STORY AND PICTURES BY RICHARD CORNISH
The elderflower is a European shrub that lines the hedgerows and roadsides of the Central Highlands. You can identify it in late Spring when they burst into flower with pale creamy heads of tight blooms that unfurl into lace-like fragrant petals. Over summer these flowers turn into little purple berries but for a few weeks each late spring and early summer there is a glorious white elderflower spectacular. When we visited gardener, cook and grower Natasha Morgan, it was the height of the season and she was in the throws of using the flowers to make her deliciously heady and perfumed elderflower cordial.
She makes this out on her property Oak and Monkey Puzzle at Spargo Creek. It’s a rambling garden with old oaks (and a monkey puzzle tree) surrounded by regrowth and pine forest. At its heart is an old home hand hewn from timber in the 1860s which was the original post office and pub. In the kitchen, by the old timber stove, are bottles of freshly made cordial waiting for their labels. “It is such as simple process,” says Natasha. “You need really good flowers, fresh lemons and sugar.” The result is a cordial that when splashed over ice and topped with soda or mineral water makes the perfect cool and refreshing summer drink. Add less soda and some gin and you have a really smart aperitif. It’s floral but not blousey. It has sweetness balanced with just enough tartness. “I wanted to make something to my taste,” says Natasha.
A landscape architect she was instrumental in the formation of the Royal Botanic Gardens Cranbourne and now has a superb productive garden that sees flowers, fruit and vegetables growing side by side. At the rear of the garden is a courtyard garden before a dark-painted shipping container that has been refurbished into a workshop area. Here Natasha holds regular workshops in traditional skills such as preserving fruits, making fermented foods and workshops with guest cheesemakers. There are new courses announced regularly and they can be found at natashamorgan.com.au
In the meantime you can pick up a bottle of Oak and Monkey Puzzle Elderflower Cordial at Manteau Noir in Daylesford, The Local in Ballarat or being used in cocktails at The
Belvedere Social in Daylesford. You can buy bottles direct from Oak and Monkey Puzzle at 1333 Daylesford-Ballan Rd, Spargo Creek.