This foraged hedgerow vinegar is just fabulous. Hubby was unconvinced when I first made it last year, but very quickly the simple vinaigrette I made from it, with just the addition of olive oil and a little spoon of wholegrain mustard, was such a favourite he started calling it ‘my dressing’. Success!
It’s a sweet, fruity, unctuous vinegar, and makes a perfect substitute for even the very best balsamic vinegar, at a fraction of the cost – I’ve yet to find an occasion I can’t make the substitution, and find I prefer the elderberry vinegar pretty much universally, which is quite a result given how attached I’ve been to balsamic vinegar in my cooking and salads for many many years now!
The elderberries are finished now, sadly, so unless like me you had a cache stashed in the deep freeze from earlier in the year, it’s probably too late to make any wonderful elderberry vinegar this year. That said, I saw dried elderberries the last time I was in my favourite home-brew supplies shop – I have no idea how using dried berries would work out, but it might well be worth a try, at a push!
I pick my elderberries when I get the chance, strip the berries from their stems, wash them, and then freeze them in ziplock bags (I get about 700g per bag). Then, stashed in the freezer, they’re ready for when I eventually get around to using them. If you happened to pick too many for your elderberry wine or preserve-making plans, then this is a great way to use up any leftovers!
The original recipe and inspiration, incidentally, come from Mark Williams’ Galloway Wild Foods blog, which I can heartily recommend to you!
To make this year’s batch of elderberry vinegar – which I cannot now imagine living without in my store cupboard – I used:
- A 2l Kilner jar
- A large stainless steel saucepan
- 700g of frozen elderberries. If you’ve just picked these fresh, you’ll need to remove them from the stems. I find using a fork to ‘comb’ through the umbels is the easiest approach, but it can be a messy process!
- 1.4l of white wine vinegar
- 1.5kg of golden caster sugar
Put the elderberries in the jar and top up to the brim with white wine vinegar. Keep the vinegar bottles you’ve just emptied – you’ll want them to store the finished vinegar later! Give the jar a good shake and set aside for 5 – 7 days. You can give it a bit of a shake when you think about it during this time. You’ll notice the vinegar almost immediately start to turn the most amazing dark purple colour.
After about a week, pour the vinegar into a large saucepan, retaining the elderberries using a reasonably fine sieve. Give the elderberries a good squeeze to get as much juice out of them as you can, and then discard the remains.
Roughly measure out the liquid – it will be a bit more than the volume of vinegar than you started with. Mine was a little over 1.5l (I’ll admit I didn’t try to measure it accurately!).
I’m happy with a vinegar sweetened with about 1kg of sugar per litre of vinegar, but your tastes may be different to mine – perhaps try this the first year and adjust in the future if it turns out too sweet or too tart for your tastes!
Once at the boil, turn the heat down and simmer for about 10 minutes. Then, while still piping hot, use a funnel to fill your bottles and seal tightly. My quantities gave a final volume of about two and a half litres, and filled seven 350ml vinegar bottles (luckily I had extras left over from the pickled chillies I’d made earlier in the day!).
Store in a cool dry place. It will keep for at least year, if you manage to save any that long!
And as if all the cooking substitutions you can think of aren’t exciting enough, you can also enjoy it as a fruity sweet warm cordial, diluted with hot water. Elderberries are even said to be good for seeing off the winter season’s cold and ‘flu bugs, not that you need the excuse when something tastes so very very good!
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