21 January 2015

Making elderberry drinks

Last week our elder tree (sambucus nigra) was heavy with berries. It's the first year there have been enough berries to do anything with. All the previous five years we've had plenty of flowers for elderflower cordial, but the berries dropped off before they were ripe. So we were really pleased to be able to pick a basket of berries and have the luxury of deciding what we'd do with them.

When Hanno was a little boy, his mum used to make elderberry soup, and he still has fond memories of that. We may make elderberry soup in the future but for now we decided on a summer drink that gave us a healthy boost. I made elderberry cordial.

For those of you who are looking to grow fruit trees, I think elderberry would be a great first tree. It can be a bit of a nuisance if it sends out suckers but it needs moist conditions for suckers to develop, so that doesn't happen often here.  When it does sucker, it's very easy to put out the suckers. Unlike many fruit trees, you can be picking flowers in the first or second year and here in our climate, we have berries in our fifth year. There are flushes of flowers all through the year but I'll have to see what happens from now on with the berries developing. Elder grows very well from cuttings so if you know someone with a tree, ask for a cutting. You can use the fruit for jam, wine, champagne, cordial, soup and immune boosters in winter. 

The workers, Hanno and Jamie, went out picking in the backyard a couple of days ago.  Hanno picked half the berries off the stalks. Traditionally you do that using a fork, I found it easier to do it by hand. You need to remove the berries without stalks as the leaves and stalks have a slight toxic quality and you don't want any in your elderberry delights.

Making elderberry cordial is very easy once you have your berries off the stems.  Wash them to remove any dust or bugs and place them in a saucepan. With a potato masher, squash the berries to remove the juice. Add a cup of water, bring to the boil and gently simmer for 20 minutes.

If you have a food press, pour the juice into the press and process the fruit to squeeze out all the juice. You'll end up with the pulp and seeds in the press and the juice in the jug. If you don't have a food press, mash the berries to remove as much juice as you can, then strain them through a fine sieve or a sieve with a muslin cloth over it. Press out as much juice as possible and discard the seeds and pulp. Our chooks had the leftovers and loved them. 

When you have the pure juice, add the juice of one lemon, pour it back into the saucepan and for every cup of juice, add half a cup of sugar. Bring to the boil, stirring to prevent it from burning. When the sugar is completely dissolved, allow to cool and pour into a clean bottle. If you want to keep the cordial for a long time, sterilise the bottle.

Elderberries are full of antioxidants, vitamins A and C, iron, magnesium, phosphorus and calcium. To make elderberry syrup for colds and flu you'll need:
  • 2 cups elderberries, de-stemed and washed
  • 2 cups water
  • ½ cup raw honey
  • 2 tablespoons fresh ginger, grated
Add the berries to a medium saucepan and, with a potato masher, mash the berries to release as much juice as possible. Add the ginger and water and bring to the boil. Gently simmer for 20 minutes. Process as above with the food press or a sieve, return to the saucepan and add honey. Stir until it's completely dissolved.

Cool slightly and pour into a clean bottle. If you want to store it for a while, sterilise the bottle.

I keep elderberry cordial in the fridge and dilute it with cold water or cold mineral water. It makes a very refreshing drink and the cordial costs a small fraction of what you'd buy it for in the shops.  If you don't have enough berries to make up some cordial, freeze the berries as you pick them and make it when you collect enough. The berries and the flowers are still very useable after they've been frozen.

Do you grow elder or have access to it? What are your favourite elderberry recipes?

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