Basics – Cordial
I don’t drink soft drink and would be hard pressed to tell you the last time I had anything other than tonic or sparkling mineral water, but goodness I enjoy a good old-fashioned cordial, especially in the warmer months.
And by old-fashioned, I mean just that: Not for me the garish red food colouring and array of additives that go into a jar of lolly water. I want natural colouring, simple techniques, tried and tested recipes. If that means a bottle of home-made cordial lasts a month at best in the fridge rather than six months on a shelf, I don’t mind. At least I know exactly what’s gone into it. Even better, I can add it to a range of beverages for a decidedly grown up summer drink. Can’t do that with lolly water.
Now, this being a recipe basic, I’m sticking with the flavour I most enjoy – Lemon. Needless to say there are endless variations, mainly relying on citrus fruit or fruits type with a lot of natural pectin, such as berries. I plan to play with some more recipes as the summer progresses and other fruits come into season, but for now let’s stick with the basics – grab some lemons, buy a few limes if you are not lucky enough to have them growing in your garden and head to your supermarket to buy a couple of odd sounding products – tartaric acid and citric acid. Trust me they are there.
These two ingredients are natural products. They are gluten-free and unadulterated. Citric acid is found in, well, citrus fruits, but the powder derived from them is added to jams and jellies and your bog-standard manufactured cordial to help balance ph levels and preserve the food it’s in. Tartaric acid, a by-product from grapes, is used to amp up the tartness. It is NOT cream of tartar (Cream of tartar is derived from tartaric acid and added to a little baking powder for ease of use. It’s used in meringues and your best pavlova.)
You can buy both these products in the two major supermarkets across the country. Look for them in your baking supplies aisle. I guarantee they will be on the top shelf, out of eye sight and perched next to odd sounding things like liquid glycerine, cream of tartar, baking powder, arrowroot and jamsetta, but it IS there. If you can’t find tartaric acid, you can go without for this recipe given the amount of lemons and limes in it, but do keep an eye out for it if you want to extend the life of your cordial or make your own cordial on a regular basis.
This will make a 750ml bottle of undiluted cordial.
Adapted from a recipe by Jason O’Bryan, San Diego bartender and author of Drinks and Drinking
Grapefruit and Lemon Cordial: 4 grapefruit; 4 lemons; 1¾ cups caster sugar; 2 tsp citric acid; 1 tsp tartaric acid
Lemon Cordial: 8 lemons OR 4 lemons and 4 limes; 1 ½ cups caster sugar; 2 tsp tartaric acid; 2 tsp citric acid
Unless you are using fruit from your own backyard, scrub the skins well to remove the wax from the citrus fruit and pat dry with a clean tea towel.
Peel grapefruits and lemons (and limes if you are making a lemon lime cordial) with a vegetable peeler or a small paring knife. Trim the peel of as much white pith as you can, then place the peels in a large bowl. If you are using limes, you may find it easier to use a zester or microplane to grate the thin skins away from the pith. Set the peeled fruit to one side.
Add the sugar to the fruit peelings and grated zest. Use the pestle (the large crushing implement) from a mortar and pestle, or the flat end of a rolling pin or even a potato masher to muddle the fruit and sugar together for a minute or two. Press down firmly to bruise the skins and help the peel release their fragrant oils (and flavour) into the sugar. Be as rough as you want.
Cover the bowl and let it sit for one to three hours on the bench top. The longer you leave it the stronger the flavour will become.
Juice the grapefruits and lemons (and limes if you are using them). Measure it in a jug and add enough water to make it up to 650 ml.
Pour the fruit juice and sugar mixture, peel and all, into a large saucepan and place over low to medium heat. Add citric and tartaric acid and stir to combine. Continue to stir the mixture very gently until the sugar has dissolved and the liquid is warm. DO NOT bring it to the boil.
As soon as the sugar has dissolved, remove the pan from the heat. Line a fine strainer or sieve with a clean chux cloth and set it over a large jug or clean bowl. Pour the still-warm cordial through the sieve to gently strain out the zest.
Pour the cordial into a clean and sterilised* 750ml bottle and refrigerate.
To use, dilute one part cordial to four parts water. Refrigerate for up to one month. This is not suitable to store on a pantry shelf.
* To sterilize a jar or bottle, place the bottle upside down in a dishwasher and run it on a normal cycle, but remove while they are still hot. Dry with a very clean tea towel and pour the cordial into them while they are still warm. Seal and refrigerate.
Anything up to $5.00 for a 750ml bottle. The price will vary significantly according to how seasonal the fruit is and whether you can use some back yard fruit.