Dessert: Serves 6. Total time: 1hr 10min

The elderberries clinging to the wall of a west-facing barn had turned a rich magenta, full of promise, long before any others in the garden.

The elderberries clinging to the wall of a west-facing barn had turned a rich magenta, full of promise, long before any others in the garden. And, as soon as they swelled to such a size and weight that the heads drooped downwards, I was ready with my colander and scissors. As the first of autumn's hedgerow harvest, elderberries tend to enjoy a monopoly on our zeal ­ albeit, I think, in a uniquely English way.

My French neighbours, who can find a use for just about any leaf or berry by steeping it in alcohol and sugar to drink as an aperitif, were as bemused by my delight at the ripe berries as I was by their lack of interest in them. Clearly France is the place to pick them if the competition is hot at home.



4 ripe pears, peeled, halved, cored &
sliced juice of half lemon
caster sugar
120g elderberries
150g unsalted butter
150g golden syrup or honey
Half tsp sea salt
180g rolled oats


Toss the pears with the lemon juice in a bowl to prevent them discolouring, then scatter over 2 tablespoons of sugar and set aside for 30 minutes. Drain the pears, discarding the juices, and combine them with the elderberries in a shallow gratin or ovenproof dish. Sprinkle over a tablespoon of sugar.

Preheat the oven to 180C fan oven/190C electric oven/Gas 5. Gently melt the butter in a small saucepan with the syrup or honey and the salt, then fold in the oats. Scatter the flapjack mixture over the fruit; some should still show through. Bake for 30 minutes until the top is golden and crusty. Serve about 10 minutes out of the oven, though it's also delicious cold.

The painless way to string elderberries is to run the tines of a fork through the heads, much as you would with blackcurrants. Then spread them out on a tray or a plate and pick them over.

Comments