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
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.