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Respect your elders (again)

By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Aug 22 2016 10:55AM

The mysterious elder tree must be one of the most recognisable and historically-important trees of the British countryside.

Back in May we made cordial with the elder's flowers. Having left plenty on the tree and after waiting for a couple of months, the summer sunshine has transformed them into an abundance of little purple berries.

The elder has for centuries been the subject of stories and folklore, connected with fairies and magic (it's no coincidence that JK Rowling chose an elder wand to feature in Harry Potter's wizarding adventures). The trees are said to be inhabited by a witch-like spirit known as the Elder Mother. Her potent powers, it is said, mean that elders are never struck by lightning. There's possibly some semi-scientific truth behind the myth because elders tend to live on the edge of woodlands, close to taller trees that are more likely to be struck.

Here's a modern day legend for you to try - Pontac (or Pontack) Sauce:

Pontac sauce is not meant to be a thick ketchup but something more akin to Worcestershire sauce. It has a fruity, peppery taste and goes particularly well with game, especially venison and liver. A few dashes will spice up any gravy or casserole. It famously mellows with age and is reputed to be at its best after seven years. In fact, it will be pretty respectable after 6 months so if you get some bottled-up now, keep it in a dark cupboard and you will just be able to get it out for the end of the game season.

Our recipe is a slight variation on the one contained in the well-known foragers bible, Food For Free by Richard Mabey but this vinegary, rich sauce has been enjoyed in one form or another for centuries.

Pontac Sauce

500g elderberries

500ml boiling cider vinegar or claret

1 onion or 200g of shallots, finely chopped

1 tsp salt

8 whole cloves

4 allspice berries

1 blade of mace

1/2 tsp nutmeg

1 tbsp peppercorns

15g grated root ginger, bruised

Strip the berries off the stalks and place in an ovenproof dish with the vinegar (or claret). Cover, and place in a very low oven (120C) for 4-6 hours or overnight. Remove from the oven and put the berries in a saucepan with the salt, mace, peppercorns, allspice, cloves, onion and ginger, crushing the berries with a spoon or potato masher to release all the juice. Boil for 10-20 minutes. Strain the liquid through a fine sieve. Discard what is in the sieve and return the liquid to the pan. Boil for another 5 minutes then bottle securely and store in a dark cupboard for up to 7 years!

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