- Food & Drink
Why is it every time I go foraging for something, it’s in the middle of a massive nettle patch and I’m wearing shorts? It’s late September, for God’s sake, and I’m in my 30s. Shorts should have been put away about 4 years ago.
But my commitment to harvesting Autumn’s fruits is undimmed in the face of humiliation and pain. I waded into the nettle patches and gathered a huge bag of elderberries. Not even the fear of being caught by Peckham’s famously rugged park rangers could deter me.
And then I spent many long hours stripping the berries from the stalks and staining my fingers a glorious shade of purple. If you’re going to have anything to do with elderberries, wear long trousers and an old t-shirt because these fruits are determined to ruin your body and clothes one way or another.
My trusty guide to preserving all things transient, the Good Housekeeping Complete Book Of Preserves, didn’t have a recipe for elderberry jam but it did offer elderberry and blackberry jam. So I employed my creativity and adapted that to make this extremely sticky, very purple jam.
Makes approximately 600g
700g elderberries, stripped from the stalk weight, washed and drained thoroughly
Juice of 1/2 lemon
700g caster sugar
1 First, sterilise your jam jars – you’ll need enough to hold about 600g of jam.
2 Place the elderberries and lemon juice in a large pan and heat over a medium heat until the juices start to run. Bring slowly to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer gently for 20 minutes. Skim off any scum that rises to the surface.
3 Add the sugar and stir it in until it’s completely dissolved. Bring to the boil and boil rapidly for about 10 minutes until the jam reaches setting point.
Two things to note here: the jam will bubble up so you do need to use a big pan (a preserving pan, if you have one). I didn’t and had to hastily transfer half-made hot jam into a larger pan without scalding myself. Not easy. Setting point is about 105°C, so if you have a sugar thermometer you can measure it that way. Alternatively, put a couple of saucers into the freezer and after 10 minutes, spoon a blob onto a cold saucer. Leave it for 10–15 seconds, then push with your finger. If it has formed a skin and wrinkles when you push, it has reached setting point. Take the jam off the heat when you’re doing this test, in case it burns while you’re pushing jam around a saucer.
4 Spoon the jam into the warm sterilised jars. Keep somewhere cool and dark.