Real Life Stories: Elderberry Wine, by Paul Bradley

It was usually the last week of the summer holidays that we would go in search of them. Weather permitting, and with Grandad’s walking stick and plastic bags at the ready, we were off.

Off foraging for nature’s bounty, mainly for elderberries. Once harvested, Dorothy and Gladys would perform nothing short of alchemy with the fruit, faithfully following the family’s secret recipe. Elderberry wine: a dark heady vintage, dark like port, fermented to its full strength. It had a unique taste that welcomed you to intoxication.

When it was ready, the Allens clan would arrive, usually around Christmas time with empty whiskey bottles. This was our panacea, the curer of coughs, colds and flu. Dorothy remembers being heavy with cold: “I was given a glass of elderberry wine and sent across to the shop for Beecham’s Powder. My world was in spirals before the ring of the shop door’s bell.”

Douglas on National Service was supplied with a bottle which he drank on the train. Too greedy to share, he drank the whole lot. The next morning, he found it quite difficult to conceal being drunk on parade.

With elderberry wine there was a kind of communion. Feuds were abandoned and harsh words forgotten. It warmed the soul. On winter nights, aunts and uncles would walk home aglow. This was a liquid as beautiful as the clear winter sky.

And it’s led to a bond that runs through generations. The recipe has been passed down, either faithfully told or handwritten on yellowed paper.

Stephen, Sarah, Peggy, Dorothy, Douglas, Gladys and George. The bottle is empty and all that is left is the warmth.



Paul Harvey originally trained in Illustration, gaining a 2:1 from Kingston-upon-Thames Polytechnic. He was able to gain a few commissions, the most famous at “The Idler”. But he had to take lower waged factory work to make ends meet. In 2016 he was laid off, and became a member of Bilston Writers in Wolverhampton. He is on a WEA creative writing course, and is writing and illustrating his book “Moon Man” about a boy who befriends a man from the moon in 1969.