Scrumping time: Elderberry and apple chutney

Dabbler foodie expert Jassy Davis goes scrumping for an autumnul treat…

I’ve been out in my local park, bothering the hedgerows again. The season compels me. Autumn arrives heavy with fruit, nuts and vegetables and the urge to get into my metaphorical combine and harvest it all is irresistible. I’m helped in this by what I can only describe as a scrumper’s map of South London, which pinpoints all the fruit and nut trees dropping their produce into, ahem, the public domain. The streets of London are abundant (and stealing is wrong, so no climbing into your neighbour’s garden to eat all their apples and then blaming me when you get caught).

One thing I don’t need a map to spot is elderberries. In the spring I turned carrier bags of elderflowers into cordial. Now the season has turned, the froth of white petals has been transformed into drooping clusters of purple berries, ripe for the picking.

Like all good forageable foods, elderberries come with their risks. Various bits of the shrub are poisonous, including the leaves and stems, and uncooked berries can be poisonous to some. 15 minutes of cooking will decompose the sambunigrin acid and render them safe.

Once cooked, they can be turned into cakes, pies, wine, liqueurs, jam and chutney. They have a tart, musky flavour, like a difficult blackberry, and they go particularly well with apples.

Elderberry and apple chutney

Makes approximately 1kg

425g elderberries (weight stripped from the stalks)
425g Bramley apples, peeled, cored and chopped (chopped weight)
1 large onion, peeled and roughly chopped
50g sultanas
½ tsp each mixed spice, cayenne pepper and mustard powder
150ml red wine vinegar
150g soft light brown sugar

1. Start by sterilizing your jar(s). You can either wash them in your dishwasher (preferably not while you’re also washing last night’s crusty saucepans) and let them sit in the steam, then dry it in an oven and use them while still warm. Or wash in hot, soapy water, rinse with very hot water and then dry it out in the oven at gas mark 3/160°C/fan oven 140°C.

2. Place the elderberries, apples, onion, sultanas, spices and half the vinegar in a large pan and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until the fruit are soft and pulpy.

3. Stir in the remaining vinegar and sugar and simmer, stirring, until the sugar has dissolved. Continue cooking, stirring frequently, until the chutney has thickened – the trail of the spoon will remain in the chutney as you drag the spoon through it.

4. Ladle the chutney into the warm, sterlised jars and seal. Store for 3 months before using.

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12 thoughts on “Scrumping time: Elderberry and apple chutney

    September 7, 2011 at 13:43

    sambunigrin, what a word! My wife loves elderflower but I find it tastes a bit too much like perfume for my tastes (see also those mini gem sweets that taste like soap)

    chutney looks good!

      September 12, 2011 at 07:31

      Yes, the flowers are kind of perfumey, aren’t they? The berries less so. They seem a bit more gruff to me. Hoping the chutney will mature nicely for Christmas (yes, it’s already time to think about Christmas).

    jonathan law
    September 7, 2011 at 14:34

    I’m recently back from the Austrian Tyrol where they do a big line in elderberry schnapps (Holler Sambo); this is supposed to have all kinds of medicinal benefits, as well as the more obviously enjoyably ones. Apparently, it’s quite easy to make a home-grown version — just steep ripe elderberries for a month or so in vodka or similar, in the same way that you make sloe gin.

    Incidentally, is there anything in this notion that you shouldn’t pick elderberries or sloes until the first frost has sweetened them? With elderberries, isn’t there a big risk that the birds will get them first?

      September 12, 2011 at 07:38

      In London there’s no way you can wait till the first frosts, mostly because the first arrive really late due to the large number of people and buildings keeping us warm and cosy. I stick sloes in the freezer before I make sloe gin (also bursts them, so you don’t have to sit pricking them all over with a pin), but elderberries I just get straight on with and use as soon as their picked. They don’t seem to suffer too much for it.

    jonathan law
    September 7, 2011 at 15:25

    O the (sometimes) blissful serendipity of the Web! Googled for ‘Holler Sambo’ and this came up — a quite unrelated letter of Woody Guthrie, written October 1946, unpublished, and now up for sale on a rare books site.

    I say unrelated but it’s all about the start of autumn and even has a bit about foraging. It’s long, long, long but oh read it, read it, read it.

    These colors up here in the Poconos make me feel like I’m sinking down and jumping up new. The red is red like paint in a bucket poured, splashed, smeared all together with funny yellow leaves, dull brown ones, bushes dobbed purples and all crazy kinds of shadows, all kinds of sun sprays and sky lights dance all over every leaf. I’m glad I’m here. I’m glad I’m here, glad to eat here, glad to walk here on these ponds and drifts of dead leaves … I feel the same as you feel when I walk along your apple hills here and taste all of these pretty colors. And I sing to your Delaware girls and they taste of every sweet flavor and scent of your leaves. I see leaves that fall and leaves that hold tight, I see girls that do the same. I can just look out across these going hills and sing to every woman in Pennsylvania.

    I know your Sambo Creek … wading pools and pools to strip naked and swim in. I dug your loose shale rock and your mud all full of grassroots, and I saw your bull frog, tadpole, water bug, water spider, saw your little fast water snake this late in October. I found your black crawfish and your little red sandy mud lizards buried away, I guess, for the whole cold season which is going to come any day now. I saw the sharecropper kids walk down your hill trails and heard them ask me could they swim or wade in my pools? I said these pools are not mine, they are yours, go ahead and splash them dry. They asked me could they go over to that tree there and pick up some green walnuts. I said yes, go ahead, and pick all your dress and apron can hold. The boy carried a little dead watersnake on a long stick and they asked me all about the snake. I told them it was justa snake was all I knew … This same little girl taught me how to lift up these flat rocks and rotten logs and how to twist the tails off of little baby lizards. I’ve seen these kids around the place here several times … The three of them come every day at a certain hour to carry off our garbage and to feed it to their hogs. I would say from the looks of their faces, eyes, hands and bare feet, that they ought to be fed a whole lot better …

    I can hear the birds of the night calling all around me in my good trees. I can hear birds with names I never will know … I can hear the cricket’s little scratchy fiddle song right here somewhere under my floor. I can hear him rub his legs together and sing out what he believes in. I can hear him sing up and sing loud, and hear him sing like he feels. Makes me wish I could rub my legs together and make music. I’d never have to buy fiddle strings nor bow harps … All I can say here tonight is sing on, little cricket, sing on. Stay away from that saloon down yonder on the road where that sign on the old well says, No Singing. The weeds, bushes, and vines sway in the breezes here tonight and they scratch on all of my window screens. Scares me so much it keeps me jumping and twisting and turning to look. I’ve not lived in this house but a week or so, not long enough to get used to all its screaks and sounds and noises. So, well, every time I hear some rap, or knock, or stomp, or bell, or rub, or a scrape, or a bump or a bang, my finger nails itch and my hair raises up, my mouth flies open, and I tremble and shake all over, like a scared dog does. Like you’ve seen a scared horse do out along some stormy pasture. Sambo Creek is pretty and Sambo Creek is spooky, ghosty and scarey. Sambo Holler is prettier than its name, but Sambo Holler is a scarey place to a newly come stranger … I’ve learned to get scared easy and to like it. I’ve learned not to get too scared of anything outside of my own self.

    I don’t guess I could change the colors on one little leaf and make it any better to look at … These are as bright as the flaming Indian bush leaves on the slopes of Montana. These are as fiery and as easy to the eye as all of the glows of our Oklahoma sunsets. All of the colors of California’s palms and cactus are here somewhere up and down this Sambo Holler. The art museum did not steal all of our best colors … I’ve walked in a hundred studios and galleries and seen most all, but not all, of these wild jumping hills of the Pocono Ridge. I see all of New Mexico’s purple shades and gold hues here. I see the tans and flat greys and browns of Texas here. The blues and greens and tricky clear colors of Colorado I can sing out to in my good old Pocono humps …You can hear the same mountain sounds, whoops, barks, yells, grunts, hellos and all of the same sounding songs here, if you look with your clean eye … It seems to me that the colors do make a music of their own. They make the birds, bugs, bees, dogs, sheep, cattle, and all of our crawlers and creepers make their own music. It makes me see the deep places of music and it hurts my heart to feel and to hear … I think I can hear in all of these colors my own first and true song. I can see my song splashed out here in front of me. And I can hear it. My first and last song …

      September 12, 2011 at 07:48

      The internet’s a marvellous thing, isn’t it?

    September 7, 2011 at 16:22

    haven’t you already won a ‘comment of the month’ Jonathan??

  5. Gaw
    September 7, 2011 at 17:05

    Jassy, you don’t half write well. Your post has made me stop resenting summer’s ending, at least for a moment or two. Oh, and that Woody feller’s not bad either.

      September 12, 2011 at 07:49

      I’ll concede Woody’s not bad at writing, but what’s his pastry like, hmm?

    September 7, 2011 at 19:18

    Anyone interested in a good drool should read this, well done Jassy, chutney (and ham), lubrication supplied by a nice Brachetto d’Acqui, life’s looking good.

    The Google map mentions Tulse Hill, unfortunately we are 24 hrs away.

      September 7, 2011 at 19:50

      Oh, I was only twenty four hours from Tulse Hill
      Ah, only one day away from your arms
      She took me to the caf, I asked her if she would stay, she said “OK”

        September 12, 2011 at 07:49


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