At this time of year the hedgerows around Caprese Michelangelo turn white with what seem to be bunches of tiny snowflakes. Luckily they are not since subzero temperatures in May would not be welcome. They are in fact fiori di sambuco or elderflowers. As well as looking pretty, they have a sweet, delicate fragrance that you’d wish you could bottle and take home with you.
Well the good news is that you can. Elderflowers can be made into a syrup, known in the UK as elderflower cordial but in Italy as sciroppo di sambuco. This is absolutely not to be confused with sambuca, which is an alcoholic drink akin to French pastis or Greek ouzo. So far, no research has led me to discover why the names are so similar. If you know, I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.
Sciroppo di sambuco can be made into an amazing summer cocktail known as Hugo Spritz, (pronounced oo-go in Italian). I first had this drink in the bar of the same name in Zurich, Switzerland and assumed that the drink was Swiss. I had never heard of it before and it seemed to be the drink of the city, but further investigation led me to discover that although the drink does have alpine roots, it is actually … ITALIAN!
Spritz is a drink using prosecco, sparkling water, and usually Aperol and originates in the Veneto region of the north-east of Italy. The official line is that the Hugo Spritz was invented in 2005 the town of Naturno in the region of Trentino-Alto-Adige, so up in the mountains near the Swiss and Austrian borders. The inventor was a barman called Roland Gruber (people often have german names in this part of Italy and indeed are usually bilingual). Originally he used lemon balm syrup but soon switched to elderflower and the rest is history.
This cocktail is one of my favourites and so last weekend it was time to make up a large batch of sciroppo di sambuco and start off the season of aperitivi on the terrace. It’s really easy to make but you should make sure that the elderflowers you use are from trees growing well away from the road and also make sure that you clean them of insects first.
For the cocktail itself, this is the version that I have developed to my taste using this homemade syrup. You can make it with more or less alcohol, and I have friends who even add a shot of gin. The cocktail is also often served with a sprig of mint (which I don’t like) or lemon balm inside. I prefer it with neither.
So, enjoy the recipes below.
What’s your favourite summer cocktail?
Sciroppo di sambuco
Makes: 4 litres
Preparation time: 15 mins + 24 hours resting
Cooking time: 15 mins
Total time: 30 mins + 24 hours resting
60 elderflower bunches
6 lemons, zest and juice
1 orange, zest and juice
3 1/2 liters water
2 teaspoons citric acid
- Put the elderflowers, with the lemon and orange zests in a large saucepan with a lid. Bring the water to the boil and then pour over the flowers. Cover and leave to infuse for 24-48 hours.
- Pass the liquid through a sieve lined with a tea-towel, cheescloth, or piece of muslin.
- Add the sugar, lemon and orange juice, and citric acid.
- Bring to the boil and then simmer for about ten minutes.
- Pour the liquid still hot into sterilised bottles and cap.
Sciroppo di sambuco
Sparkling mineral water
- Put 1 part sciroppo di sambuco with two parts mineral water and three parts prosecco in a glass.
- Stir gently and add ice.