Apologies for the (relative!) brevity of this post, but I am writing in the middle of the night, before departing for Oktoberfest, and I need some sleep…
I am always envious of other food bloggers who talk abtou their foraging expeditions. Some go lookign for berries, others pick up apples from neighbouring trees, and still others go mushrooming.
I, on the other hand, am not a natural forager.
Growing up in South Africa might have something to do with it. There are quite a few poisonous things that we came across as children – the ubiquitous seringa berries, oleanders on every street corner, and poinsettas in every garden. So although generalyl I think may parents may have been a little over-cautious with us, they probably had reason to put the fear of God into us about found food. In fact, I remember when we were very little that my mom would say to us in Afrikaans optelgoed is jakkalspiepie (roughly translated as “things you pick up are jackal-pee”. Nice.
So you could say that I came to the UK as a foraging virgin. I would not have been able to tell the difference between a blackberry or a slow-and-painful-death-poisonberry. And then, on a trip to the Norfolk Broads, a wonderful thing happened. I discovered that there were blackberries growingin hedges and that you could pick them, and eat them… and live to tell the tale! Who knew? And so I became a fairly avid picker of blackberries and I firmly believe they taste sweeter the more obscure the location of the picking. But until recently, that was abtou all I trusted myself to pick.
This spring, I started taking note of the sweet-smelling white blossoms on my walk to the station each morning. They appeared in masses and en masse they formed a surprisingly flat flower head. And when a fellow-blogger posted something about elderflower wine plus a pic, I realised that they were elderflowers! So I watched them bloom, and the blooms becoming tiny green berries, and recently the berries have turned a purply-black and hang in heavy bunches, tempting the greedy wood pigeons.
But I have not seen a single person picking them. Maybe they don’t know what they are. Maybe, like me, they fear for their lives. Who knows. In any event, last Sunday I dragged Nick off at dusk with a bowl and a pair of secateurs and we snipped abotu 6 big bunches of the berries.
The most common elderberries that we see in England by roadsides or along towpaths are the blue-black fruit of the Sambucus nigra or elderberry bush/tree. The fruits are very popular with birds and wildlife, and the berries can be quite delicious when cooked in a variety of ways, but beware: the leaves, twigs and unripe berries contain a toxin (sambunigrin) and should not be eaten as they can cause diarrhoea and vomiting. In fact, it has been suggested that even the ripe berries should only be eaten cooked, rather than raw because of the potential effects of the sambunigrin. (So maybe my parents had a point after all!)
That said, elderberries are packed with good stuff. They are high in potassium and an excellent source of Vitamin C, as well as being high in anthocyanins, powerful antioxidants that are responsible for their attractive deep purple/red colouring. I lived on the edge and tried a couple raw, and they weren’t nearly as tart as I’d expected – more along the lines of properly ripe blackberries, only the size of cultured pearls.
My six bunches were destined to meet up with two small and slightly wrinkly nectarines that had been forgotten in the fridge, and be turned into one of the nicest and most vividly-coloured crisps I have had in ages. If there are elderberries about in your neighbourhood, I suggest you grab them while you can as they won’t be around much longer, what with the voracious pigeons. Take it from me – it’s a great feeling to be eating something that you found yourself, and that generated zero food miles 🙂
ELDERBERRY AND NECTARINE CRISP (serves 2 greedy people)
4-6 good sized bunched of RIPE elderberries
2 small (or 1 large) nectarines
2 Tpsb caster sugar
50g wholewheat flour
50g melted butter
50g soft brown sugar
50g rolled oats
1/2 tsp cornstarch
Wash the elderberries and remove all bugs (I soaked mine in water in my salad spinner for abotu 10 mins until they all swam to the surface). Carefully remove the berries from the stems – I found a fork worked pretty well, raked downwards through the bunches.
Cut the nectarines into chunks and scatter on the base of an ovenproof dish, then scatter the berries on top. Scattter the caster sugar and cornstarch evenly over the top.
Mix all the topping ingredients together and spread loosely over the fruit. Bake in a pre-heated oven at 180C for about 25 minutes or until the fruit is bubbling. Serve warm with a blob or clotted cream.
Make sure you also check out the wonderful elderberry jelly that Boots in the Oven made recently!