pickled elderberries and hedgerow fruit

Chillier weather is good for my plan to make air-dried ham (my tunnel-boned leg of one of our Berkshire pigs is still salting in readiness) but is giving me a slightly panicky feeling about the fruits of our hedgerows. My head has been full of thoughts of rosehip jelly, pickled elderberries, elderberry wine and blackberry jam for a while but as usual I don’t seem to have found the time to make all the things I hoped for. And as I look out at another foggy day with all colours muted, I’m all too aware that the rich fruits I have so many plans for won’t be around for long.

At least there are still daily raspberries that can be picked from the garden without venturing too far in the fog. Definitely recommend Autumn fruiting raspberries for any of you who don’t already grow them: hassle-free, they don’t even need netting from the birds and are productive into November usually. I have them growing in what looks like quite a messy hedge at the moment, although variegated lemon balm nestles amongst them and in the summer hollyhocks flower behind the raspberries. Little packets of our raspberries are already in the freezer along with blackberries for the winter days when there’s a dearth of home-grown fruit and am already thinking of melting a little white chocolate with cream to pour over the frozen berries Nigella style.

In the meantime, I felt a need to walk across the fields to gather the last of the elderberries. I aimed for the spot where we heaped bags full of fragrant elderflowers for cordial on a warm summer evening. It turned out to be one of those days when looking out of the window the monotone colours of the foggy fields don’t tempt, yet once outside you notice tumbles of turmeric and russet Autumn leaves.

Back home I made Elderberry pickle and its rich purple colour made me feel more Autumnal still. I’m imagining it will go well with local cheese or venison but would love to hear of any other ideas. This is the recipe I used:

Elderberry Pickle

675g elderberries (weighed off stems)

50g light, soft brown sugar

12g ground ginger

few grinds of black pepper

pinch ground cloves

1 medium onion, finely chopped

240ml cider vinegar

1 teaspoon salt

pinch ground mace

50g sultanas

Wash elderberries well and drain. Sieve the berries, pushing out all the juice with back of a wooden spoon to make a thin puree. Put into a pan with all the other ingredients, bring to boil and simmer, stirring well for 20 minutes. Put into small, sterilized jars (I normally use them straight from the dishwasher for ease). Ready to eat after 4 weeks.


blackberry whisky and elderberry gin

I can’t resist the free fruits of our hedgerows at this time of year and blackberries have been made into sauce for ice-cream, added to Granny’s apples for crumbles and pies and used to add a dose of vitamin C to yoghurts and pancakes. But warming myself by the woodburner in the evening I remembered coming in from a winter walk to a tot of blackberry whisky.

So the latest blackberries have been added to a kilner jar along with whisky and sugar. The dark purple liquor is sitting on the kitchen windowsill, reminding me to give it a shake daily to dissolve the sugar. It’s also reminding me what a great pudding the boozy berries will make, added to good vanilla ice-cream when I decant it in a few months time.

I normally make damson or sloe gin but my low-sugar damson jam is going down so well this year, that I think the damsons in the freezer will be needed for more jam. Happily the hedgerows have given me another idea for my cheap supermarket gin.

Wherever I turn in the lanes near me at the moment I see hedges dripping with tempting elderberries. They keep reminding me how shoddy I am.

Last year, faced with the abundance of elderberries it seemed crazy not to make use of them and I determined to look out for a demi-john in charity shops so that I could make elderberry wine. Now it’s elderberry time again and I still haven’t got round to buying one. But I found a recipe for elderberry liquer made with vodka on www.honest-food.net and decided to try it with my gin.

It’s sitting in a dark cupboard, awaiting decanting in a few months. Already I’m imagining it will be a rich, port-like drink and dreaming up the cosy evenings it will suit and the local cheeses it will suit. Apparently it gets better the longer you leave it so just hope I can resist tasting it too early.

blackberry whisky

1.8kg blackberries

225g sugar

bottle of whisky

Place the fruit, sugar and whisky in a large jar (I used a Le parfait, kilner style jar). Stand the bottle on a sunny windowsill and shake every 3 or 4 days, until the sugar has completely dissolved. Place in a dark cupboard for 3 months or so, until the whisky has turned a dark purple colour. Strain and bottle in sterilised bottles. Keep it secret for up to a year is possible – it improves with age. So far I haven’t been able to hang on this long.


elderberry gin

800 ml elderberries

750ml gin

50g sugar

rind of half a lemon

Put elderberries in a jar and pour over gin. Add lemon rind, shake jar and put in a drak cupboard for 3 months. Strain liquor through muslin, add to clean jar with sugar, shake vigorously and return to cupboard for 2 months, shaking every week or so. You can decant into a bottle and drink after this but it will improve with age. Elderberries are full of antioxidants and high in vitamin C so I’m looking forward to drinking gin feeling virtuous.