Last year I had a marathon session making jam and chutney and kicking off the gin. The fruit stays steeping in the gin for at least a month, then its bottling time. This year, I wasn’t planning to make any jam, there’s still a cupboard full from last autumn. However, the elderberry laden trees at the back of school were just too tempting.
Gin 1: Bullace
While we were at my parents’ in August, my dad and I gathered a huge number of bullaces (wild plums) from the tree at the bottom of their garden. So the first gin I kicked off was using some of those.
Gins 2 & 3: Elderberry
Small boy and I went foraging the week before school went back, gathering all sorts of goodies from the local hedgerows. I love elderberry gin, its my absolute favourite. As well as the classic, plain elderberry I decided something a little spiced would be nice and Christmassy. So I added a few cloves to a small amount of elderberries as an experiment. If it works out, I’ll do more next year as it sounds like it ought to be really tastey.
Gin 4: Blackberry
I was initially determined not to make any jam this year, so the foraged blackberries that small boy didn’t eat have gone into another new gin attempt (for me at least). I’m fairly confident this will be delicious.
Gin 5: Damson
Well, at least I think they’re damsons. Wild plums, bigger than sloes and smaller than normal damsons but hey ho I’m sure they’ll be fine. Since I already had bullace gin on the go, another quirky combination came to mind for this one. I added some peppercorns. Rhubarb and ginger works really well, so why not plum and pepper?
Gin 6: Rosehip and lemon
I did plain rosehip last year, but again wanted something a bit more interesting this time. So a bit of lemon went in with the rosehips.
I learned my lesson from previous years and used chunky spices for my extra flavours. Rather than using ground cinnamon that took hours to filter off a couple of years go.
The rosehip and blackberry gin mixtures both had enough fine material floating about that I put them through coffee filters before bottling. Everything else I just sieved and put into sterile bottles, labelled and put it all away to mature for at least 5 weeks.
Elderberry and Sloe Jelly
I kept back the gin soaked elderberries and added them to the defrosted ones collected several weeks ago from the path by the boys’ school. Small boy and I had also gathered a sufficient quantity of sloes – we left them until after the first frost but either there had been some very hungry birds, earlier foragers or there’s something wrong with the sloe bushes in out local country park. They were very sparse and we eventually found just one hedge with a few laden bushes, we didn’t take too many as the birds do eat them.
Anyway, small boy helped me with the sums:
Having weighed our fruit, I went for a combined recipe between elderberry jam and a jelly of apple and sloe. We added about half a pint of water and then simmered the fruit for a while until all the skins burst and the juices escaped.
Then the messy bit, first we scooped out the liquid from the pan with a ladle and put that though the muslin. Then we pushed the fruit through a sieve and put that liquid through the muslin too. Finally, the remaining fruit went into the muslin and I gave it a good twist and squeeze – resulting in bright red hands.
We measured the liquid and poured it into the big pan with the appropriate amount of sugar. With a gentle heat, the sugar dissolved and then I heated the jelly up to jam point (105°C). By this point small boy had disappeared to play with his brother. While heating it up to this point, I dared to look at my phone and the whole lot boiled over a bit. Not the worse mess ever by far – a ceramic hob has fewer crevices but the jam burns on because the whole surface is hot. On my third attempt, a small bit of jelly set after 5 mins in the fridge. I hope it’ll be ok and won’t need reboiling with extra sugar.
Then into jars and covered with clingfilm – I love the way the film goes concave and really smooth if you get a good seal and a little vacuum is created as the jam cools.
- 800g elderberries (approx)
- 200g sloes
- 300 ml water
- 450ml jam sugar per 500ml liquid after straining
Method: Simmer the fruit and water for 15 minutes. Strain the fruit and measure the liquid. Put the liquid in a pan with the appropriate amount of sugar and warm to dissolve. Then bring to the boil up to jam point. Store in sterilised jars and enjoy on toast, crumpets, scones or anything you like.