I woke up the other day with the first autumn mist rolling past my bedroom window. As much as I love this time of year, I can’t help mourning the loss of summer as we slip inexorably toward winter. The chill in the air was a bittersweet reminder to make the most of the sunshine while it lasts.
The mist burned off by ten o’clock, and turned into a beautiful day. But it was a definite kick in the butt! I’ve been saying for a while that I want try my hand at my Grandmother’s recipe for blackberry and elderberry wine, and this year’s chance to do that was slipping away.
Elderberries weren’t a problem (I managed to stumble into an eldertopia my first year in Exeter and have been harvesting the flowers every spring since) but blackberries were more difficult. My local parks had been picked clean, so I had to go further afield. Fortunately, I don’t have far to go to find fields.
A quick diversion in the car with a 5 litre food tub got me the elderberries, and a sunny countryside ramble after work not only put me in a good mood, it also netted me those blackberries. As an added bonus, I found damsons, rosehips and sloes on my travels. I grabbed the damsons, and left the rosehips and sloes for another day.
My hands were purple up to the elbow by the time I finished raking the elderberries off the stalk with a fork (because the stalks and unripe berries are mildly poisonous, they have to be discarded). Ten minutes work with a pair of secateurs left me with 915 grams of elderberries.
I needed a kilo to make a gallon of wine.
So I halved the quantities, and made half a gallon of wine. Well, when I say made, I mean there’s a tub of blackberries and elderberries fermenting in the kitchen. That left me with 415g of elderberries sitting the fridge, waiting to be used.
A friend of mine says she can hear mistreated plants screaming. I’m like that with food. It calls to me. Begs not to go to waste.
Research for recipes online turned up various syrups and cordials, a couple of mentions that it was good with game (duh!) and a few liqueur recipes. I’d already decided to try a test pot of rumtopf, and a damson and elderberry jam sounds good to me.
With a couple of cooking apples from the allotment, I could make an apple, blackberry and elderberry crumble. But elderberries pack a powerful punch and a little often goes a long way. I could easily find myself with berries to spare.
Throwing the floor open to suggestions led to baking ideas beyond crumble. Suddenly I had a list of things to try, and even less time to implement them…
A word of warning when harvesting elderberries; make sure that you’re not picking roadside berries, and that you have the permission of the landowner. You also need to ensure that when you’re stripping the berries from the stalk (best done with a fork), that you discard all of the stalk and any unripe berries. Both of these are mildly poisonous and may upset delicate tummies. The ripe berries are fine to eat as long as they’re cooked.
“Better than blueberry!”
Makes: 6 Takes: 50 minutes
195 plain flour
150g granulated sugar
Pinch of salt
2 tsp baking powder
80ml rapeseed oil
1 large egg
150g ripe elderberries, removed from stalks
1 tbsp soft brown sugar
Preheat your oven to 180C/Gas Mark 4. Grease a large muffin tin, and line with greaseproof paper. Grab a medium bowl and tip in the flour, sugar, salt and baking powder. Stir the dry ingredients together.
Measure the rapeseed oil into a large measuring jug. You can use other oils if you don’t have rapeseed, but make sure that they’re fairly tasteless, don’t use olive oil as the flavour is far too strong. Rapeseed has a slightly nutty flavour which compliments the elderberries well.
Crack the egg into the measuring jug and then measure the milk into the jog. Whisk the wet ingredients together until well combined.
Pour the wet ingredients into the bowl of dry ingredients. Mix with a fork until the batter is just starting to come together. Don’t overmix the batter or the muffins will refuse to rise.
Add the elderberries to the bowl and softly fold them into the batter with a knife or spoon. Divide the batter equally between the lined muffin holes and sprinkle the soft brown sugar over the tops.
Place the muffins in the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes or until the muffins have risen and are golden brown. You can test them by inserting a wooden or metal skewer into one of the cakes; if it comes out clean, they’re cooked!
Remove the muffins from the oven. Take them out of the muffin tin and cool them on a wire rack. They can be eaten hot or cold and will store for up to three days in an airtight container.
Elderberry, Blackberry & Apple Crumble
A sugarless version, ideal for diabetics and those wishing to lose weight!
Makes: 6 Takes 50 minutes
6 Bramley apples
65g elderberries, destalked
50g low fat margarine
Preheat your oven to 180C/Gas Mark 4. Core and slice four of the apples. Place them in a medium saucepan with a small amount of water, cover and place of a medium heat. Stew for five minutes.
Core the remaining apples and cut them into chunks. Grab a deep ovenproof dish and pour the stewed apples into it. Scatter the uncooked apples over the stewed ones and press them into the mixture. Strew the blackberries over the apples, followed by the elderberries.
Mix the muesli and margarine together until well combined and then use it to top the fruit. Bake in the oven for 30-40 minutes or until the top is browned and the fruit juices are bubbling through. Serve hot.
Damson & Elderberry Jam
Oh, God, so good!
Makes: 2.5lb of jam Takes: 30 minutes
Juice of 1 lemon
45ml Certo pectin
Wash your jam jars and pop them in the oven on its lowest setting to sterilise. Pop two saucers in the freezer. Wash the fruit and place in a medium sized pan with the water.
Stir until the fruit and water boil. Cover, and simmer for 15 minutes. Add the lemon juice and sugar and stir well to mix. Turn up the heat to full and bring to a roiling boil, stirring constantly.
Boil hard for one minute and remove from the heat. Stir in the Certo pectin, and skim to remove any damson stones and scum.
Take the jars out of the oven and carefully but quickly pour the jam into the jars. Cover and allow to cool. Store in a cool dark place.
I need more elderberries…