RECIPE: Fermented Honeysuckle Cordial
Oh, honeysuckle how we love thee. Your sweet scent evokes memories of days gone by: afternoons spent lounging in the warmth of the spring sunshine, summer nights under the stars, the list goes on. If only there was a way to capture your essence so we can enjoy you more than just in passing… But wait, what’s this? A recipe that tastes exactly like honeysuckle smells? We swoon!
The following excerpt is from Forage, Harvest, Feast by Marie Viljoen. It has been adapted for the web.
Other common names: Japanese honeysuckle
Botanical name: Lonicera japonica
Status: Noxiously invasive perennial vine
Where: Woodlands, clearings, meadows, and gardens across the US and Canada
Season: Late spring
Parts used: Flowers
Tastes like: Honeysuckle
Japanese honeysuckle is so familiar that it seems to belong wherever it grows. And it does grow almost everywhere. The deliciously persuasive scent of the vines’ flowers encourages many gardeners to avert their eyes from its destructive, strangling nature. Widespread across the United States and Canada, as well as Europe and as far south as New Zealand, its tenaciously twining habit is responsible for significant habitat transformation as it outcompetes native plants by shading them and stealing their lunch money (well, sucking up their nutrients from the soil). Its black fruits, ripening in autumn, are readily eaten by birds, and the seed is spread as they travel.
Stateside, Japanese honeysuckle first appeared on Long Island early in the nineteenth century (preceding garlic mustard by a few decades), encouraged to the continent by horticulturists. Like garlic mustard, war has been declared on it by almost every state.
My own romantic notions of honeysuckle have been hard to shake. I remain smitten by that scent. So when I spend a quiet hour in early summer picking its tubular flowers on an empty pathway in a city woodland, an intense sense of nostalgia is evoked by the delicate petals that I am dropping into my paper bag, which fills slowly with memories from childhood, and a subliminal chatter provided by a lifetime of literature. But the rationalist in me appreciates the fact that fewer flowers mean fewer fruits, which means a slower spread. It is a drop in the biodiversity bucket, but what a delectable drop.
Honeysuckle has one use for me: as an aromatic. The flowers make the most heady cordial I have tasted, and its seamless translation from one sense to the next—smell to taste—seems miraculous. Sweet cordial is partnered by a complex and tart vinegar, and these two simple infusions inform countless subsequent creations.
How to Collect and Prepare
Pick only the flowers (the green parts and fruit are considered toxic). This takes patience, but the reward is a few heady cupfuls. Use a paper bag for collection, as they sweat too much in plastic. Try to use them within a few hours of collection while their perfume is strongest. Do not wash them, or scent-be-gone.
Fermented Honeysuckle Cordial
Makes 5 cups (11⁄4 liters)
This is probably the most delightful fizzy drink I know. It tastes exactly the way that honeysuckle smells. Make it with just honeysuckle flowers, or combine with Rosa multiflora (which will make it slightly pink), or elderflower.
3 cups (3 ounces/85 g) honeysuckle flowers
5 cups (11/4 liters) water
2 cups (400 g) sugar
Combine all the ingredients in a large clean jar and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Cover the mouth with cheesecloth secured with string or a rubber band and stir daily. After several days, once fermentation is very active (lots of bubbles, flowers slowly rising out of the jar), push the flowers down and keep stirring. Give it an extra day, then strain through a fine-mesh sieve. Strain again through a double layer of cheesecloth. Pour into clean bottles and close. For peace of mind keep the bottles in the fridge, as some fermentation will continue. A bottle can explode, left out and warm. Reserve the strained flowers to make Quick Honeysuckle Vinegar. To make long-form vinegar from the cordial itself, see Elderflower Vinegar—The Long Way.
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