Foraging blog: Elderberries

Sambucus-berriesIn the first of a regular blog, George Kirby considers the delights of elderberries and provides a recipe for a traditional vinegary sauce

Late summer days are still warm, and in the hedgerows the berries are ripening. It’s generally too early for nuts – not that we can persuade the squirrels to agree with us as they raid the hazel trees. At this time you will certainly find that elderberries are looking good, as they go a rich shiny blue-black colour, and dangle on the structure that held the scented elderflowers in spring.

Picking elderberries is not difficult, as there are no spikes or stinging parts, but you may have to visit more than one bush or tree, as the fruit does not all ripen at the same time even on a single plant.

Elderberries can be used to make tangy jelly or deep red wine, but one of our favourite recipes is for Pontack – a traditional vinegary elderberry sauce, which could be a substitute for Worcestershire sauce.

The sauce, which keeps exceptionally well, is very good with meats and game.

The recipe below is from Pam Corbin, and we have had good results with it ourselves.

Makes two pints

2 pounds fresh elderberries

4 cups (32 fl oz) cider vinegar

1 pound shallots, minced

10 cloves

10 allspice berries

1 teaspoon nutmeg

2 tablespoons cracked black peppercorns

1 teaspoon salt


  1. Take the elderberries of their stems and discard the stems as they are slightly toxic.
  2. Put the elderberries into a casserole (or other covered oven-proof dish) with the vinegar and cook at 250o F for 4 to 6 hours.
  3. Strain the cooked liquid into a large bowl
  4. When the berries have cooled so that they can be handled, press as much juice as possible from them into the bowl, then discard the berries.
  5. Pour the sauce into a cooking pot and add all the remaining ingredients; simmer gently for 25 minutes.
  6. Strain once more, to remove all the spices, and return the sauce to the pot.
  7. Bring the sauce to the boil once more, and boil for 5 minutes.
  8. Clean and prepare the containers for the sauce, with lids, corks or other stoppers. (We have used screw-top bottle lids that are impervious to the vinegar.)
  9. Pour the hot Pontack into your containers, seal and store away.

The sauce will keep for many years!