huckleberry shrub

Red currants and red huckleberries were bountiful this summer, the former in my mother’s garden and the latter in the forest. Inspired, as is frequently the case for me, by the wonderful Marisa of Food in Jars, I decided to try my hand at a preserving an old fashioned colonial shrub.

shrub © elisa rathje 2011

Huckleberries and currants;

shrub © elisa rathje 2011

Snowed under with sugar (we made one using birch sugar, for my family in Canada to keep);

shrub © elisa rathje 2011

Thoroughly muddled and left in the fridge for a couple of days to develop into the cold-pressed syrup that Marisa describes. Top up with vinegar according to the recipe, I used apple cider vinegar.

shrub © elisa rathje 2011

You needn’t take this next step unless absolutely necessary: seal and pack the jar very well in a suitcase, and take it to England.

shrub © elisa rathje 2011

I do however highly recommend tucking the huckleberry shrub into a picnic basket along with some sparkling water;

shrub © elisa rathje 2011

And enjoying a glass of it in the park. Hyde Park was glorious on a late summer weekend, just right for skipping rope with my little family and listening to the grasshoppers.

shrub © elisa rathje 2011

elderflower cordial

We all went quite mad for elderflower cordial after our first time making it, putting it in jellies, cocktails, popsicles, so I was relieved to have time to put up a few bottles this year. I hope we can console ourselves with elderberry preserves later on, when the flower cordial has disappeared. I’m delighted to bring you the great elderflower cordial recipe I use, courtesy of the good folks at River Cottage, from their essential Preserves handbook, number two in the series that I find so gloriously inspiring. Preserves makes a particularly nice companion to Hedgerow, for putting up wild edibles.

© elisa rathje 2011

  • Makes about 2 litres
  • About 25 elderflower heads
  • Finely grated zest of 3 unwaxed lemons and 1 orange, plus their juice (about 150 ml in total)
  • 1 kg sugar
  • 1 heaped tsp citric acid (optional)

© elisa rathje 2011

Inspect the elderflower heads carefully and remove any insects.

© elisa rathje 2011

Place the flower heads in a large bowl together with the orange and lemon zest. Bring 1.5 litres water to the boil and pour over the elderflowers and citrus zest. Cover and leave overnight to infuse.

© elisa rathje 2011

The colour is quite something. Heady scents.

© elisa rathje 2011

I measured out the sugar on my trusty scales.

© elisa rathje 2011

Strain the liquid through a scalded jelly bag or piece of muslin and pour into a saucepan. Add the sugar, the lemon and orange juice and the citric acid (if using).

© elisa rathje 2011

Heat gently to dissolve the sugar, then bring to a simmer and cook for a couple of minutes.

© elisa rathje 2011

Use a funnel to pour the hot syrup into sterilised bottles. Seal the bottles with swing-top lids, sterilised screw-tops or corks.

Ours will keep for about four months, as we sterilised the bottles first and poured the hot syrup in, and sealed, while the bottles were still hot. A water bath process would allow storage up to a year. Of course, it’ll be gone in a wink. Pam Corbin suggests having it with champagne, or over fruit salad. A couple of days ago we spotted a recipe for an elderflower and gin cocktail. Heaven. I’ve brought the handbook with me to Canada in hopes of preserving a few other things. Exhilarating prospect. Thanks again, River Cottage!

elderflower champagne

We’ve bottled up our annual elderflower brew. It’s remarkable how much easier it is when you’ve tried it even once before.


While the girls were out gathering flowers, I got started. Elderflowers won’t keep!


I followed a slightly different recipe that I discovered last year after some anxious research.


Dissolve about a kilo and a half of sugar in eight pints of water, and let it cool.

© elisa rathje 2011

Slice a couple of lemons, choose seven or eight of your freshest elderflowers and clear off any insects (have a good shake outside!), measure a couple of tablespoons of white wine vinegar, and throw it all in the cooled sugar solution.

© elisa rathje 2011

I covered the brew with a few layers of cheesecloth, and left it for 24 hours. Some folks say to keep it longer, til it bubbles, and others say it won’t bubble til it is bottled. Oh dear. We’re trying the 24 hour version.

It does smell gorgeous, there should be a perfume. I sterilised my bottles in the dishwasher. You want very strong flip-top bottles intended for bottling under pressure, or you may have an explosion!

© elisa rathje 2011

After scalding a ladle, funnel, and mesh bag, I filled the bottles.



p>They are a pleasure to look at, aren’t they? I’ve stored them on a shelf with another strong shelf above, so if I do get an explosion, it will be contained. I know, how terrifying! Truly these bottles are made to hold tremendous pressure – not all flip-tops are. This elderflower champagne should be ready in a couple of weeks, but I’ll uncork it for my reunion with my sweetheart, on our return to the old country cottage.


My sweetheart is fond of marmalade, so I got some Seville oranges to make it for him. I’ve just begun to learn to preserve. Sometimes it isn’t as easy as it sounds to me when I’m inspired! Still I highly recommend it. This recipe is from a glorious book, Sloe Gin & Beeswax, which a dear friend of mine gave me when we moved into the cottage.
It’s old fashioned marmalade, though unusual in that it begins with cooking the oranges whole.
Then halving them and scooping the pulp & pips into a separate pan;
marmalade pulp
Slicing the peel and dissolving sugar on low heat, along with the pectin and lemon juice, then boiling til set. This is where I ran into trouble, and didn’t get an expert set. This is okay. My jars were no longer hot, so I needed to juggle hot jars, stubborn rubber rings, and dinner. However it did give the marmalade time to settle, so the peel didn’t float to the top!
I’m awfully pleased with the result, despite the wobbly set. We had it on toast for breakfast, and it was like eating a little bright bit of morning sunlight. I’d like to store them where I can gaze at their wonderful colours.
Speaking of colour, I’ve been painting the antiques in serene shades, and got through half of the chairs, finished painting one table, and I’m ready to polish the wax on another. Very exciting!

quince brandy

Quince is another hedgerow fruit I’ve never tasted. Someone got to my dear friend’s favourite wild tree and picked it clean, so I bought a few.


They cut just like apples and pears.


Quince jelly would be so good. Very yellow, we imagine to ourselves. However we are overwhelmed with moving in a couple of weeks; the wonderful house in the countryside is ours! So jelly must wait til next year. Inspired by The Wonderful Weekend Book, we’ve set the quince to soak in brandy instead, waiting for the holidays. Star anise in one jar, cinnamon in another, vanilla beans all round. Oh, the sloe gin has turned a rosy shade after a day, and all the sloes have risen. Nettles infuse beside all of these, I shall be drinking it in hopes of finally getting over a very bad cough, and surviving the coming move.


sloe gin

Sloe gin is an enticing delicacy I’d heard of in snippets of conversation, caught in passing on a walk or while watching one of those British shows that make you want to move to the countryside. Slow gin? For a long while I wondered what sloes were. Some kind of sea vegetable? Roots? I met sloes for the first time over email, a surprisingly good medium for introductions that lead to passionate affairs, but that is another story. Our dear friend Sonny found the sloeberries in profusion, and sent me this photograph.


We spent this afternoon introducing the sloes to the gin. These have seen a light frost, so we didn’t prick the skins, just poured about an equal weight in sugar over them and filled the jar with the booze.


River Cottage Preserves has a simple recipe. I’ll keep shaking the jar to dissolve the sugar, and later on we’ll taste it, weekly it says, well, that shouldn’t be too much of a chore. In a few weeks the sloes can be strained out, and then we must be patient for as long as possible before we drink it. A whole eighteen months sounds like an eternity.