Early spring teased with its promises of warmth, only for me to reach for the heater remote. But warmer weather’s promise is definite, and Canberra is slowly but resolutely waking from its winter hibernation. What I love about spring and summer in Canberra is how people socialise – there is always a picnic, or a barbecue or a party. And with that comes the desire to find something to drink. It is like people feel the need to make up for being insular over winter.
This cordial is an oh-so-fancy and yet so very cheap way of looking like a hostess with the mostess. In my pre-frugal days if guests were coming I would rush out and buy too much processed snack food, expensive cheeses, alcohol and several bottles of fizzy drinks. And often I would have a bottle or two of fizzy drinks in the fridge ‘just in case’. It has been years since I have bought brand name lemonade, let alone Coca Cola. When you consider that most of it is just sugar, the mark up is steep. Then there is the environmental cost of all those bottles – even if you put them in the recycle bin that is still a lot of waste. And crucially, fizzy drinks are not at all good for you. I don’t claim that cordial is, either, but at least you know what is in it and you can water it down to suit.
I have never known a guest to refuse a glass of homemade lemonade, topped with bubbly water from my Soda Stream, or complain that I have not provided a commercial bottle of fizziness. If anything, they usually ask me for the recipe and sometimes they even go home with one of my bottles. On a hot day it is one of the most refreshing things you can drink and popular with designated drivers and those who don’t feel like alcohol. Of course, you can make a more adult version by adding some vodka and mint. Or you can add gin and a sprig of rosemary to blood orange cordial.
This time of year some Canberra home gardeners are still giving away lemons. Someone who I hadn’t even met before kindly offered me some lemons from their garden, which I accepted with gratitude. So I made cordial. I used a family recipe from my Cousin Sue. She is a third generation dairy farmer from the lush green pastures of Victoria’s Gippsland, who is now a lecturer in dairy farming. I like classic lemon cordial, and more recently have discovered blood orange cordial (the colour is just amazing and it has a slightly deeply taste than the tart lemon – I can’t wait to try it with cocktails). My cousin Helen is famous for making it half with lemon and half with orange. Experiment and see what you like.
4 medium sized lemons (or even better, blood oranges)
3 cups sugar
2 cups water
1 teaspoon citric acid
1 teaspoon tartaric acid
- Wash the lemons or oranges. These days many lemons are waxed, so if they were bought commercially it is best to scrub off the wax with some warm water. This is something that is really best made with homegrown citrus.
- Grate two of the citrus fruit finely using the medium size on a grater. Try to avoid getting the white pith as this can be bitter. Juice all four of the fruit.
- Place the sugar and water together in a saucepan and stir until dissolved. Add the juice, citrus and tartaric acids and continue to boil until dissolved and the mixture has thickened slightly – around five minutes.
- Pour into clean, sterilized bottles and seal. The cordial keep for several months, if it lasts that long.
- To serve, pour a tablespoon or two into a glass and top with soda or still water.
Lemons or oranges – free or less than $1
Sugar – 60c
Citric acid – 25c
Tartric acid – 25c
Total: $1.10 if using gifted citrus, otherwise $2.10. Makes three small bottles.