PRACTICAL MAGICK: SPRING CORDIALS
By: Haley Houseman
Have you ever wanted to bottle a season? With flowers bursting into bloom all around us, it’s hard to fight the urge to pick, arrange, and enjoy every one. With just a few tools, you can do more than drink in the perfume of spring lilacs: you can bottle them and consume them as seasonal refreshment as well.
It doesn’t take much. First of course, you’ll need your selection of fresh or dried herbs and florals (though do make sure your blossoms are edible!) Once you’ve done the hard work of selection your floral flavors, pick a wine or spirit to infuse. You’ll need a mason jar or two to hold your concoction, and a fine mesh strainer with a cheesecloth or muslin to strain your alcohol when you are ready to drink.
Spencre M R McGowan, the herbalist behind Gingertooth + Twine, published a zine that delves into the best methods for the magic behind cordials. She explains that cordials aren’t just fun. “They have been created and consumed for generations to sooth, heal and nourish.”
There are no limits to the kinds of cordials you can create, from champagne strawberries and sweet vanilla rum to soothing tonic and spiced wine. You can also add sweetness and additional medicinal flavors using syrups. Easy to make and keep, they consist of herbs or flowers boiling in a sugar and water solution that thickens as the water boils off. What is left behind when strained is a thick, sweet concoction with herbal benefits to add to cocktails or to sweeten wine cordials.
The basic steps of cordial making are always the same. In your mason jar, combine the herbs and flowers you want to extract. Fresh herbs and flowers take a bit less time to infuse, while dried ingredients will need to steep in the liquid longer to a good flavor. If you do use fresh ingredients, gently bruising them will help with the infusion process, and give your cordial a vivid color.
Once you have a good mix of herbal elements, filling about 1/4 of the jar, top with white wine or your spirit of choice. White wine is often the best base for beginners, as a cheap Pinot Grigio or similar can be elevated to wild heights with the addition of floral elements like rose, lavender or lilac. With lots of room to develop flavors as the flower and herbs macerate in the alcohol, white wines have a light background flavor that compliments the herbal portions.
If you do use fresh ingredients, gently bruising them will help with the infusion process, and give your cordial a vivid color.
Combine everything in your jar and store the cordial in a dark, cool cabinet out of direct sun, and give a shake once a day. In one to two weeks, your drink will be ready! Measure the potency by the color the wine takes on. Line the mesh strainer with cheesecloth, and empty the jar. Squeeze out the extra spirit out of the herbal bundle by lifting the cheese cloth, bringing the edges together, and giving it a firm twist. And once you open up your cordial, it’s best keep it in the fridge for freshness, or consume it immediately.
If you prefer to use a spirit like brandy, vodka, or rum, be sure to consume it in very small doses, ideally as a cocktail. Just like any magical working, cordials are meant to be created (and consumed) with positivity and intention. Be considerate of your body and your limits when enjoying your cordial, because plants are powerful. And as McGowan reminds us, so are we.
For a quick seasonal cordial, try this twist on the famous lilac wine:
Combine 1 cup of lilac blossoms with 1/2 lemon, sliced thinly in your mason jar. Additional elements can be other flowers (lavender or rose), or small amounts of herbal like lemon balm.
Once you’ve combined the ingredients and bruised them lightly, top with your preferred white wine and give it a shake. Store in a cool, dark, dry place for up to two week, shaking daily. Strain and enjoy chilled alone or in lemonade!