Where would the world of beverages be without the lemon? It would be a world without lemonade, bitter lemon, port and lemon, lemon tea, lemon posset, limoncello, innumerable other drinks – and lemon cordial.
The cordial of today is a very different beverage from that of the not-too distant past. The word ‘cordial’ references the heart - it is the same ‘cor’ as in ‘coronary’. A cordial drink was one which was refreshing, invigorating, or restorative. A good cup of tea, or a glass of fine wine could therefore be considered ‘cordial.’ The noun ‘cordial’ specifically indicated an ‘aromatized and sweetened spirit’, made with a good deal of time, care, and selected ingredients, which was taken as a tonic.
Modern cordial is, by contrast, a concoction synthesised from sugar, water, and artificial flavouring and colouring, without any nutritional or aesthetic value whatsoever.
I give you two versions of lemon cordial today – a non-alcoholic version suitable for the children, made however from real fruit and therefore infinitely superior to the coloured syrup purchased in the supermarket, and a decidedly alcoholic one in the old style and consequently suitable – nay, highly recommended - for the grown-ups.
In response to a query from "Lime Juice" (Fremantle), "A.T." writes: "I am sending a recipe for lemon cordial, which should be quite satisfactory if made with limes. 'Lime Juice' may care to try it.
3 large lemons
3 lb. sugar
6 breakfast cupfuls of cold water.
1 oz. citric acid
Pare the yellow rind thinly off the lemons, put it in a saucepan with the water, bring to the boil, and simmer gently for quarter of an hour. Add the juice of the lemons and boil for another quarter of an hour with the lid on. Strain; then add the sugar and acid and boil gently for five minutes.
The West Australian (Perth, WA) July 17, 1936
As a bonus, before moving on to the spirituous version, I give you an interesting idea to use up any surplus cordial.
One cup lemon cordial, 1 cup boiling water, 2 egg whites, stiffly beaten, ½ cup cold water, ¾ oz. gelatine, 1 cup boiled rice (cold).
Soak gelatine in cold water until soft, then dissolve in boiling water. Allow to cool, then add lemon cordial. When cold and beginning to set, fold in rice and stiffly beaten egg whites. Turn into a mould, and when set, turn out and serve with a boiled custard made from the egg yolk.
Worker (Brisbane) December 31, 1951
Now for the adult-only cordial recipe:
Lemon Cordial - Lemon Brandy.
Take eight fine lemons, having a clear unspotted skin, and a rough surface. Pare the rind off very thin; divide it into small shreds; put it into a bottle; add a pint of spirits of wine—a dozen blanched and bruised bitter almonds are a judicious addition; cork the bottle; and let it stand six days. Make a syrup of a pound of treble-refined sugar; bring it to the boil; let it cool; pour it into the bottle; shake the whole well; let it stand six days more ; filter through blotting-paper ; and the cordial is made. So prepared, it is perfectly clear, and of a fine delicate lemon colour. It will be ready for drinking in a few weeks, but will be greatly the better for being kept longer.
Magazine of Domestic Economy (London, 1836)
Quotation for the Day.
A little Greeke Barke loaded‥with tunnes of Lemons Juyce (which the Turks drinke like Nectar).
F. Moryson, Itinerary, 1617