Down by the pond in the corner of Gardeners Field, tucked into the corner behind the stinging nettles, stands an elder bush dripping with elderberries; tiny, deep purple coloured beads that burst with juice and stain your fingers as you pick them. I don’t usually pick many elderberries, partly because there aren’t many near to home (that I can reach) because we’ve picked the elder flowers earlier in the year and partly because we’re in the middle of blackberry picking for Slamseys Gin and another hour of picking is sometimes too much to contemplate.
But last weekend the sun was out, the ground underfoot was dry and an hour mindlessly stripping berries from a bush in a quiet place seemed a good idea. On the way home I picked a few blackberries and sloes too because it’s very difficult to just walk by when there’s an empty container still in the backpack.
Back in the kitchen the first thing made was a small batch of Elderberry Syrup with a spoonful of Hedgerow Gin spooned into the top of the bottle for “keeping” properties as I shall only store it for a few weeks and so haven’t sterilised the filled bottle. Elizabeth has a delicious recipe here for Elderberry Syrup and her inspired suggestion of making a layered jelly using Elderflower Syrup and Elderberry Syrup was one I couldn’t resist, especially as I had a small jugful of syrup that wouldn’t fit into the bottle. My downfall was that finding the right dilution for the jelly meant tasting, more tasting, then just a little more because it tasted so good until there was too little left to make jelly. Reluctant to break open my freshly bottled Elderberry Syrup, I used the rather more plentiful blackberries to make a big batch of Blackberry Syrup and made a Blackberry and Crab Apple Jelly instead. Elderflower and elderberry jelly will have to wait for another day.
A mix of elderberries, sloes and blackberries were made into Hedgerow Syrup and the last elderberries made into a piquant, spiced elderberry sauce called Pontack Sauce. This isn’t a thick ketchup type sauce, but more like Worcester Sauce and indeed it’s used in the same way as Worcester Sauce to spice up stews or in marinades. Some recipes recommend that the sauce reaches its peak at seven years old but even though there are some ancient things in my pantry, I’ve never made enough Pontack Sauce to keep that long.
By the end of the weekend, I had a tray filled with syrups, vinegars, cordials and sauce ready to store away for the winter. The syrups and cordials can be diluted with hot water (and maybe a little tot of something alcoholic) for a warming winter drink or with soda water and a good squeeze of lemon juice in the summer. The Raspberry Vinegar makes a good dressing for salads, adds a little something to nondescript stews or can be diluted with hot water and gargled to ease a sore throat (it’s so throat rasping that it seems to work).
September is a wonderful month for foraging. Have you been out and about picking and making?
To make Pontack Sauce
Into a large pan, tip
500g elderberries stripped from the stalks
150g crab apples, roughly chopped *
1 onion, chopped
½ litre vinegar *
1 teasp cinnamon
1 teasp ground ginger
Simmer on a low heat (or in the simmering oven of the AGA) for an hour and then strain.
Put the liquid back into the pan and add
300g sugar (I use half and half soft brown and granulated)
Stir over a low heat until the sugar has dissolved and then boil for about ten minutes until the mixture has reduced slightly.
* In the foraging spirit, I use crab apples and cider vinegar, but there’s no reason why cooking apples and distilled malt vinegar shouldn’t work just as well.