Tuesday 17 June 2014

Elderflowers from field to bottle

Last week I shared with you how I learnt to pick the perfect elderflower while at Belvoir Fruit Farms. Of course it is all very well picking them but what happens to them after that? Pev Manners, the MD of Belvoir Fruit Farms, had filled his bag so we took them back to Belvoir Fruit Farms to be weighed. These are the same scales that is used when the local pickers come each afternoon with their day's bounty.
My not so impressive picking effort
I thought at first I'd done quite well but compared to Pev's it was a bit of a pathetic effort. Mine weighed in at 0.4kg while Pev's hit the scales at 2.5kg. A definite advantage of height and many years' experience! To keep up with the popularity of their elderflower drinks Belvoir Fruit Farms need around 50 tons of elderflowers to be picked each May and June. At the beginning of the week they were on target to achieve this with over 30 tons having been brought in.
My pick on the left and Pev's full bag on the right
After donning the blue hairnet and paper jacket it was time to scrub up so we could have a look at the production areas. Pev told me he could tell me the recipe for for making elderflower cordial but he only knew how to make it in vast quantities! It is though the same recipe his mother Mary used when they started out 30 years ago.
Sugar going in for making the syrup
Any cordial or pressé needs sugar and so a sugar syrup is made to add the mixture later on. Belvoir Fruit Farms now make a 'light' version of their elderflower pressé with 30% less sugar in whilst resisting the temptation to turn to artificial sweeteners. Pev said this is what he mainly drinks at home.
Elderflowers in the first mixing stage
Once the elderflowers are brought in they are steeped overnight in vast tubs. There are huge vats of various concoctions at different stages around the factory. Once the elderflowers have been used they need to be cleared out so the next batch can be started on.
Clearing out the used elderflowers
Certain areas are reserved solely for making the organic versions of their cordials and pressés. In all their products Belvoir Fruit Farms use only natural ingredients with the water coming from a spring in the Vale of Belvoir. In the elderflower drinks whole lemons are used for flavouring – not concentrate.
Organic elderflowers and lemons plus Vale of Belvoir spring water
Whilst elderflower is the main focus at this time of year other flavours still need to be made to keep up with demand. Much of the Belvoir Fruit Farm's range is based on seasonal English soft fruit as the business was originally a pick-your-farm. Over the years other varieties have been developed using some the finest produce from around the world.
Lemongrass ready to be mixed with lime
Once the made the drinks need to be bottled and labelled in preparation to be sold. The pressé is sold in 75cl and the ever popular 25cl bottles. Today it was the turn of the 25cl to be bottled.
Pressé whizzing round the bottling plant
Once bottled and the cap goes on each bottle is carefully labelled.
Each bottle is carefully labelled before being boxed
Each label needs to be tailored according to which country they are destined for. Belvoir Fruit Farms drinks are now sold around the world. Bottles being exported to Canada need to be written in both French and English.
Lime and Lemongrass Pressé off to Canada
The boxing machine picks up the pressé bottles like they skittles and puts them in the boxes ready to be shipped.
All ready to be boxed
Next door the machines are set up for bottling the bigger bottles of the cordial. Pev knows every stage of the process from bringing in the elderflowers through production and bottling until they are ready to leave the premises. He also knows when every machine was bought and the cost of it. The success of Belvoir Fruit Farms means that next year they will be opening another site just two miles away. For the company it was crucial they remained true to their roots in the Vale of Belvoir.
Elderflower cordial on its way to be labelled

After the cordial is bottled, capped, labelled and then extras put on by hand, such cardboard competition collars, the bottles are boxed. Different retailers like different quantities in each box. The logistics of getting the right bottles to the right destination is obviously quite complicated. 
No bad backs here - this machine can lift four boxes at a time
All this was rather thirsty work so it was a good job there was a spare bottle for me to have...

I was a guest of Belvoir Fruit Farms. All words and photographs are my own.


  1. oh wow, so nice to see behind the scenes :) looks like such a fun day. Would love one of those drinks now, its so refreshing x

    1. I was really impressed how much they do themselves there. Only drop left in that bottle now!

  2. Elderflower cordial is beautifully refreshing. Really interesting to see how it is made big-scale. Looks like a fascinating day!

    1. I was surpised how simple they manage to keep the recipe and that they did everything themselves there.


I appreciate your comments. If you have any tips, tricks or tweaks please pass them on!