Cotna Eco Retreat

Preserving Autumn

The first south-westerly gale of autumn arrived in style last night, blowing away the Indian summer we had been enjoying for most of September and into October – and already the wall to wall sunshine is fading my memory. All the more reason to try and preserve the rich reds, deep purples and soft blacks of summer’s ripe fruits through the darker months to come. Not only will we enjoy the sweet tang of summer but these fruits can provide us with valuable vitamins, minerals and anti oxidants to help maintain our health and fight off the winter colds and flu, sore throats and even the melancholic winter blues. Nowadays we have the luxury of freezing fruit to use in smoothies, on cereal or in pies & crumbles, but I find the tends to be in the form of jams and alcohol, but there’s only so much jam & gin a girl can consume, so I particularly like making vinegars and dips to go with our salads and roasts.


Elderberries gathered on St. John’s eve were traditionally thought to protect the possessor against witchcraft and also to bestow magical powers. While the Romans used the juice as hair dye, the cordial has long been for coughs and colds as elderberries contain vyburnic acid, which induces perspiration and is especially useful in bronchitis and other chest problems. So what better way of using them than in hedgerow vinegar to have with your winter salads or diluted in hot water.


Elderberry Hedgerow Vinegar

Ingredients – 1 good bowlful of hedgerow fruit eg elderberries, blackberries, sloes or hawthorn

Cider vinegar, enough to generously cover the fruit



  1. Put fruit in a bowl & crush lightly with a wooden spoon. Add the vinegar. Cover the bowl and leave for 4-5 days, stirring / crushing occasionally.
  2. Pour the fruit & vinegar into a jelly bag or muslin over a sieve. Leave to drain overnight – you can squeeze it a little if you like, but not too vigorously or it goes cloudy.
  3. Measure the liquid into a saucepan. For every 600ml fruit vinegar, add about 300g sugar (but adapt to your taste)

4.Bring to the boil gently stirring until sugar has dissolved. Boil for 10 minutes, removing any scum.

  1. Cool then bottle & seal when cool. Use within 12 months.


Hawthorn is one of our most abundant hedgerow trees – millions were planted as dividing hedges to fulfil the enclosure acts of the eighteenth and nineteenth century. It’s in the apple sub-family, and its Latin name is Crataegus monogyna. It is an important medicine for heart and circulatory problems, so is a great heart tonic for all of us through the winter months.


Hawthorn Berry Ketchup

This is a surprisingly rich and spicy dip, with a real depth of flavour


1lb/500g haws

300ml cider vinegar

300ml water

7oz/170g brown sugar

1oz/25g salt

1 tsp freshly ground black pepper


Strip the berries from their stalks & wash them. Put into a pan with the vinegar & cook over a gentle heat for 30 minutes. Press the pulp through a sieve & return the pulp from the bowl (not the sieved stones part!) to the pan with sugar & seasonings. Boil for 10 minutes. Bottle and seal. Great with bangers & mash!


The white swathes of Blackthorn blossom herald the start of spring before the green leaves have appeared, though their appearance is often accompanied by a cold spell known as ‘blackthorn winter’. It is the ancestor of our cultivated plums and people have been eating its fruit in the form of sloes for thousands of years. Although best known with gin, it apparently makes such good wine that it used to be, according to Brook 200 years ago ‘much used by fraudulent wine merchants in adulterating port wine … and more port wine was drunk in England alone than manufactured in Portugal.’


Sloe Chocolate

This is a great by-product of your sloe gin! Once your berries have done their work & made your gin a rich ruby red, rather than throw them away after straining off the alcohol, you can make them into what must have been the original liqueur chocolate! Just de-stone a good handful of sloes. Lay them in a small container – I use a few hollows of a muffin tin greased with butter. Melt a bar of good dark chocolate with a small knob of butter. Pour onto the sloes and allow to cool. The perfect after dinner treat!


So now that the holidays are over, the yurts at Cotna Eco Retreat are packed away and most of our glamping guests have left Cornwall to the locals, it’s time to get those cauldrons bubbling, the glasses out and the feet up with some dark liqueur chocolates!

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