Monday night preserves – winter tonic (elderberry syrup)

It always amazes me as to what nature offers at different times of the year. As we move into the months where people generally catch colds, feel tired and under the weather, if you take a look around you, nature has its very own remedies.  Elderberries shiny and black. Well, purple but I’m not splitting hairs.

I was worried we’d missed the boat with them as last year we did a bit and many had started to droop and shrivel. Not this year, even Ste was exclaiming at how good they looked. Tree after tree is laden with them, plenty for us and plenty for the birds.

I forgot my phone when we went out foraging, but we had a good time, even Jack who was feeing grumpy cheered up in the end.

That was yesterday, perfect Sunday! So today I’m making elderberry syrup.  I made a small batch of this last year and then didn’t make more however this year I hope to make lots more to water bath and keep using until the Spring.

Elderberries have been used for years as one of the most antiviral herbs on the planet.  Highest on the list is fighting off colds, sinus (inflammation) issues, nerve pain and fatigue.  Who knows about the others but I firmly believe in the cold fighting abilities, purely because elderberries have such a high level of vitamins/anti oxidants and and such like.  Apparently during the 1995 Panama flu epidemic the government employed the use of elderberry to fight the flu. Who knew?

We harvested a large tuppawear tub full of elderberries and I set about using a fork to pull each berry off.  Soon enough I had 2 helpers who thought what I was doing looked interesting.  I can’t tell you how much it pleased me to have the kids want to help in a task like this. As you can tell, we weren’t dressed to look photogenic, but an honest photo at least!

Apparently you can freeze the berries on the stalks and then they come off even easier but to be honest it wasn’t too much of a chore. I washed the berries and put them in a large pan. 

I covered them with just enough water and brought it to the boil. I chopped some root ginger, guessing the quantity. I put maybe a thumb size piece, skin too, roughly chopped into the pan. Boiling it for 5-10 minutes.

The recipes online mostly say to let it drip overnight or mash with a masher. As I’m always pushed for time, I used my hand held blender and zuzzed it all up.

I sieved it into a clean jug through a Muslin and I had 1 litre of liquid. I added 1 kilo of sugar and a cinnamon stick then simmered it and brought it back to the boil for a minute once the sugar had dissolved, decanting it whilst still warm into sterilised warm bottles. It’s actually really nice and we’ll be taking a spoonful of this every day to ward bugs off. If we’re ill, you can take a spoonful every couple of hours for a vitamin boost.

This should keep a couple of months in the fridge but it won’t last that long. When I make more I’ll water bath them. 

Elderberry wine

A big part of what I wanted to achieve and sustain when we moved here was to start to incorporate living off the land into our lives. Steven has been busy pressing apples for cider and I’ll update on that shortly, however the other day I finally got round to getting the Elderberry wine ready. By ready I mean sat in a demi John fermenting. So after gathering the elderberries last week, I weighed 2 kilo and gave them a bit of a press with a masher then popped them in a sterilised bucket with some water as per Hugh FW’s recipe and left them a few days. Then I made a sugar syrup and added orange and lemon juice and zest, yeast and got it all ready for the demi John.  So now it is busy fermenting away making us the most glorious (I’m keeping positive) wine. Apparently if you can, you should wait 5 years. Can’t see that happening. We’ll make it each year and then there will be a continuous supply. Having said that I rarely drink lately, so it’ll probably come out at Christmas etc. Not this one though! Happy Friday everyone. 

Autumn on the smallholding

This weekend has felt very Autumnal.  It’s been a mixture of lots of lovely things.  The changing colour of the trees, the leaves that have appeared underfoot when we’re out walking, the apples that are readily falling and being used in the cooking, the homegrown squash that I roasted and we ate, the dip in temperature on a night yet the days that are still creeping up to 17 and 18C and I finally got round to making a Sunday lunch and doing some baking again. 
I made some chocolate, ginger and oat cookies from my new favourite person, Mary Berry.  Between her, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Pam Corbin, I think I have a year’s worth of recipes to keep us going.  The cookies are really nice and I got 21 out of her recipe.  It claims you will make 24, but we don’t eat biscuits that are so small in this house ;).  They took 11 minutes on the bottom rung of the Aga (just for my future reference).
I’ve also made a start on the Elderberry wine.  I did wonder if I was too late but we found a bountiful supply that were still young and fresh so as a family, we picked them and brought them home to make a start.  I also made a Elderberry Winter Tonic which I’ve read about in a few places.  It’s now sat in my fridge waiting for the cold season to start.  I only used 2 cupfuls of Elderberries which yielded around 400ml of tonic.  I’m giving my Mam some to try and help her through the winter as she has a hernia and suffers terribly with what she can and can’t eat, hopefully she can have this without side effects and it’ll help keep her immune systems up.
Of course to go along with the homemade wine, Steven needed to try homemade cider, so he and our lovely neighbour borrowed a cider press and got to work pressing buckets of our apples from the orchard and the neighbours too.  They managed to make 15 litres which is gurgling away in the pantry.
We’ve managed to get rid of quite a lot of muck this weekend and in return bagged ourselves a large carrier full of different breads which are all now in the new freezer ready for when we run out of have unexpected guests that need feeding.
I’m off to bed shortly, not necessarily ready for going back to work tomorrow, but certainly feeling blessed from the weekend. The dogs look like they are quite content too.

Another weekend is here :)

The damson vodka that I made last weekend is starting to have a decidedly pink undertone to it (pictured pre pinkness!)  The kilner jar seals must need replacing as it leaked when I turned it on its head.  So Steven had the idea of using two together until I can replace them.  The jars are 3 litre jars and when I looked on ebay, they all seem to be up to 2 litre max which is a slightly smaller diameter to the ones I have, according to their measurements.  So that’s raspberry vodka and damson vodka on the go.  I hope they taste nice as I actually don’t like vodka!
For the raspberry vodka, I’ll decant it in December and use the raspberries for ice cream topping for adults at Christmas, or even for the middle of a special cake.  I’m hoping this drink will be like drinking summer in winter and warm us through the cold and dark nights.
This weekend I’ll be picking sloes for sloe gin.  I’ve never make it before, well I’ve never made any of these actually, so it’s all great learning.  I must remember to make a note of the recipe I use though, as if it tastes lovely next year, I’ll struggle to remember which one I made!
Now Autumn is here, we’re also going to be foraging the elderberries in an attempt to make wine and some elderberry winter syrup.  I’ll take photos of each step to share on a post dedicated to that.

Have a lovely weekend all.