The elder was once considered to be a sacred plant. Native to the UK, it had a protector living inside it – the Elder Mother – and it was a protector itself which you could grow outside your door to ward off evil spirits. The people who believed this may have been onto something as the elder is still thought to have medicinal properties. Apparently, brewed elder bark is helpful for mothers after childbirth to ease pain and bring their energy back up.
Belvoir Fruit Farms in Lincolnshire has a 90-acre elderflower plantation. That makes for a lot of picking come June. The local community is ready to help though and every summer people help Belvoir with their mass harvest – for a fee of course. They’ve come a long way since the company’s co-founder Mary Manners created their signature elderflower recipe in 1984. Back then, it was up to the Manners family to pick the flowers from the bushes around their house; to chop the lemons and stir the syrup. Once the first batch of elderflower cordial was ready, Mary’s husband John – a Lord – drove round local farm shops and fine food stores with 88 cases of the stuff. Within a year, they had sold 3,564 bottles.
Soon they were also making raspberry cordial and lemon cordial, followed in 1987 by bitter lemon cordial (with no sugar) and blackcurrant cordial. Many more followed over the years until they reached the substantial level of variety they have now. There’s blueberry and blackcurrant cordial, plum and cinnamon cordial, mango and peach cordial – suffice to say the list goes on. On Belvoir’s website, managing director Peverel Manners gives some insight into their process: “The secret of a really good elderflower cordial is to use masses of flowers that have been picked in the sunshine when they’re warm and heavy with yellow pollen, then get them into the vat within three hours. This gives the drink its delicate floral taste.”
In 1997, they started adding carbonated drinks to the menu. These have also blossomed and Belvoir now produces several varieties of lemonade as well as ginger beer and seasonal punch. Nothing artificial goes into them. Their so-called Light range has 30% less sugar than average and just this year they added two new varieties: rose lemonade and rose/elderflower pressé. This is a direct response to consumers who want less sugar but the same great taste.
The company sold its 20 millionth bottle around new year 2015, topping off a period of substantial sales and paving the way for a new factory to meet demand. Exports were becoming essential too. Today, you can buy Belvoir in over 30 countries including China, Russia, India and the USA. As for awards, Belvoir have certainly won a few. Their classic Elderflower Cordial won a Great Taste Award in 2001 and this proved to be the first of many. Other varieties which have won the Great Taste Award include their Gooseberry & Muscat Grape Cordial, Blackcurrant & Apple Fruit Crush and Summer Fruits Pressé (one of three to win in 2015). Well, one awarding body seems to really like them!
Lord John and Lady Mary sadly passed away around the birth of this century, but their son Peverel is doing a good job of preserving their legacy. Belvoir only sources the best ingredients it can find: Sicilian lemons, Kent strawberries, Ugandan root ginger. Of course their own Leicestershire elderflowers are essential. The drink that started it all, Belvoir’s Elderflower Cordial, is still very popular and the perfect reminder of summer when the days are cold and dark. Spring is coming out now though. In two months, it’ll be time for Belvoir to start gathering its volunteers for the yearly flower picking. Will you be among them?