Make Richard Bainbridge’s elderberry vinegar
- Credit: Archant
Richard Bainbridge's foraging escapades have this week sent him out in search of elderberries.
There are two things that start to represent going into the autumnal months. Grouse, from August 12 is the first game bird to be shot. It's an incredible bird. When it comes to game birds, the most intense, strongest ones come out in August. Grouse is beautiful. It lives out on the Yorkshire Moors and runs around eating heather. It's one of the only birds you can cook with its innards. When they take off they empty their bowels (nice) so when you cook them whole you can take out the insides, remove and discard the gallbladder and make a pate.
As the grouse started so the elderberries started to turn. You see these big clumps of hanging berries everywhere. They're green to start with and they go into this beautiful dark purple red velvet colour.
Nowadays everyone flavours everything with gin, and at home everyone makes sloe gin. Sloes are around at the moment as well, but elderberry gin has a bit more of an oomph. An elderberry royale, with English sparkling wine really represents this time of year.
You can make crumbles and game pies with the berries. Pickle them. Make elderberry vinegar. The only thing we really need to be concerned about is not to eat a handful of them raw. They're not overly poisonous, but if you eat them raw you'll feel a bit sick because of the acid that's in them. You do just have to immerse them in alcohol or warm them to release that acid.
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Also you can't use the branches and the leaves. Whenever you're using the berries or steeping them to flavour gin, don't put in any branches or leaves because there's toxins in there that could turn your gin bad – and nobody wants bad gin, right?
So, I was looking into the history of elderberries. Prehistoric man and the Ancient Egyptians swore by them for their health benefits for curing cold and flu. They do say elderberry syrup can be a great cough medicine, and supposedly that's what it was used for – an ancient cold and flu remedy!
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What I love is you can find elderberries all over the world. They're in the northern hemisphere and the southern hemisphere and grow wild everywhere. At Benedicts there's a massive bush in the car park. And I've got a tree in my garden I never knew I had until it came into bloom.
Down the hedgerows at this time of year you have apples, crab apples, damsons and sloes – but elderberries for me are really up there as treats.
You've got all these other wild berries that come into season at this time of year but the thing that astonishes me about the elder tree is that you get two fruits from it. There's not many wild pants where you can get two harvests a year off the same tree. We're talking about elderberries now, but what we all love in spring is a glass of elderflower cordial. It's amazing for me that you get these white bunches of flowers in spring to make into vinegars, gins and cordials for a sense of spring. And now you've got the berries to bring that sense of autumn.
The elder tree really lets you know where you are in the year. Even the name 'elder tree' makes it sound magical and whimsical.
500ml cider Vinegar
Sugar (350g per 260ml of liquid)
Remove the elderberries from their umbels using a fork, or place them in the freezer and remove the berries easily while they are still frozen. I accumulate berries in my freezer in dribs and drabs throughout autumn then make a big batch.
Weigh the berries before placing them in a suitable kilner or tub then add 500ml of cider vinegar for every 350g of fruit.
Leave covered for three to five days, stirring occasionally.
Strain off the liquid (discard the berries) and add 350g of sugar per 260ml of liquid. Simmer for 10 minutes then bottle.
The resulting sweet, unctuous vinegar will keep very well. I can't say for how long because no matter how much I make, I always end up having to eek out the last little bit until the next year's elderberries appear!
Richard and Katja Bainbridge run Benedicts Restaurant in Norwich.