About this blog

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Wales, United Kingdom
In autumn 2010, my husband Ian and I both quit our jobs, sold our house and left the flatlands of the east for the mountains of Wales. Our goal is to create a more self-sufficient lifestyle in a place we actually like living. Whilst Ian will continue to earn some money as a freelancer, my part of the project is to reduce how much we spend by growing and making as much of what we need as possible. The purpose of this blog is to keep friends updated with how the grand project is progressing, but all are welcome here. If you're not a friend already, well perhaps you might become one.

Saturday, 4 January 2014

Foraged Food Friday: Elderberries

The elder tree is most wonderful generous to the home-brewer. Not only do the flowers make the delightful, summery, elderflower champagne, but the berries are excellent in wine, both on their own and with other fruit.

Elderberries (Sambucus nigra) spied from afar

Somewhat closer view of elderberries

I read on the 'ish forum (currently slightly creaky due to recent relocation) that elderberries are almost identical to grapes, apart from the sugar content. I've heard that it's possible to make an excellent wine from them, though I've yet to achieve this myself, partly due to lack of elderberries, partly due to impatience. I have some on the go at the moment, but as it needs at least a year, it won't be ready in time to include in this series of foraging posts. However, grape juice concentrate appears in various wine recipes, and elderberries are the perfect wild substitute. The extra sugar required is less wild, but never mind. I have some elderberry and blackberry wine on the go, but what I'm going to tell you about today is my favourite home-brew: sloe and elderberry wine.

This is possibly my most successful experiment to date, first tried a couple of years ago. From my notes, the recipe I used this year was:

  • 1 lb 9 oz sloes
  • same of sugar, initially
  • kettle full of water, then cold to ?3.5-4l
  • mash lots
  • remove floating dead grubs
  • 2 tsp yeast from beer
  • 4? days later (15 Oct), add 1 lb elderberries and the same of sugar, and about a pint of water.
Note that the sloes were picked before the frost softened the flavour. Since then, I've added a tablespoonful of sugar whenever I've thought of it, which could be every day for quite long periods, and stirred frequently to see whether bubbles are still forming. The first time I made this, it stopped fermenting in about six weeks, but this one was still going at Christmas, which is well over two months. I can think of two possible explanations for this; either it's much colder this year than two years ago, and it's going more slowly, or the yeast I have this time is tolerating higher alcohol concentrations, and surviving longer. Considering how much sugar I've added, it would be ridiculously sweet if the yeast wasn't doing its thing, and it's not, so I think the latter explanation is more likely. This could be quite a strong drink.

I managed to keep one small bottle of last year's, to see how it matures.

Sloe and elderberry wine, 2013 and 2012 vintages.

A year's maturing makes no discernible difference to the flavour but as you can see, the sediment does settle out, leaving a beautiful clear wine. This is a sweet, strong, after-dinner sort of a drink. I shall continue making it so long as I can find the ingredients, which should be quite a long time.

Also harvesting this week
Leeks (strictly speaking, these two were harvested the week before, to take on holiday with us

Also eating
Pickled samphire

Also drinking
Blackcurrant cordial

Foraged food challenge summary page here.

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