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Aspall Cyder - Cider and Vinegar

Hedgerow Recipes - Elderflower

06th October 2015

Cook And Eat

Wild food expert and guest blogger, Jon Tyler, on how to slowly transform the unloved elderberry into a rich, piquant sauce - Pontack - which is delicious to serve with meat, particularly game or used as a marinade.

The autumn months of September and October see an explosion of fruits, nuts and fungi. Perhaps if the Elderberry (Sambucus nigra) had borne larger berries or ones that were a little sweeter or more palatable raw; then maybe it would be more highly regarded and gathered up with glee alongside those other purple hedge-gems blackberries.  However despair not, for with a little work elderberries can be transformed into some extra-ordinary foraged foodstuffs. One of these is Pontack sauce; not so much a slow food as a super-slow food, the longer you wait to use it the better it gets. This recipe is based on the one described by Richard Mabey in his book, Food for Free. But don't limit yourself to elderberries; try it with blackberries or even wild-plums. 

Pontack Sauce 
600g Elderberries 
700ml Aspall Red Wine Vinegar 
150g shallots 
10g fresh ginger (peeled) 
1tsp Salt 
1 Blade of Mace (crushed) 
1tsp (60 Black peppercorns) 

  1. Strip the berries from their stems, with a fork or a berry comb (if you have one to hand) into a colander. Remove any shrivelled mildewed or unripe berries then wash well, drain and place in an oven proof dish that has a lid.
  2. Warm your oven to a very low heat; 120°C (300°F, Gas mark 1). While the oven warms up, heat the vinegar in a saucepan until it reaches a simmer then pour over the elderberries, put the lid on the dish and place in the oven for 6 hours or overnight. 
  3. Once the elderberries have been cooked, remove from the oven take off the lid and give the berries a good crushing-up with a potato masher to release as much of their juice as possible. 
  4. Now strain the vinegar/berry mixture through a fine sieve or a jelly bag into a saucepan. 
  5. Next finely chop or whiz together the shallot and ginger in a processor until almost paste consistency and add to the saucepan along with the salt, peppercorns and mace.  Bring the mixture to the boil and leave to simmer with a lid on for 10 minutes. 
  6. Carefully divide the mixture while still hot, including spices and all into 3 or 4 sterilised, 250ml wide necked (sauce) bottles.  Now comes the test of willpower to see how long you can wait before using it. Try to give it at least 6 months to mature and develop, a year is even better. 
  7. Your patience will be rewarded with a uniquely rich, aromatic and piquant fruit sauce. Use as a condiment, put it in marinades, add to meat dishes (especially game) or try a few drops splashed onto Red cabbage. 

Jon Tyler, Wild for Woods