Sunday, 28 August 2011

Elderberry Ice Cream!

When I was a small kid, elderberry season meant accompanying my dad through a local woodland, collecting buckets of the purple berries for him to turn into wine. Of course, I never got to taste any... I haven't yet ventured into winemaking, and I don't have the kit to try now, but being in 'wild food' mode this year, and with the local elder trees heavy with berries now, I had to do something with them... And when I found this elderberry ice cream recipe online I knew it was the one!

Elderberries (click for pictures) are somewhat comparable to grapes in nutrition, but contain much more vitamin A, B and C and twice the protein, and have been used as a miracle cure for flu! However, the pips, stems and unripe berries contain a cyanide-producing chemical and should be avoided in any quantity.

We started by collecting about half a carrier bag full of bunches of berries. They're ripe when they turn purple and the bunches hang upside down. We tried not to take too many from any one tree, but took a few bunches from a lot of trees - a good guidleline is to never take more than 10% of what you find in any one place.

Washing and de-stalking the berries was a pretty tedious task. I must have found a dozen earwigs hiding in them, not to mention several spiders. A fork or clean wide-toothed comb is good for popping the berries off their bunches, but it was hard to get rid of every single bit of stalk. We decided that this didn't matter since we were going to be putting the whole lot through a seive later, but considering the cyanide thing it's probably not a good idea to cook too many into the mixture!

We simmered the berries with a little water, a tablespoon of lemon juice and a tablespoon of sugar for 45 minutes until they softened and broke down, then seived them well to get the dark, syrupy juice.

You see those marks where I've got the juice on the worktop? Yeah, they're still there, though much fainter. This stuff STAINS, people!

I tasted the syrup and added three more tablespoons of sugar until I was happy with the sweetness (although it's quite hard to make this judgement about the unfinished product, and I later wished I'd added more) and then folded it together with whipped cream and whisked egg whites. Another warning here: I had a really hard time mixing the syrup, cream and egg whites together - so much so that by the time I was done, I was sure all the air had been knocked out of the egg whites, and the resulting ice cream is much harder than it should be. I reckon it'd be a lot easier to mix the syrup and cream together first, then fold in the egg whites.

The recipe says to just chuck it in the freezer, but with my egg whites deflated that didn't sound like a good idea. I did my best to stir it vigorously every half hour (I didn't always remember...) during the first few hours of freezing to break up the ice crystals.

What a fabulous colour! The ice cream is quite tart - and quite solid - but it's pretty good for a first attempt and went down well at a barbecue last night (and we all had a good laugh at each others' purple tongues and teeth!) The flavour's somewhere between grapes and blackberries, with an unusual dark-chocolatey note that makes me want to pair it with a rich chocolate cake... Next time I'll be sure to add more sugar, and even perhaps a few drops of vanilla to combat the tartness.

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