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Autumn

Autumn, Food & Drink

Elderberry Syrup Recipe

what-to-make-with-elderberries1

best elderberry recipe

The Elder is my most favourite of trees.  In the summer they bloom with the most delicious flowers which can be used in a whole manner of ways (try this boozy elderflower cordial recipe!).  And then in Autumn, they offer up another tasty bounty when they positively drip with elderberries, which are also delicious when cooked (but do see my safety note below before you eat any).

Elderberries are in season from, depending on where you are, roughly mid-September to mid-October.  The little black berries pack a mighty punch – they are rich in Vitamin A and B, and are richer in Vitamin C than oranges, making them a great natural cold and flu remedy.  Last winter I was plagued with the cold and flu, so this year I thought I’d make an elderberry syrup to help ward off any pesky bugs over this coming winter.  I added some extra vitamin C in the form of oranges and lemons just for good measure.

You won’t find elderberries in the shops – you’ll have to go out and pick your own – but luckily the countryside is bursting with elderberries at the moment.    Just get out there with a bag and a pair of scissors and snip bunches of the blackest juiciest berries you can find.  It’s pretty easy to spot them, but if you’re unsure ask a local expert.

what do elderberries look like

My freshly picked and de-stalked elderberries

First, a very important word of warning – elderberries. their stems and their leaves are toxic when raw, so don’t be tempted to eat any whilst you pick.  They contain cyanide and can cause sickness.  Thankfully when you cook the berries they lose their toxicity, so you’re safe with this recipe as it calls for the berries and their juice to be cooked twice!

Picking the berries for your elderberry syrup recipe is the easy part.  Once you’ve picked your berries you’ll need to remove them from their stalks.  The best way to do this is to comb through the stalks with a fork into a bowl.  When you’ve removed all the berries from the stalks you’ll find that quite a few berries still have little stalks on them. Unfortunately, these have to be removed too, along with any unripe berries. This is quite a long and tedious job – it took me the best part of an hour going through all the berries with a fine tooth comb, but do persevere as the elderberry syrup is well worth this initial toil.

Elderberry Syrup Recipe

best elderberry syrup recipe

Delicious Spiced Elderberry Syrup

This deliciously spiced elderflower cordial can be served in a multitude of ways - drizzled into oatmeal/porridge, diluted in hot water for a warming drink, served with soda, and more. What's more, it's got amazing cold and flu prevention properties!
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 50 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 20 minutes

Ingredients

  • Fresh elderberries as many as you can pick - I filled one carrier bag
  • A lemon
  • An orange
  • Brown sugar muscovado or demerara
  • Cloves
  • Cinnamon sticks
  • Sterilised glass bottles and tops.

Instructions

  1. Give your berries a good wash, and cover yourself up with an apron or wear old clothes as the berries can stain like mad.
  2. Next place your berries in a stainless steel pan with half of their volume of water, and simmer for 20 minutes. Don’t allow to boil or you’ll remove some of the goodness from the berries. While they are simmering it’s good to give them a mash with a stainless steel potato masher or the back of a metal spoon to help release the berry juices. Don’t use wooden utensils unless you want them to be stained purple forever more!
  3. Pass the mixture through a fine stainless steel sieve into a bowl, and allow to sit for 15 minutes or so to allow all of the liquid to drip out. Use a metal spoon to push down on the berries to ensure as much water and juice is pressed out of the berries:
  4. Measure your elderberry liquid – for every 500ml of liquid you have add 250g of sugar, a few slices of lemon, a few slices of orange, a few cloves and one cinnamon stick to a stainless steel pan, and then add your liquid.
  5. Stir and then let simmer for 20 minutes (my kitchen smelled like Christmas at this point, it was amazing!) and then pass it through the sieve to remove the fruit, cinnamon and cloves.
  6. Place in a sterilised glass bottle (I filled a 500ml bottle) and enjoy whenever you feel a cold coming on or just when you fancy it. I would serve diluted with hot water as a tasty winter warmer. It has a lovely earthy flavour, and the spice and citrus give it that extra sweet edge:

elderberry-syrup-recipe

This winter I also plan on enjoying the elderberry syrup as a hot toddy with a shot of whisky and hot water!  I’m looking forward to that on a cold evening, let me tell you!  Alternatively, you could drizzle over plain yoghurt or porridge, or even over ice-cream or pancakes.  The possibilities of the syrup are endless!  I’m going to make at least double the amount of elderberry syrup next year as we polished ours off pretty quickly!

Will you be elderberry picking this weekend?

Autumn, Food & Drink

Easy Blackberry and Vanilla Jam

blackberry and vanilla jam

blackberry and vanilla jam

Blackberry picking is one of life’s greatest simple pleasures that sweetens the summer’s end.  From the plucking of the big juicy jewels, to the accompanying blackberry stained fingers: what could be better?  Perhaps only this easy and delicious blackberry and vanilla jam recipe!

Last week my toddler and I picked a big bowl of blackberries from some wild growing blackberry bushes only a few yards from my home. Food miles – zero!

best blackberry and vanilla jam

After eating a few, I wondering what to do with my foraged finds.  My thoughts quickly turned to jam – that indulgent pleasure that brightens up your morning toast no end, and is a great way of preserving fruit right the way through the winter.  I wanted to add an extra kick to my jam, so I thought vanilla might add that extra something something.  Turned out I was right – blackberry and vanilla jam makes for a delicious indulgence!

Before I made jam for the first time several years ago, I thought it was a long-winded and laborious process.  I had watched my gran make jam many years ago when I was a small child, which seemed to take hours and an awful lot of stirring.  Thinking back, my gran wouldn’t have used pectin so it would have taken a long long time to get the jam to set to the right consistency.  Thankfully, jam sugar (sugar with added pectin) is readily available speeding the whole process up to just minutes!

Blackberry and Vanilla Jam Recipe

Easy Blackberry and Vanilla Jam

Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes
Servings 4 -5 jars

Ingredients

  • 800 grams of blackberries
  • 1 kilo of jam sugar sugar with pectin added to it (you can use regular sugar and buy pectin separately, or even make your own pectin from apples if you have the time/inclination).
  • 1 tablespoon of vanilla essence
  • 1 knob of butter
  • Several empty jars and lids 4/5
  • A heavy/thick bottomed pot cast iron or similar

Instructions

  1. Sterilise your jars - see this handy guide on how to sterilise glass jars if you're unsure how to do it correctly.
  2. Now wash and prepare your blackberries. If you want jam with chunky pieces of fruit in it (my personal preference) then lightly mash them with a potato masher in your pan. If you prefer smooth jam, place your blackberries in a food processor and blend them up before placing them in the pan. At this point you can seive them with a fine mesh seive if you prefer seedless jam
  3. Add a tablespoon of vanilla essence and all of the jam sugar to the blackberries, and then over a medium heat, slowly heat up the mixture and stir until all of the sugar has dissolved. Do not let it boil at this point.
  4. Add the knob of butter, stir well until it melts in, and then bring to the boil.
  5. Once the pot has started boiling furiously set a timer for four minutes, and let boil.
  6. Once your four minutes is up, remove from the heat and test to see if your jam has set. To do this, I always place a teaspoon of jam on a plate, and then place it in the fridge for a minute or two. If the jam is still runny after being in the fridge then return the pot to the heat and boil for another two minutes, and repeat the test. Keep doing this - boiling for two minutes and testing - until your jam sets on the plate.
  7. Once set, give the pot a good stir, remove the jars from the oven, and ladle in the jam into the hot jars, working quickly. You may burn your fingers at this point - be warned!
  8. Wipe any spills off of the rim of the jar and sides with a clean warm cloth. Remove the lids from the water and screw on tightly.
  9. Your jam should then be good for 6 months – keep in a cool dark place for best results.

easy blackberry and vanilla jam recipe

My bounty!

Some Blackberry Picking Tips

Cover your arms and legs unless you want some nice scratches.

Try not to pick from the sides of busy roads – heavy metals can get in to them, which isn’t too pleasant.

Don’t pick from ground level – they may be covered in dog wee.

Don’t pick too high – keep those ones for the birds.

Don’t wash them until you need to use them, otherwise they’ll go soggy.

Keep them in the fridge and use within 24 hours because they spoil quickly.

The best time to pick is from the end of August through to the end of September.  Superstition holds that after the end of September the devil urinates on them, but the truth is that they just don’t taste nice come October.

Will you be jamming this autumn?  If you do then I dare you to try and not sing Jammin’ by Bob Marley as you make your jam.  I have tried many times and found it’s downright impossible!  What jam will you be making?

blackberry and vanilla jam