hedgerow foraging

Down by the pond in the corner of Gardeners Field, tucked into the corner behind the stinging nettles, stands an elder bush dripping with elderberries; tiny, deep purple coloured beads that burst with juice and stain your fingers as you pick them. I don’t usually pick many elderberries, partly because there aren’t many near to home (that I can reach) because we’ve picked the elder flowers earlier in the year and partly because we’re in the middle of blackberry picking for Slamseys Gin and another hour of picking is sometimes too much to contemplate.



hedge Slamseys Farm


But last weekend the sun was out, the ground underfoot was dry and an hour mindlessly stripping berries from a bush in a quiet place seemed a good idea. On the way home I picked a few blackberries and sloes too because it’s very difficult to just walk by when there’s an empty container still in the backpack.
Back in the kitchen the first thing made was a small batch of Elderberry Syrup with a spoonful of Hedgerow Gin spooned into the top of the bottle for “keeping” properties as I shall only store it for a few weeks and so haven’t sterilised the filled bottle. Elizabeth has a delicious recipe here for Elderberry Syrup and her inspired suggestion of making a layered jelly using Elderflower Syrup and Elderberry Syrup was one I couldn’t resist, especially as I had a small jugful of syrup that wouldn’t fit into the bottle. My downfall was that finding the right dilution for the jelly meant tasting, more tasting, then just a little more because it tasted so good until there was too little left to make jelly. Reluctant to break open my freshly bottled Elderberry Syrup, I used the rather more plentiful blackberries to make a big batch of Blackberry Syrup and made a Blackberry and Crab Apple Jelly instead. Elderflower and elderberry jelly will have to wait for another day.


blackberries, elderberries and sloes


A mix of elderberries, sloes and blackberries were made into Hedgerow Syrup and the last elderberries made into a piquant, spiced elderberry sauce called Pontack Sauce. This isn’t a thick ketchup type sauce, but more like Worcester Sauce and indeed it’s used in the same way as Worcester Sauce to spice up stews or in marinades. Some recipes recommend that the sauce reaches its peak at seven years old but even though there are some ancient things in my pantry, I’ve never made enough Pontack Sauce to keep that long.


pontack sauce


By the end of the weekend, I had a tray filled with syrups, vinegars, cordials and sauce ready to store away for the winter. The syrups and cordials can be diluted with hot water (and maybe a little tot of something alcoholic) for a warming winter drink or with soda water and a good squeeze of lemon juice in the summer. The Raspberry Vinegar makes a good dressing for salads, adds a little something to nondescript stews or can be diluted with hot water and gargled to ease a sore throat (it’s so throat rasping that it seems to work).

September is a wonderful month for foraging. Have you been out and about picking and making?



To make Pontack Sauce

Into a large pan, tip

500g elderberries stripped from the stalks
150g crab apples, roughly chopped *
1 onion, chopped
½ litre vinegar *
1 teasp cinnamon
1 teasp ground ginger
8 cloves

Simmer on a low heat (or in the simmering oven of the AGA) for an hour and then strain.
Put the liquid back into the pan and add

300g sugar (I use half and half soft brown and granulated)

Stir over a low heat until the sugar has dissolved and then boil for about ten minutes until the mixture has reduced slightly.


* In the foraging spirit, I use crab apples and cider vinegar, but there’s no reason why cooking apples and distilled malt vinegar shouldn’t work just as well.

36 thoughts on “hedgerow foraging

    1. I find time to do the things I want to do and the other things get left (sweeping …) 🙂 I don’t see why other berries couldn’t be used, so long as they aren’t too sweet.

  1. Ooh, the beautiful dark colours! It’s very satisfying, bottling and preserving. So many good things to look forward to over the winter. We’ve only managed 5 or 6 jars of blackberry jam. Can’t say I’ve seen many elderflowers in our part of Brussels.

  2. I have been picking blackberries, it is a particularly good year for them I think. Blackberry and windfall apple crumble, yum. When you cook your Pontack sauce, does it smell quite strongly of elderberries? I always find cooking elderberries smell really unpleasant, which puts me off using whatever I produce. Maybe it is my nose. Can’t wait for the weekend for some more foraging.

    1. Elder has a pretty rank smell so I can believe that cooking elderberries might be smell unpleasant but as I cooked the berries in the oven, I didn’t notice. The sauce smells OK. There seem to be loads of blackberries around here too.

  3. Such a gorgeous range of sauces, syrups and vinegars you’ve made Anne! Unfortunately there’s nowhere local to go foraging around here… such a shame, as it sounds like such a lovely and delicious thing to do!

  4. Glad you liked the spiced elderberry syrup recipe. I’ve been on the lookout for some more elderberries to pick to make Pontack sauce after your suggestion but unfortunately haven’t been able to locate any that haven’t gone shrivelled or mouldy after all the rain and damp. Next year though, I’m going to try this. Love your idea of spooning gin on the top of finished syrup to keep it – a good deal less hassle than all the boiling of the bottles. Have a lovely weekend Anne! E x

  5. I could almost feel the warmth of these final summer days while scrolling through your post- just beautiful!
    There’s something quite satisfying picking and foraging, preparing for the colder months to come. I’ve always been intrigued by the elderberry although I’ve never had one. Elderflower cordial is lovely though 😉
    At the moment, we are picking beautiful hibiscus flowers from the yard both pink and white. It never ceases to amaze me how something so tropical looking can grow right next to a pine tree! As for berries, the season around here is coming to an end but the boys an I managed to get our hands on some gorgeous blackberries and blueberries. Hopefully they will make their way into something good, but we do enjoy snacking on them by the handful. xx

    1. Nothing beats snacking berries by the handful – preferably while you pick them. I don’t think strawberries in a bowl ever taste as good as the ones eaten in the field, still warm from the sun. Same goes for tomatoes. Hibiscus flowers sound very exotic.

  6. That’s quite an impressive array of syrups and sauce. I don’t think that I’ve ever tried elderberry anything over here. Blackberries of course we have but I had to look up sloe and didn’t get a very good explanation it it other than its used in sloe gin.

    1. Sloes are like tiny wild plums that are so astringent that they dry out your mouth – even the birds don’t seem to eat them. I’ve tried them in jams and jellies but the best thing is to make sloe gin.

  7. I’m about to plant some Elderflowers in my little woodland (well it will be one day!). I read about Pontack Sauce in Hugh FW’s Preserves book and have wanted to make it ever since. Maybe next year I’ll have some berries to do just that!

  8. Oh look at all your lovely goodies Anne. There is a distinct possibility of swiping one of your bottles when your back was turned…if I lived a tad closer than half way around the world that is. Lots of lovely goodies to be had.
    Winter is looking alright in your household 🙂

  9. You are often picking and preserving things that I have never seen or hardly heard of! So interesting. I love the pretty labels on your bottles. Your kitchen is a lovely place to be as usual!

    1. I often have to google things I read about on Australian blogs because I’ve never heard of them – one of the great things about blogs is that what one person takes for granted is someone else’s exotic. The labels are made by jelly printing.

  10. Such lovely hedgerow goodies Anne! I keep passing hedges of elderberries and have been meaning to pick some for elderberry cordial but now I’m very excited to see your recipe for Pontack sauce. Hope I get chance to make some.

    1. I hope you get there before the birds. I had my eye on a particularly luscious looking bush of elderberries but left it too late and there’s just a few left now.

  11. my fingers are stained just looking at that pic of juicy, shiny black berries. and i love the idea of squirrelling something away for seven years. i have some raising soaking in sherry in my fridge that i keep forgetting about. they’re probably seven months old. but maybe now i’ll aim higher!

  12. I want to reach out and fun my fingers over the bubbly texture of all the mixed berries in your gorgeous photo. For some reason they reminded me of needlework I used to do back in the days when my eyes were better. Speaking of needlework..how’s that going? 🙂

  13. Do the elderberry have a flavor similar to the aronia or chokeberry? I have made juice a couple of times with the aronia and it makes a very similar deep purple juice with a fairly tart but pleasant flavor.

    1. I’ve never tried (or heard of) aronia or chokeberry – are they the same thing or different? The juice from the aronia sounds very similar to elderberry.

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