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2013, A Mast Year for Nuts and Berries

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2013 looks like being a 'mast' year for nuts and berries, cheery news for those of us who are bereft of fungi, which isn't in such abundant supply. Quite how nature works out its gifting procedure is beyond me but how to deal with an astonishing feast of fruits and nuts is a delightful challenge. This year the seasoned forager can use squirrelled, store cupboard berry syrups in the confidence that replacement wild berries are plentiful. Some might even dare to open an immature bottle of Pontack with carefree abandon.In a year of berry famine, I'd probably err towards waiting the suggested seven years, until opening the Pontack.

My recipe for Pontack, which can be found in The Forager's Kitchen, is an adaption of an elderberry ketchup recipe by Mrs M Grieve (A Modern Herbal). I am indebted to www.audreygillan for my recipe's perfection (additional sugar). Many foraged ingredients are available commercially - busy people may purchase Pontack here: http://www.foragefinefoods.co.uk/1new-page.aspx but the foraging experience can't be packaged. Add a tablespoon of Pontack to savoury casseroles or even slow cooked sausages and red cabbage (this recipe is in my book); it works well in deserts too. To spice up pears poached in red wine and brown sugar, add a tablespoon of Pontack or a couple of tablespoons of elderberry syrup.

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Elderberry Syrup
Makes 350ml

What to find:
250g rinsed elderberries
250ml water
300g caster sugar
Whole star anise
What to do
1. Simmer the berries and water in a non-aluminum pan for 30 minutes until the berries are soft.
2. Mash the berries and then strain the juice into a glass (plastic may strain) jug.
3. Return the juice (approx 250ml) to the pan with the sugar and star anise and simmer for 20 minutes. Boil rapidly for 2-3 minutes and pour into a hot sterile bottle. When cool seal with a plastic coated lid.
Store the syrup in a cool place and use it in casseroles or with autumnal fruits. The syrup can be diluted with water to make a rather wicked Hallowe'en style drink. It can also be mixed with Greek yoghurt and then frozen to make lollypops.