Elderflower cordial is always a popular treat in the spring, but for me an autumnal jelly made with the gem-like fruits of this tree is most delicious and perfect served with autumn game dishes. Rich in vitamin C, the sour tasting berries are toxic when raw and should always be cooked before eating.
According to The Woodland Trust, the Elder takes its name from the Anglo-Saxon word ‘aeld’ translated as ‘fire’, as hollow stems of young branches were used to blow air into the centre of the flames. Planted close to your doorway it is said that an Elder will keep the devil away, but unfortunately this does not work with my larder! As soon as my back is turned jars of elderberry jelly mysteriously and quite rapidly disappear – the only evidence is sticky mitts and jelly stained chops!
Spiced Elderberry and Apple Jelly
900g (2lb) Bramley apples – washed but not peeled or cored, cut into quarters with any bruising removed
450g (1lb) Elderberries – washed and removed from stalks
900ml (1.5 pints) water
1 cinnamon stick and 5 cloves tied in muslin
Granulated cane sugar
A preserving pan
Muslin or jelly bag for straining
Sterilised jam jars
Put the fruit, spices secured in muslin and water into your preserving pan. Place the pan on the boiling plate or conventional hob. Bring to the boil and then transfer to the simmering plate of your AGA or reduce the heat on your hob, gently cooking the fruit until soft. Using the back of a wooden spoon crush the fruit to extract the juice. Transfer the pan to the AGA simmering oven or continue cooking on your hob until you have achieved a soft pulp. Discard the spices.
Place the pulp in a jelly bag or muslin tied with string, and suspend this over a large jug or bowl allowing the juice to drip steadily without being tempted to squeeze the bag of pulp (you are aiming for a crystal clear liquid in the bowl, not a cloudy sludge!). Leave the suspended bag to slowly drip in a cool place overnight.
Next day, measure the beautiful clear juice and allow 450g (1 lb) cane sugar for every 600ml (1 pint) of liquid.
Pour the juice and add the sugar to a clean preserving pan and place on the simmering plate or over a low heat on your conventional hob. Stir gently to dissolve the sugar, then transfer to the boiling plate, or increase the heat to bring to the boil, until setting point has been reached. If necessary skim the jelly at this point and then pour into sterilized jars and seal.
Keep to public foot paths when foraging and leave some berries for wildlife.
Use scissors to snip the stems of each umbel (berry cluster).
Once home, remove the elderberries by holding the stem of an umbel in one hand and using the prongs of a dinner fork to push and release the berries from the stalks.
To sterilize jars
Use the hottest wash on your dishwasher cycle or hand wash and place in the AGA simmering oven, or at 120C, for 20 minutes until completely dry.
To test for setting
Sugar thermometer – the jelly needs to reach 105 C
Flake test – use a clean wooden spoon to stir the jelly until well coated, hold the spoon above the jelly and watch to see if a flake appears. This should not drop off the spoon until you shake it.
Saucer test – drop a teaspoon of jelly onto a cold saucer (chilled in the fridge) and once it cools check to see if the jelly wrinkles when pushed with your finger.
To seal jars
Recycle your jam jars but buy new lids which are easily available online or from cook shops.
Fill the jars with hot jelly and seal straight away, or cover with a sheet of greaseproof paper and allow to cool completely before sealing.