It has been an extraordinary year for elderberries here in England! I have a big batch of Elderberry Wine brewing, I’ve made an Elderberry Soda, Elderberry Winter Tonic, and now also a traditional English condiment– Pontack Sauce, aka Elderberry Ketchup.
What I love about this sauce is that it doesn’t have any added sugar, it keeps forever, and has a nice tangy flavor reminiscent of Worcestershire Sauce– but with berries. It’s fairly simple to make, and goes really well with game meats.
This is a recipe adapted from two different versions, found in Food DIY and River Cottage Preserves. Quite a few people have asked me to share more traditional English recipes. I’ll be honest– I am not a huge fan of English food. But what I do love is the use of foraged and traditional ingredients, which are making a huge resurgence. This is wonderful! I had never heard of Pontack Sauce before moving to England, but am pleased to have two bottles that will last us for a long time. If you have elderberries in your area, I would encourage you to try this!
Making Pontack Sauce (Elderberry Ketchup)
Pontack Sauce, aka Elderberry Ketchup, is a traditional English condiment. What I love about this sauce is that it doesn’t have any added sugar, it keeps forever, and has a nice tangy flavor reminiscent of Worcestershire Sauce– but with berries. It’s fairly simple to make, and goes really well with game meats!
- 2 pounds fresh elderberries, or 12 ounces dried elderberries
- 4 cups apple cider vinegar (white wine vinegar will also work)
- 1 pound shallots, minced
- 10 whole cloves
- 10 allspice berries
- 1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
- 2 tablespoons cracked black peppercorns
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Using a fork, strip the berries from their stems. The stems are slightly toxic, so do your best to remove as much as possible.
- Put the berries in a dutch oven or glass casserole dish with a lid. Add the vinegar, and bake in the oven for 4-6 hours at 325º. The smell is really pleasant– more yeasty than vinegar-y, and of course nice and fruity.
- Strain the berries out with a sieve, pressing to get all of the juice. Some preparations make use of a blender here, which will yield a thicker sauce. But I just pressed the berries a bit for their juice. Return the juice to your dutch oven or to a sauce pan.
- Add the shallots and spices to the elderberry juice, and bring to a boil over medium heat on the stove. Reduce heat and let simmer for 25 minutes. Strain out the shallots and spices, and bring to the boil again, for five minutes.
- Bottle your sauce into sterilized glass vessels. I think that these swing-top bottles are really perfect, but you can also use mason jars.
- Give it time to mature. Right after it’s done, the shallot flavor is quite sharp, and this will mellow and the sauce improves over time– years, even. This is shelf-stable for many, many years, so take your time.
If you have elderberries in your area, or you can get them dried, I hope you’ll try this sauce. I can’t help thinking that a version of this made with cherries would also be wonderful…
I missed elderberry season here 🙁 But when I’ve made syrup with them before they smelled terrible and only became edible with copious amounts of honey. Maybe I did something wrong. How would you use pontack sauce – with meat? Dip fries in it?
Oh, that’s too bad about missing the season AND the poor result of your syrup. How strange! I don’t know if it would be good for dipping fries, but definitely as a sauce for steak and other meats. I am going to put some into a venison stew tonight.
tracey smith says
help! i have lots of elderberry juice. what i dont know is the quantities of juice needed to make pontack sauce???
Ooh, that’s tricky, Tracey! Did you juice them with a juicer? Did you simmer them with water?
tracey smith says
I just squashed them! what do i do now?
Do you still have the elderberries themselves? If not, I honestly don’t know for sure what would be best, since the plan is to bake the whole berries with the vinegar. If you still want to try to make the sauce, it will definitely be a gamble. Start with estimating how many elderberries you started with (about a pound? Two?) and try to follow from there. I can’t give you too much clear instruction because I have no idea what you started with, and this is not really how the recipe works.
You might consider just turning them into soda or medicine. I have some good recipes for those!
I’m really hoping there are still some good elderberries around here, as I’d love to try this recipe! I made elderberry elixir a few weeks ago, for the first time–getting ready for winter.
Rachel @ Grok Grub says
A cherry version sounds very doable!
Adrienne @ Whole New Mom says
This looks amazing! Thanks for a great original recipe!
Megan Stevens says
I’ve never heard of this before. I LOVE when I find a recipe for something that looks amazing and that I’ve never seen! Thanks for sharing. I’ll enjoy getting my feet wet with this, so to speak. 🙂
Tina T. says
This is new to me – but definitely sounds like something I would love to try!
I followed the river cottage recipe to the letter and instead of the predicted 700ml of sauce I got 300ml, what did I do wrong.
I cannot find allspice berries but have ground allspice is that ok ? And how much to use in this recipe ?
You can buy allspice berries in waitrose. They are also in Bart pickling spice so for just a few it’s worth picking them out the pot. They are the largest berries in the pot.
I am trying to make a half batch. After 4 hours what I have is no liquid and desiccated elderberries about to burn. I’ve added a dollop of vinegar and some water. Seems like fresh vinegar isn’t a good idea. Judging from what I’m seeing in the pot I can’t imagine getting enough liquid to be able to simmer for 25-30 min. Hmm–are English elderberries more juicy than American ones? Your photo suggests to me that they are.
Hi Robin, it’s possible that the berries you gathered are less juicy. But I’m inclined to think that the real problem is that the cooking time might not have been reduced to match cutting the recipe in half? You may not have had enough liquid to cook down for the full amount of time. You can add some water back in, and even boil it down some more to extract the goodness and keep it liquid.