Mincemeat and elderberries

Today has been another productive day – while things are going well it seems best to continue – and an enjoyable one too, with one notable exception. Once again using the slow cooker, I’ve made up a batch of mincemeat, using my own special recipe. Last year, when I had run out of shop-bought mincemeat but had a craving for mince pies, I whipped up my own on the spur of the moment, using whatever I could find in my cupboard – it’s only dried fruit, alcohol, suet and spices after all. I never have the so-called staples of currants and raisins in my cupboard, since I can’t stand them and only ever have sultanas; I also dislike candied peel, so that was also out. On the other hand I did have a jar of cranberries, which I consider a vast improvement – they are very Christmassy anyway! I was also stuck without any brandy, but by happy coincidence had a drop of creme de cassis left, which immediately went into the pan – I can heartily recommend this by the way, the final product tasted incredible. So, building on last year’s impromptu discoveries, I decided to make up some ‘special’ mincemeat to put in jars (though I highly doubt any of it will last long enough to give as presents!) No pics sadly, but trust me when I say the kitchen smelled amazing…

The less enjoyable part involved several hours of slow torture. I can’t think of anything that is more frustrating and tedious, as well as being certain to induce back- and neck-ache, than the preparation of elderberries. I found myself setting targets that I had to meet before I could have a break (one more bowl and then I can put the kettle on for tea; just this bowl and I’ll have half an hours’ rest…you get the picture.) The thing is that elderberries are tiny, maybe half a centimetre across, and they have tiny stalks that need to be picked off individually because they taste bitter. I froze the berries, which makes things easier because they don’t burst as you pull the stalk out and a lot of the twigs fall off, but you need to work quickly because they defrost as you watch. And you still have all the twigs and stalks to deal with, that stick to your hands…Oh, and the juice stains your fingers purple and doesn’t wash out for three days! Can you tell I don’t like this job?

Their redeeming feature is that the syrup I made last time I attempted this tastes divine – a bit like a really fruity mulled wine – and it’s reputedly very good for you. So, once I had half a pan full of berries (did I mention that took forever?) I added two chopped apples and enough water to almost cover them, and simmered the fruit for an hour. I then drained the mix (also a long and tedious process) and I’m about to put the juice back in the pan with spices and sugar, to reduce down into a syrup which I will then bottle.

(The berries simmering away…note the colour of the spoon!)

Edit: I bottled the syrup: managed to get one large bottle and a small one that I might even give to someone for Christmas. It smells amazing!


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