Time to get nuts about gathering berries

Elderberry cordial is delicious and stores for months.


Valerie O’Connor advises us to seize the day and gather the abundance of free food coming to fruition in the countryside. 

There are oceans of blackberries now. Free food everywhere, there for the taking. 

It’s not just blackberries that are out of course, there are sloes, elderberries, haws and rosehips and all manner of delicious things to make yummy deserts, cordials and preserves from. 

With the weather alternating between sunny and warm, (great weather for drying), and bucketing down rain, it’s great for the berries plumping up and a great time to go out and get them before the birds do.

Foraging for berries ticks so many boxes, it’s a chance to get out in nature in your wellies. 

Elderberries grow in sprays like this, they are full of vitamin C and help to ward off colds and flus.
Elderberries grow in sprays like this, they are full of vitamin C and help to ward off colds and flus.

If you have kids of any age, this is a great opportunity to spend some fun time outside together that won’t cost you anything. 

Teenagers tend to open up and talk when they are engaged in an activity like this, (or washing dishes too, if you feel that your youth is troubled), drag them outside to hold the basket while you gather the goodies.

Blackberry and Honey Jam

Blackberry jam is delicious but usually loaded with sugar and that’s the new favourite food of Satan, so we’re told and it certainly doesn’t help any inflammatory condition you might have, so this sugar-free version uses honey instead and tastes amazing. 

Lemons and apples contain pectin so you don’t need to worry about your jam not setting. 

This is an easy and delicious recipe that you can pile on toast (sourdough of course), or into some natural yogurt.

Makes four regular-sized pots of jam


  • 3lb blackberries
  • 1 full jar of honey
  • 2 large sweet apples, grated with the skin on, under-ripe apples contain more pectin which makes the jam set better
  • Juice of a lemon


Put the berries into a large pot and add the apples, honey and lemon juice. 

Bring it to a boil until it reaches a ‘rolling boil’. This is self-explanatory.

Reduce the heat and simmer the jam for 15-20 minutes, it will look thin but it thickens when it cools. 

Sterilise your jars by putting them in the dishwasher or boiling them for 10 minutes or putting them in the oven for 10 minutes at 160C. 

Boil the lids in a pot of water for five minutes. 

Pour the jam into the jars and pop on the lids, turning them swiftly over once and then standing them up as normal.

Elderberry Cordial

Elderberries are the ripe fruits that were elderflowers, they are loaded with vitamin C and the one thing you should take every day to avoid or cure a common cold or flu. 

You can get the berries off the stalks by combing them with a fork, get some help with this or just zone out and enjoy doing it yourself.

  • 1 bucket full of elderberries, rinsed of small creatures
  • Sugar


Put the elderberries into a large pot and cover them with just enough water, a few green fellas will rise to the surface, get rid of them. 

Bring the pot to the boil and reduce the heat, leave to simmer for 20 minutes

Line a large strainer with muslin and sit it over a bowl and pour the cooked berries into it. 

Leave to strain and then squeeze out the juice.

Measure the juice and pour it back into the rinsed pot. For each 500ml/1pint of juice add 300g/12oz sugar

Bring the mixture to the boil and cook it for 10 minutes at a simmer. Have your sterilised and still hot bottles at the ready. 

Be careful doing this and have someone to help you by holding the funnel and bottles in place.

Pour the syrup into the bottles carefully, if you hold the funnel slightly out of the bottle it is less likely to splash you. 

Pop the lids on to the bottles and wipe them all down with a damp cloth. 

If you’re anything like me you will stand back and admire your handiwork with a chuffed grin and hands on hips. 

Enjoy its unique flavour and take a tablespoon every day, by itself or in warm water.

Sloe Gin

Sloes can be gathered in autumn and if you don’t feel like using them straight away you can freeze them, but making this drink is the best way to preserve them of course. 

They are distinguishable by their deep blue black colour with a light white bloom on their surface. 

Put the sloes that you gather into a freezer bag and freeze overnight to split the skins which will help to release their flavours. 

Even though you are using alcohol you still need to sterilise your bottles, the easiest way to do this is to put them through the dishwasher, but without a tablet as this leaves a residue. 

No gift equals the amazingness of giving someone your own ‘artisan’ booze so keep some of these to give as gifts at the end of the year, by then it will be mighty tasty.


  • Enough sloes to half-fill a bottle or as many bottles as you want to make
  • 4 tblsp sugar per 500ml bottle
  • Gin


Pop the frozen berries into the bottles, wide-mouth bottles or a jar is easier to get the berries into. 

Pour in the sugar and pour on gin. 

Pop on the lids and give everything a good shake. 

Store the bottles in a dark place for at least two months, ideally longer, and give them a shake every few days. 

The longer you leave this, the punchier it will be.


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