Elderberries Bring Back Tasteful Memories
Elderberries like full sun and low-lying areas that get a lot of moisture.
E-mail This Page to Your Friendsx
A link to %this page% was e-mailed
As a child, I had a peculiar job to perform every May. It was my responsibility to scout for the wild elderberry bushes in flower so that come late August, my mother, my brother and I could get to picking elderberries without the leg — and guesswork — of hunting for them.
The bushes were big — anywhere from 4 to 10 feet high — and their flower clusters, called cymes, looked like doilies. Each spray ranges from 3 to 10 inches in diameter and has hundreds of tiny blooms, making them easy to spot. They like full sun and low-lying areas that get a lot of moisture.
I had a little notebook and made jottings that might read "halfway to Abbott's farm, left side of the road, near the crick" or "two big bushes near the rocks over at Walton's."
Elderberries have something of a cult status with alternative-medicine types. The berries have been used throughout Europe for centuries for their therapeutic qualities and are considered one of nature's best natural flu fighters.
Elderberries are the size of cultivated currants but strongly flavored, crunchy and not as sweet. Raw, they have a slightly rank flavor and give some people indigestion, so they are always cooked.
The whole spray is picked. To separate the berries from their lacey stems, you hold the stem in one hand and gently "pull" the tiny berries off by the handful. It can be a messy business, best done sitting on the back porch or on the grass while wearing old clothes. The purple stains on your hands tell the tale of your labor.
My son Ted was born Aug. 28, and his "birthday cake" has always been an elderberry pie. That's our family's favorite way of eating this August berry. To make one, use the same proportion of elderberries as you would for making a blueberry pie.
This has been such a wet year, and farmers have told me it will be a good season for elderberries. Unfortunately, the picking is labor-intensive, and it's always a race against the birds as to who gets the most of the crop. If I can get my hands on a chip basket, I'll make elderberry syrup.
When I visit my aunts and uncle who have retired to Florida, I always bring them a jar of Western Pennsylvania Elderberry Syrup to remind them of home. Pour a bit over ice cream or plain cake. Add a few drops to champagne, prosecco or iced seltzer. Garnish with a flower.
4-1/2 cups elderberries (1 1/2 pounds)
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
Bring berries, sugar and water to a boil in a 2- to 3-quart heavy saucepan over moderately high heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved.
Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until fruit is soft, about 30 minutes.
Pour mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl, pressing gently on and then discarding solids. Serve syrup at room temperature. Makes about 1 1/3 cups.
Note for making a larger quantity: Boiling hot syrup may also be poured into sterilized jelly jars and sealed. As soon as the lid and screw top have been secured, turn the jars upside down and leave them in that position until they are cool.
Bird, butterflies and hummingbirds are as beautiful as they are practical for the garden.