My friend Barry has an elderberry tree in his yard. Last summer he offered up the harvest in exchange for a sampling of the end product. I collected a lot of berries and was a bit unsure about what to do with them. Raw elderberries have a somewhat unpleasant scent and are not edible so it was difficult to commit to a usage without a clear understanding of what I was getting into.
[Please note that while there are elderberries leaves shown in this photo, you should not eat them. They are poisonous!]
In the end, I made cordial. It was pretty good. The berries have an earthy taste. That’s all I can come up with as a descriptor. Earthy. Perhaps a bit pungent. It does taste like berries, I just can’t place a finger on which berries exactly. We dripped it on pancakes, poured a little onto granola and yogurt, and added it to sparkling water on occasion. Elderberries are very high in vitamin C and potassium. Many people use the cordial as a cold and flu elixir, instead of store-bought pharmaceutical cough remedies.
This year I wanted to try using the flowers so I harvested about two thirds of the tree back in June, when the flowers were in season, and left the remainder to develop berries. I had enough to make two batches, so I tried two different methods. Unfortunately, I no longer remember the second (preferred) method nor can I recall what it was that I did or didn’t do that made it better. However, if you’re interested, the first, less preferred method came from the River Cottage Handbook No.2: Preserves, by Pam Corbin.
This year, with only 1/3 the harvest, I made a much smaller batch of cordial, which is fine by me because I think we prefer the elderflower flavor. I have no memory of how I made it last year, but this year I used this recipe from David Lebovitz’s website. Within the notes he makes a remark about straining the cordial a second time through a fine sieve. I’ve found that step to be essential and not overly attentive. Otherwise you end up with a very seedy, crunchy syrup. I didn’t have enough to can so I just sterilized two jars on a low heat in the oven before filling, gave one to Barry, and refrigerated the other.
I also made a quick, single jar batch of mixed berry jam last weekend (pictured). But that’s another story.
p.s. The site will be down this weekend while we switch over to a new design and work out all of the inevitable kinks. It’s going to be a bit manic, but I’m so excited! A big change has been a long time coming.