Tuesday 4 November 2014

Wild medicine: Very Berry Jelly

I cycled into work this morning. The morning skies have outdone themselves the last few days. Sugar floss swirls of peach hued clouds whisp their way through the sky. The eastern light shining behind redbrick houses to my right and illuminating the auburn stone to my left. I guess in the city buildings become the 'natural' landscape. Buildings, lamp posts and shop fronts bounce light around from dawn to dusk, reflecting the sun's mood of the day. Intermittent natural nature found in the canal's waters, the reeds and wild grass cushioning its banks and the trees that line the streets on the outskirts of the city streets, reducing in numbers as they near the centre all ripple, dapple and shift the light as it moves from east to west.

I wrapped up in a doubled over scarf and winter woolen hat my Dad bought me years ago at a Christmas market in Berlin and felt oddly Scandinavian. The air had a clean, dewy taste as I pedaled my way to work. Autumn was a begrudging time for me for so long. I think it was because I always associated it with school and having to stay indoors when it was so beautiful outside, only to be released when it got dark. This year is the first since I was a little girl that the variety of colours and light are playing on my mind and making me smile at all the little changes that are transforming the landscape day by day so that as the weeks pass by there is a cumulative change in the trees, the air, the light and temperature that is helping winter make itself known.

Vibrant, buzzing salads with avocado and tomatoes and a variety of different lettuces are out of place when Autumn arrives. For a while, local produce seems isolated to muted colours of white, cream and green in potatoes and turnips. Not exactly inspiring for a colour obsessed cook. Then something happens. Squash season arrives with so many different hues of orange and red. Berries arrive too.
Blackberries, bubbled up deep black purple. Rosehips with their orange red hue. Hawthorn berries, like miniature red acorns, hardy against the frost and elderberries with their cluster of black-blue droplets of bitter sweet fruit juice.

Over the last two years, myself and my parents have gotten together and walked out into the fields to forage blackberries and elderberries from the hedgerows. Last year, I was afraid to make jelly with the berries, afraid it wouldn't set. Worry, worry, worry. So we made winter tincture instead. (Recipe to follow later).

This year, I've been trying not to let the fear hold me back. I've been focusing on just getting on with it. What's the worst that could happen? The jelly doesn't set and it tastes/looks awful. How often has that happened when creating new recipes? Once in a blue moon. Ok, I thought. Let's give it a go.

It turns out all the worrying was for nothing. Just as the sun does it's own thing, moving from east to west and nature moves through its seasons at its own steady pace, so too do trial and errors make up this little life of ours. I often get the fear when going for a wave. Just at the moment before the drop down the wave, I pull back, afraid of the unknown way the water will form and turn and sway and end. Often, I'm learning, jam making, surfing and life have one great thing in common. The unknown. You can prepare, plan, learn techniques, study recipes/techniques/form habits but at the end of the day, when it comes down to the crunch, you have to just go for it.

This very berry jelly is the finest glowing jar of goodness I have made ever. Elderberries are bitter sweet and spread their vibrant colors throughout the apples, giving off a radiant glow when they are jarred as jelly. Elder is a traditional wild medicine, known as the medicinal treasure chest, its berries are packed with vitamin C, anti-oxidants and immune system boosters, so in this jelly recipe you are getting well needed vitamins and a tasty treat that goes equally well on a slice of toast, with cheese or as a side to a meat dish. This is a recipe for elderberry jelly but redcurrant, blackberry, raspberry or any other autumn fruit would work just as well.

This jelly is easy to make, seasonal, local, medicinal, beautiful and a pleasure to make. Don't be hesitant to go for it. Make this beautiful treat and capture autumn in a jar.

Traditional jelly making is about using as many ingredients you have and then getting the ratios right. It can seem daunting but is really easy. Extra berries can be frozen and used for your next batch of jelly or jam making. I've made the recipe for 5 kg of apples per batch so that you can see the ratios clearly. Bear with me with the ingredients list and see it as something fun. Then go to method.


As many bitter cooking apples as you can get your hands on
As many elderberries you can get your hands on.
White sugar
1 Cinnamon stick


Wash your apples and using a fork, pull the berries off their stalks.(see the photo above) Chop up 5kg of your apples with skin and core intact. Add the apples to a large, heavy based pot. For every 5 kg of apples, add 1 kg of elderberries. Add a cinnamon stick to the pot along with enough cold water to cover all the fruit. It doesn't matter what size your pot is, as long as the water covers the fruit completely. 

Bring to the boil and simmer for 30 minutes, with the lid on to keep in flavor and steam, stirring occasionally. Allow to cool slightly. Get a muslin cloth and place it over a bowl or use a straining jelly bag and pour the glowing apple berry mix into the cloth. Tie the bag and hang it over the bowl, allowing the purple juice to drip out. You can squeeze the bag to get all the juice out but it's better to let it drip overnight.

Later on, measure out the liquid into the washed heavy based pot. For every 1/2 litre of juice, add 400 grams of sugar. Once sugar is dissolved, bring to the boil and boil rapidly for 10-15 minutes. Test it to see if it has set. Then pour into sterilised, warm jars and seal with a lid. If you're not sure, scroll down to the method here. It explains it all.

If you can resist temptation, leave for at least two months to let the flavors develop. We couldn't wait. As soon as it had cooled, we spread mountains of it on sourdough toast.

I realise this was a long post but I love to do that every now and again. To share, to spread the goodness. Hope you like it.

If you have any comments or questions, please get in touch. Otherwise, I hope you get as much joy out of these purple jars of wild medicine as I did. Enjoy your very berry jelly.

Big hug,

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