Hedgerow Harvest

I love foraging in the fields and hedgerows. There’s something really satisfactory about free food – free except for the quantities of sugar and/or vinegar and/or gin you need to make something tasty, anyway. But the sloes were hopeless round our way last year, the blackberries were small and scarce and the wild crab apples weren’t up to much either. Luckily we had made industrial quantities of sloe gin the year before.

An image of elderberries being picked

But other hedgerow fruits were around in lavish quantities. Our garden was absolutely dripping with elderberries, enough for both us and the birds.

I’m not wild (forgive the inadvertent pun) about elderberry jelly so I had a go at Pontack Sauce.

Eliza Acton gave a recipe for Pontac (her spelling) Catsup in her book, Modern Cookery for Private Families, originally published in 1845 and republished by Southover Press in 1993.

I like both her recipes and her sense of humour – Poor Author’s Pudding (a sort of egg custard eked out with bread) and Publisher’s Pudding (“this pudding can scarcely be made too rich”) suggest she wasn’t awash with royalties.

But getting back to the elderberries – I used a recipe from Pam Corbin’s excellent River Cottage Preserves handbook (Bloomsbury, 2008). It’s a first for me but she says it’s good  with winter stews, slow-roasted pork belly or anything gamey and can be added to sauces and gravies. She describes it as pungent, spicy and fruity. So with due thanks to Ms Corbin here’s her version …

Pontack Sauce

  • Servings: makes 1x350 ml bottle
  • Print

500g elderberries

500ml cider vinegar

200g shallots, peeled and sliced

6 cloves

4 allspice berries

1 blade of mace

1 tbsp black peppercorns

15g root ginger, bruised

An image of elderberries being stripped from their stalks

Strip the berries from the stalks as soon as possible after picking – use the tines of a table fork (and do it outside because they fly everywhere and stain like nobody’s business). Place them in an an ovenproof earthenware or glass dish with the vinegar and put in a very low oven (130C) for 4-6 hours or overnight.

An image of a bowl of elderberries

Remove from the oven and strain through a sieve, crushing the berries with a potato masher to get the maximum amount of juice.

Put the juice back in the pan along with the sliced shallots, spices and ginger. (Pam Corbin only says the ginger should be bruised so I peeled it and bashed it with a rolling pin).

Bring gently to the boil and cook for 20-25 minutes until slightly reduced. Remove from the heat and strain through a sieve. Return the juice to the pan and bring to the boil, then boil steadily for 5 minutes.

Image of a bottle of Pontack Sauce

Pour into a warm, sterilised bottle and seal. Store in a cool, dark cupboard.

Job done.  I think it’s one of those sauces that improve with age. I hope so because it’s a bit heavy on the cloves for me at the moment but maybe it will mellow.

It should be an interesting addition to sauces for duck and game.


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