We chat to Pev Manners at Belvoir about turning his mother Mary’s homemade elderflower cordial into a thirst-quenching empire now processing 40 tonnes of elderflowers each summer.
From small beginnings as a bit of fun in the kitchen, Belvoir (it’s pronouced bee-ver) cordials and pressés have come a long way. Still handpicking all their flowers and fruits, however, it’s all hands to the harvest at this time of year. We’re grateful then that managing director Pev Manners still found time to talk to Flavour First about a drink he believes to be as “quintessentially British as vicars’ tea parties and the sound of leather on willow echoing from the village green.”
You’re most known for making elderflower cordial – where did the recipe come from?
Mum adapted the recipe from one given to her by family friend, Lady Astor of Cliveden. At the time we ran a Pick Your Own fruit farm, which grew strawberries, raspberries, gooseberries and all sorts of other fruits, but not elders. They just grew wild everywhere around here. Mum would make elderflower cordial every weekend in June and I remember her dragging me out to go and pick elderflowers, much against my will! She would then make them into delicious homemade elderflower cordial.
Lots of people make elderflower cordial at home like your mother, Mary Manners, did. What gave your family the idea to go larger scale?
We all loved it and people would beg some off her, pinch bottles to take back to school or, like me, to uni, and some people offered to buy some. It was then that my Pa realised we were onto a winner and so packing boxes of cordial into the boot of the car, he set off to sell some to local delis and farm shops. He was amazed to find that not only did the shopkeepers buy some off him but that they would ring up and ask for more! Gradually the reputation of our elderflower cordial spread and buyers for supermarkets were forced to make the journey to Lincolnshire to get a listing as Pa refused to go and see them. The rest, as they say, is history.
Things have moved on quite a long way from your mum’s kitchen now! How do you harvest the elderflower you need?
Every year we need in excess of 40 tonnes of elderflowers or over 3million elderflower heads to ensure we have enough blossoms to make the volume of cordial we sell. The elderflower harvest only lasts for a six week period, normally from the end of May (depending on the weather) and they simply don’t flower until the sun shines, so it’s a waiting game, watching to see the hedgerows explode in a frothy mass and then gathering as many as we can. We have 70 acres of organic elderflower orchards but to ensure we have enough blossoms to meet the demand for our elderflower cordial, every year we call on the services of local people to come and help pick not only the elderflowers on our farm but those from bushes growing wild in the hedgerows. The harvesting process is still entirely done by hand, even in our own elderflower orchards. We have people who come from as far afield as Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire, Cambridgeshire and South Yorkshire all bringing their elderflower booty to be weighed and paid £2 per kilo. People enjoy it and come back year after year seeing the elderflower harvest as a chance to be out there in the sunshine with nature and to meet old friends.
Does this mean you play a part in stewarding the countryside as well as your own land?
We take our responsibility to the countryside very seriously. We don’t use any pesticides, herbicides or inorganic fertiliser on our elderflower orchards so they’re bursting with wildflowers, bees and other birds and butterflies. We ask our pickers to abide by the countryside code when picking for us and we actively support countryside charities. We’re currently in our second year of working with Butterfly Conservation, the UK charity dedicated to saving butterflies, moths and our environment. We’re running a photographic competition and for every entry we receive, we donate £1.
How closely do you stick to your mother’s original method and ethos?
We’ve stayed true to the original recipe even though the amounts we’re now making are far bigger than when we first started. In addition we’ve maintained our ethos of using only natural ingredients. There’s no artificial flavours, colours, sweeteners or preservatives so our products taste great and are naturally lovely too.
And what happened to the fruit farms? Did the elderflower take over?
We very quickly started making different flavours of cordials as well. Within three years of selling elderflower cordial commercially, Pa began to take the fruit from our fruit farm to make strawberry, raspberry and blackcurrant cordials. He also made a delicious lemon cordial too. We started making sparkling drinks in 1996 and haven’t looked back since.
What are your plans for the future?
We’ll continue to make our award-winning range of lovely drinks! I firmly believe that when we became the first company to sell elderflower cordial commercially back in 1984 we spearheaded the ‘the revival of elderflower’ in this country. We’re always looking to introduce new varieties if we can come up with really superb recipes. Earlier this year we launched five new varieties that had an English Country Garden theme and our export sales are flourishing, so we’re working hard to ensure that wherever you go in the world you can still get a taste of the English countryside!
Elderflower Mojito – the country garden cocktail with a Cuban twist
- 35ml Cuban rum
- 6-8 mint leaves
- 2 lime wedges
- 1 tsp sugar
- 75ml Elderflower Pressé
Squeeze limes into high-ball glass and add mint leaves and sugar. Churn, add rum and fill with crushed ice. Churn again, add more crushed ice and top with Elderflower Pressé. Garnish with a sprig of mint.
Read the piece as it appeared on flavourfirst.org here