Autumn Love

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So, it’s March and I keep wondering where summer went. But it also heralds the beginning of autumn, undoubtedly my favourite season in Tasmania.

After the recent sadness of my friend passing away, I channeled my “inner Jeff” and got busy. One of his maxims was “activity with a capital A”, so last weekend I went and visited a dear friend who’s also a fabulous gardener. Her style is inventive and eclectic, mixing old fashioned cottage garden standards with some quite unusual ornamental plants as well as vegetables, fruit and a healthy frog pond in a smallish suburban backyard. Added to that, she’s divided her space into distinctly differently garden “rooms”, perfect for entertaining, reading or just lounging around. It was lovely to hang out with her and enjoy the garden.

Before I left, we picked a shopping bag of elderberries, which I must say, hardly made a dent in her magnificent tree! In Tasmania, the European elderberry (Sambucus nigra) has become something of a weed as it suckers readily and birds spread the seeds very readily. Nevertheless, the elder is prized for wine making and medicinal purposes, both for the delicately scented flowers in spring and the rich, purple/black berries in late summer and early autumn.

I wanted to make a medicinal (and delicious) cordial for winter, and once I got my bag of berries home, I had a great time stripping the fruit and making a mess. The shopping bag yielded over 2 kg of ripe berries! And finally, I recommend wearing old clothes when doing this – elderberries stain everything!

Elderberry and Cinnamon Cordial

Elderberries             Water                 Sugar             Cinnamon quills           Lemons

Use a fork to ease the ripe berries off the stalks. Remove any stems, dead flowers or insects and put the berries into a stock pot. Put enough cold water over to just cover the berries. Bring it to a gentle simmer and cook, covered for 20-30 minutes.

Use a potato masher to thoroughly break the fruit. Strain the liquid off and measure carefully into a clean jam pan or stock pot. (I used a fine mesh nylon strainer but a jelly bag or muslin would do just as well. Don’t be afraid to squeeze the pulp to get all the juice out.)

For every cup of juice add a cup of sugar and ¼ cup of lemon juice (preferably fresh) and for every three cups, add a whole cinnamon quill.

Cover and leave this mixture to steep, preferably overnight.

Next day heat the syrup gently and stir to dissolve the sugar. Pot up into sterilised bottles and process in a water bath to prolong storage.

To use, mix approximately a tablespoon of syrup with cold water and ice or soda water. It’s also great as a hot drink – just boil the kettle and use a tablespoon or so in a cup – incredibly warming and delicious on a cold day and one of my “go to” drinks when I feel a head cold coming on.

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8 jars of Elderberry Jam and 9 bottles of Elderberry & Cinnamon Syrup from 2.2 kg fruit

My household aren’t huge jam eaters but there was so much pulp, I couldn’t bring myself to waste it! So, extended family and jam-loving friends have all done well from this 🙂 Also, to my delight I discovered that a tablespoon of the jam in a serve of plain homemade yogurt is absolutely delicious!

Elderberry Jam

Elderberry pulp               Sugar                   Fresh Lemon juice and grated zest

Lemon Balm (optional)       Jamsetta (optional)

Measure the pulp and for every four cups, add three cups of sugar and a small bunch of lemon balm in muslin if you have it on hand. Heat gently in a jam pan and bring up to a simmer. Elderberries are low in pectin so if setting point is not reached, use a commercial pectin. Add the zest and juice of two lemons.

Gently boil the jam to a setting point and test.

Pot up into sterilised jam jars and cover immediately.

Elderberry Jam on Sourdough = Yum!

Elderberry Jam on Sourdough = Yum!

I’ve got a busy week coming up but I’ll try and make time to document my experiments with chilli preserves and different cordials in the last few days – it’s been an interesting series of hits and misses 😛

Meanwhile, take care wherever you are on this beautiful blue marble ❤

 

Raspberry Time – Day 27 NaBloPoMo 2015

While I’m not feeling 100% today, I’ve been thinking about what to do with the soon-to-be glut of raspberries. There’s so much fruit on the bushes, I have a feeling we’re going to be inundated in the next few weeks. Growing up in South Australia, I never ate a fresh raspberry until I moved to Tasmania and they’re probably my favourite berry fruit.

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Usually I make ice cream or cheesecake with excess berries, which uses eggs up as well. But with Boysenberries, Youngberries and Loganberries starting to colour up too, I think it’s time to consider my options! I’m planning to make a Raspberry Upside Down cake next week for my birthday and already have enough berries for that.

All I do with this is make up a simple sponge batter with 2 cups of self raising flour, 1 cup butter, 1 1/2 cups sugar (more if you like it sweeter), a teaspoon of baking powder and 4 eggs. Instead of splitting the mixture into two tins and filling it with jam and cream, I put the fresh fruit on the bottom of a deep baking pan and pour the batter over the top, baking for 20-30 minutes in a 180 C (350 F) oven. Once the cake’s turned out and still warm, it can be lovely to pour hot lemon syrup over for added zing or (for the adults only version) poke the still warm cake with a skewer and pour over a citrus flavoured liqueur.

None of us are fans of jam so I am going to try mashing some with yogurt and drying it as fruit leather. But for large amounts of berries, I can’t go past Raspberry Vinegar Cordial. I first had this over 30 years ago on a hot summer day in Hobart and it is delicious.

The principle here is to use the vinegar to not only preserve, but also to enhance the tangy sharpness of the fruit. It’s fabulous for very ripe fruit – and it’s ridiculously easy to make!

Raspberry Vinegar Cordial 

Ingredients:

500g (1 pound) ripe raspberries     2kg (almost 4 1/2 pound) white sugar   2 litres (4 pints) white vinegar

Method:

Put the washed, drained fruit into a non-metallic bowl or pot and pour over the vinegar. Mash it to break the berries but don’t puree them. Cover the berry mash and leave it for a day or two. I have hear that some folk leave the mash for up to five days but I’ve never done more than two – patience is not my strong suit!

Strain the mash carefully through muslin or an old, clean tea towel into a cooking pot, squeezing out as much of the precious juice as possible. Heat the juice and when it’s starting to simmer, add the sugar and boil for approximately five minutes.

Decant into sterilised jars or bottles and seal immediately. If you want to keep this for winter consumption, I’d also recommend processing the bottles in a Fowlers bottling urn or water bath. Mine never lasts long enough for that!

What’s your favourite berry fruit? And how do you like to serve and preserve them?