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.


weekend breakfast

The cooler, dewy mornings are tempting me into weekend baking. There’s something very comforting about pottering about in pjs, cooking something simple and wholesome  while a coffee pot warms on the woodburner.

Also, my daughter isn’t a big fan of breakfast. It’s often a real effort to ensure she has something healthy to give her enough energy to start the day. So rather than resorting to coco pops, I thought getting her involved and experimenting with new recipes was worth a try.

I made some oat cakes first of all, with oats and wheatgerm as ingredients yet ‘cake’ in the name, they proved healthy enough for my liking and, with a good dollop of damson jam, irresistible to Ruby.

This morning we baked banana and date bread together. While it cooked, Ruby and I nipped into the garden, still in our nighties, to pick raspberries. Back in the kitchen, I gave her little bowls of oats, greek yoghurt and honey to mix us all raspberry breakfast pots. The ‘pick n mix’ novelty worked a treat.

We have banana and date bread left to toast tomorrow and maybe it’ll all go downhill after that but I loved the excuse to wander around the garden in our nighties, coming back inside to the warm smells of baking.

Recipe Date and Banana Loaf

160g Chopped dates (I have substituted these for sticky prunes too, and result was delicious)

2 bananas, mashed

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

170g unrefined cane sugar or caster sugar

1 egg

250g self-raising flour, sifted

1 teaspoon baking powder

Preheat the oven to 180C (350F/Gas4). Grease and line a 10 x 20cm loaf tin with baking paper.

Put the dates, banana, butter, bicarbonate of soda and sugar in a bowl. Pour in 250ml boiling water, stir to dissolve sugar. then leave to soak for a few minutes. Stir the egg through, then fold in the flour and baking powder.

Pour the batter into the prepared tin and bake for 45 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the loaf comes out clean. This is great still slightly warm, just in thick slices. You can butter if you like or, if there’s any left, toast it the next day.