Nicola here. There’s something about this time of year that makes me think about food even more than I usually do. Perhaps it’s the run up to the festive season when I’m not only thinking of the dishes I’d like to cook, or more accurately, I’d like the DH to cook for me as he’s a much better chef than I am, but somehow the dark evenings, short days and cold weather make me long to turn to food for both comfort and warmth.
I’m reasonably okay about trying new dishes but when I came across a recipe that mentioned elderberry ketchup I did wince a little. My memories of ketchup, which I haven’t tried in decades, mainly consist of eating fish fingers with tomato ketchup as a child. Anyway, the dictionary definition of ketchup I found is “a spicy sauce made chiefly from tomatoes and vinegar, used as relish.” Historically, ketchup recipes began to appear in British and American cookbooks in the 18th century. In the UK it was in fact mushrooms rather than tomatoes that first became a staple ingredient, along with shallots and sometimes walnuts. The tomato version only came along 100 years later.
This elderberry ketchup recipe though is said to predate them all. In Restoration England, after the Great Fire of London in 1666, one of the country’s first restaurants opened. Called The Pontack’s Head, it was run by the owner of Haut-Brion, one of Bordeaux’s great wine estates. His wine was particularly popular with Charles II, who brought it very much into fashion. Both Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn mention in this their diaries of the time and John Locke complained that at 7 shillings a bottle it was three times the price of other clarets and more than the cost of dinner, which started at 4 shillings for a “ragout of fatted snails”. Pontack’s was the first cult wine and The Pontack’s Head became a celebrity restaurant patronised by writers such as Swift and Defoe, and the members of the Royal Society.
Pontack Sauce, or ketchup, was based on this wine mixed with elderberries and brewed for seven years to allow the vinegar flavour to mellow. However, the addition of honey means that you can serve it immediately! I’ve included the recipe below if anyone would like to try this 17th century sauce, which apparently goes well with chicken.
4 cups of elderberries, washed and with stalks removed
Small piece of ginger
6 allspice berries
¾ cup honey
1 cup cider vinegar
Tie the ginger, allspice, cloves and shallot into a muslin spice bag.
Bring the honey and cider vinegar to the boil in a saucepan.
Add the elderberries and spice bag to the pan and boil for 15 minutes. Remove the spice bag and boil remainder for another 15 minutes. (Be careful not to get too close to the boiling vinegar.)
The sauce is cooked when the bubbles begin to grow bigger, just like jam.
Blitz the sauce in a blender. It can be stored in a bottle for up to a month.
The Pontack’s Head was in Abchurch Street, near St Paul’s Cathedral, and it was not the only famous eatery in that area; a woman called Mrs Wells ran a very popular cake shop nearby! Both of these are long gone but you can still stroll down Abchurch Street past the place where guests once quaffed snails and pontack sauce!
Are you a fan of ketchup? Would you like to try an elderberry flavoured variety or another different flavour? (I found various different ketchups when I searched!) Or do you have any other sauces that are a favourite?