home



Sales of upmarket cordials – so-called ‘posh squash’ – are booming, despite soft drinks generally going through a tough time as consumers veer away from artificial ingredients and sugar-loaded products.

But cordials are actually simple to make at home and a wonderful way of distilling the essence of a season into a glass and bringing back memories long after the calendar has changed.

Bookmark our guide to the best British soft drinks recipes and sip your way through the best of the year.

Rhubarb cordial

Jane Scotter and Harry Astley’s beautiful book Fern Verrow: A Year of Recipes from a Farm and its Kitchen (Quadrille, £25) embraces the idea of working with local, seasonal produce, whether grown or foraged.

For this rhubarb cordial, you can use either the shocking pink stems of forced rhubarb, which gratifyingly hit the market in the gloomiest depths of winter, or wait for garden rhubarb to ripen from April.

Jane says: “Rhubarb has been used as a medicinal plant for centuries. Some people believe that rhubarb helps to promote blood circulation – something we all need at the end of a long winter.

“This cordial is indeed a tonic. Not only does it taste delicious but it also does you good. The sherbet-pink concentrate is a great cocktail mixer for alcoholic drinks too.”

Homebrewsrhubarb (1)

Image source: Tessa Traeger 


Makes about 2 litres

  • 4kg rhubarb, cut into 5cm lengths
  • 400ml water
  • About 1.2kg granulated sugar
  • Juice of 4 lemons, strained


  1. Place the chopped rhubarb in a pan (not an aluminium one), add the water and bring slowly to the boil. Turn the heat down to a low simmer, cover and leave to stew for 30 minutes, until the rhubarb is soft and the juice is very pink. Turn off the heat and allow to cool a little.
  2. Line a large sieve with a sterilised piece of muslin and set it over a large bowl. Tip the rhubarb carefully into the muslin so the juices drip through into the bowl. Tie the corners of the muslin together, suspend it over the bowl and leave for at least 6 hours, overnight if possible. Do not be tempted to squeeze the bag as this will cloud the cordial.
  3. Measure the juice and pour it into a clean pan. For each litre of juice, add 600g sugar. Add the lemon juice, then heat, stirring, until the sugar is fully dissolved, then bring to the boil. Pour into sterilised bottles and seal immediately.

The cordial should keep for a year, or for a week in the fridge once opened.

Elderflower cordial


Image source: Tessa Traeger 

Early summer sees elderflowers appear, frothily punctuating every hedgerow. There are few more pleasurable experiences than harvesting a basketful in the first of the summer sunshine.

Jane and Harry from Fern Verrow also have a classic recipe for elderflower cordial, complete with lyrical advice for picking your flowers:

“Collecting flowers to make elderflower cordial has to be one of the top good-to-be-alive moments. May is when we see the first of the elderflowers coming into bloom.

“They are the prettiest of flowers – tiny, lacy blossoms, hundreds of them on each stem, in nature’s most exquisite shade of cream. Pick the flowers first thing in the morning before they are fully open, on a dry day.

“Choose a tree that is full of flowers, as this will mean that the majority of flower heads are in their prime; the heady Muscat scent should be almost overwhelming. Choose the whitest heads and snip them at the base of the flowers, keeping the heads whole. Shake them gently to remove any insects, but do not wash.”


Makes 2 litres

  • 50 freshly-picked elderflower heads
  • 4 lemons
  • 2 litres boiling water
  • About 1.5kg granulated sugar


  1. Place the elderflower heads in a large bowl. Slice 2 of the lemons, add them to the bowl and pour over the boiling water. Cover the bowl with a tea towel and leave overnight to infuse.
  2. The next day, strain the infusion through a muslin cloth into a saucepan. Juice the 2 remaining lemons, then strain the juice into the pan. Add the sugar and heat gently, stirring frequently, until the sugar has completely dissolved.
  3. Simmer for a few minutes, until the mixture reaches 90°C on a sugar thermometer.
  4. Pour the hot syrup into sterilised bottles and seal. The cordial should keep for a year.

To dilute the cordial, we suggest four parts fizzy or still water to one part cordial. The addition of the juice of half a lemon makes this a fragrant and very refreshing lemonade.

Pink Lemonade – and other twists

homebrewspinklemonade (1)

There’s no hard and fast recipe for pink lemonade but the BBC’s simple suggestion is a true taste of summer, in a glass. There are other versions, sometimes using strawberries – just make use of what you have.

In fact, lemonade is a great base for interesting combinations: Suzy Atkins, writing in the Telegraph, adds lavender to hers. Meanwhile, in the Independent, Mark Hix suggests using a commercial lemonade for his loganberry lemonade with basil but there’s no reason you couldn’t adapt this serving suggestion for your homemade version. The Bluebird Tea Co even has a matcha lemonade – a culinary mix that probably gives us carte blanche to experiment with any flavours that take our fancy.

If you’re going to the trouble to create these picture-perfect pitchers, discover the secrets of photographing them gorgeously for your Instagram feed

Ginger beer


It’s not all about spring and summer fruits though. A ginger beer plant is something that can be used all year round – and passed on to friends.

If you’ve never heard of a ginger beer plant, don’t be fooled into thinking it’s a plant of the leafy variety. In fact, it’s a yeasty brew that acts as a basis for making your own ginger beer at home.

Food writer Martin Isark has detailed instructions on his blog Can I Eat It? – and clearly delights in reviving this old Women’s Institute favourite that has fallen by the wayside.


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