Late summer foraging: elderberries for cordial and sauce


I’ve been keeping a secret from you. One lovely summery day in early June, my sister and her boyfriend came to stay and we decided to make elderflower champagne. We’ve got multiple elder trees and it seemed like quite a lovely thing to do with our DFL (“down from London”) family now that we were professional smallholders.  It actually went very well. We harvested an enormous amount of lovely, fragrant elderflower heads, gently evicted the large and diverse bug population and followed our foraging elderflower champagne guide to the letter. Obviously we made sure we read the recipe before they arrived so we could try to look effortlessly country. The family left, cheerfully confident that on their next visit they’d be presented with a bottle of homemade fizz for their efforts but it was not to be. We had invested in a home-brew fermentation bucket thing with a spigot and everything but unfortunately the spigot was knocked free when we opened the lid to stir it. 25 litres of elderflower champagne takes no time at all to flood a kitchen floor and startle a dozing (and now very sticky) dog, I can tell you. In short, I didn’t mention it because it was such an utter disaster.DSCF3946

So once the beautiful glossy purple berries started to appear in droves, we decided to go for elder (mark two). This time things went much better. We managed to make this simple elderberry cordial with cloves from a recipe by foraging expert Robin Harford. IMG_0966A friend gleefully called it “Jollop” and reminisced about how her mother used to dose her with something almost identical when she was poorly. We will keep it back ready for the bad weather!

We also made some pontack sauce (elderberry sauce), following a recipe by Pam Corbin in the River Cottage Preserves book. Sometimes you can imagine a taste simply by reading a recipe and this was one such. Marvellous stuff straight out of the gate but it’s apparently always nicer if you can let it age. We just made one bottle this year but we will certainly make more in the future.DSCF4022

As always, we’re very lucky that we have an edible border around our paddocks so we foraged carefully, making sure that we left enough berries for the birds and mice and shrews (those latter that have escaped our youngest cat that is). I’m really becoming quite addicted to all of this seasonal foraging and cooking, it’s a lovely thing to do together as a family. I think our next wild crop will probably be haws as they’re already slowly starting to ripen, as are the sloes we’ve seen around. It’s yet another lovely way in which we notice the changing of the seasons so much more here than we ever did living in London.

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We farm a three acre smallholding in Hampshire, England, having fled London in pursuit of the good life for our little family. We mess about with an assorted menagerie and try to be as self-sufficient as possible in meat and fruit and vegetables whilst enjoying our plot and an outdoors lifestyle with our son. I am the luckiest person that I know.

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