Thursday, 27 October 2011

The blacker the berry the sweeter the juice: elderberry cordial

This post is fairly long awaited for which I'm sorry, but hopefully it's worth it. Preserving has been an amazing new skill to learn this year, and I am loving my jams and jellies, but as the autumn rolled in I started to think about casting my net wider, towards foraging and alcohol.

I haven't done any foraging before, and Mark's parents actually did this for me because of my unpredictable health, much like the sloe gin I still have to post about the elderberries were something I had wanted to try for a long time, I'd originally planned to make this last year but Essex seemed to suffer some kind of freakish cold snap where we went from there being an abundance of berries in the hedgerows to there being none overnight. It's been less sudden this year, but the fruit has seemed to be around a little longer (there were still crabapples on the trees whe I started this post)

Elderberries are more interesting to me that their blossomy overblown precedent, elderflowers. I find cooking with those odd, their floral aroma overpowering most other flavours. That said, I do want to try making cordial, as that in a gin based cocktail I can manage. Actually I suspect I could manage aubergine in a gin based cocktail.

Elderberries however, the aura of mystery that surrounds their poisonousness, like blackcurrants the juice that runs deep red, their beauty as the last rays of summer sun leave us and the leaves start to turn. And they're free. Who doesn't love free stuff.

Importantly though, elderberries are poisonous, the calyx - or little stem at the top of the berry contains cyanide, and as such it's vital that you either pick these over incredibly carefully before starting this recipe, or strain it trhough a pillow case so that none of the calyxes get through (if you have a proper jelly bag that would work too).

A friend of mine who blogs at The new Mrs P recommended her recipe, but as things are of late I felt obligated to tweak it. I don't know when I turned this corner but I never seem to cook exactly what's prescribed any longer, I'm always tweaking and adapting recipes to suit either my current tastes or whims, or what's in the fridge so I don't have to supplement my beloved Riverford veg box unless absolutely necessary.

The fantastic thing about this cordial is that it is so versatile, you can make it into a tea and drink whenfeeling poorly or just in need of a pick me up. Also you could take a tablespoon of this daily as a traditional way of warding off winter coughs and colds. I say this having bottled most of what I made up for gifts, and now suffering from the end of a rotten cold and regretting making it for gifts.

This is my second gift for Let's Make Christmas, and Mark's mum helped me to prettify up the bottle with a festive necker!

Elderberry cordial

Take all  your berries, rinse in a seive or colanderand then put in a big pan
Cover with water and add some cloves, cinammon sticks and star anise
Bring to the boil and simmer for about an hour
Leave overnight, and strain in a highly technically suspended (on an unpturned kitchen chair) pillow case or jelly bag

I ended up with about 3 pints of juice at this point (the next day)
Return to pan with around 450g sugar per pint of juice - I used slightly less, partly to taste, and partly because that was what I had inthe house.
I added another handful of cloves as I'd strained out the spices I had boiled up the fruit with earlier
Bring back to the boil and simmer gently until all the sugar is dissolved. Again I'm highly technical with this and wait until I can't hear the sugar on the preserving pan any longer.
Then strain into sterilised bottles, adding around 4-5 more cloves per bottle.

The wonders of the interwebs tell me that this will last for roughly 2 years, but as someone who's only keeping the spare bits, I've enjoyed it so much that I've finished the cordial I had kept for myself, and not earmarked for gifts!

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