The Elderberry

Does the sight of an elderberry bush creaking under the weight of its drooping clusters of plump berries fill you with consternation? To me, nothing is more galling: just how can something so enticing be left to languish merely for the pigeons. I have read recipes for jams but don’t you just know it wont be worth the price of the sugar and frankly I only really like marmalade at breakfast and raspberry jam on my scones for tea – so lets just leave it at that – but oh, THE WASTE!…

This year I’m finding it particularly hard to bear. All the mainstay fruit has had a tough battering this summer. Who has had a decent apple? Certainly all the plums just withered before even growing to plum size never mind actually ripening. Keeping an eye on the hedgerows I can say that the blackberries are disappointing, that I’m not convinced I’ve seen a rowan berry lately and even the robust hawthornes are a bit scanty. Its obvious where this is leading; has anyone noted the size of the elderberries this year? They are incredible skin busting specimens and I can’t leave them wasted for one more year.

It is hardly a surprise but this lush berry produces the most beautiful dye. A gentle yet vibrant plummy-red. It’s a wonderful idea; maybe some softly dyed linen cushions or perhaps the colour could transform some old hessian sacks to upholster a chair that’s been annoying me for a while? I like the idea and have also conjured up a rustic vat of claret liquid smokily bubbling away on an outside fire. But this pretty image is also up against the reality of bright red arms and the question: Do I really want a dripping red sheet to wring out in the autumn mists? I’m not sure. I will think about it.

I have understood for a while that elderberries can be made into a powerful anti viral medicine. The concoction is made out of good wholesome ingredients that don’t make one grimace at dabbling in quackery and anyway I have a pressing worry; I watched Downton and what exactly are we going to do when Bird flu strikes again? So maybe its time to bubble up a little bottle or two and have them sitting prettily in the fridge until needed. Perhaps a little more useful than the jam.

So here’s the recipe. Something for you if like me, you like to gather a bit of something for nothing and feel you are doing your bit for Armageddon!

300g elderberries
350ml water
400g sugar
12 cloves
3cm fresh ginger
1 cinnamon stick
Zest and juice from 1 lemon

Place berries in pan, add water and bring to the boil.
Add cloves, ginger, cinnamon and lemon zest.
Simmer for about 30 minutes.
Mash the berries and strain everything through a sieve.
Return all juices to the pan, add sugar and lemon juice.
Bring to the boil for 5 minutes.