Elderberry jam. Elderberry syrup. Elderberry wine. Elderberry juice. Elderberry pie. Dried elderberries. Elderberry tea. Elderberry cordial. Dehydrated elderberries. 'Tis the season.
Elderberries can be used for medicinal "folk medicine" as well as food and drink.
I haven't gathered elderberries since I was a kid on the farm. For years, I have been planning on gathering elderberries, mainly for making syrup for the medicine cabinet. Also, since elderberries and our Maine blueberries come on at the same time, I've wanted to make a blueberry-elderberry pie
I discovered a great patch of elderberry bushes last spring while walking my dog on one of our favorite dirt roads. I love the back roads with no power lines, which means no houses, lined with the forest. And the dirt ones are my favorite, probably because they remind me of my childhood days. I still like to walk barefoot on a warm dirt road.
I spotted the bushes because they were in full bloom, like little white umbrellas made from tiny white flowers. Easy to identify. Remembering that Grammie would dredge these with thin pancake flower and fry them for fritters, I made a mental note to go back with a basket to gather some for breakfast one day. But I forgot. Next year!
But I did remember to keep an eye out for when the berries came on and ripened. And, boy, did they. Great drooping 'umbrellas' of tiny purple berries.
So I filled up a basket and brought them home to process. You need to strip the berries soon after picking or they will be harder to get off. It's tedious, as it is, so anything that makes it easier is a plus.
This year, I started striping them — seems like a hundred tiny bee-bee size berries to each umbrella — and thought: There must be a faster way, like raking blueberries.
Bingo. I had a brand new plastic comb — as yet unused — that I got for helping with my dog when he blows his coat. (He doesn’t "shed"; he "molts" like a wolf, twice a year. And molts and molts.)
The dog comb is more like a small rake. It works perfect for stripping those little berries off their stems. Gets the job done in half the time. Advice from one who usually learns everything the hard way, do the stripping outside. Those little bugger berries will hop and bounce all over the place. And they stain. Sweeping them up, well, think of trying to sweep up that pop-corn packing stuff, or feathers. They will run off in front of the broom in every direction. You may be finding one here and there for weeks. So best to do the stripping outside.
I made a bottle of syrup using the berries, and sugar and honey — they are sour little suckers. I also added ginger and cinnamon and a few cloves. This makes a concoction full of antioxidants and antibiotics that can help ward off colds and flu and if you get a sore throat, will help with that also.
Then I made a blueberry-elderberry pie by simply throwing in a cup of elderberries to my favorite blueberry pie recipe. I use my Grammie's recipe, which I call "Tucker Ridge Pie." I entered one into the Union Fair blueberry pie contest one year. I won the ribbon with the remark from the judges that: "It's runny, the way Maine blueberry pie is traditionally supposed to be." I never use cornstarch as a thickener in my pies. I can't stand that gelatinous texture and I think it interferes with the taste. I use just a bit of flour, not enough to make it thick but just enough so's it also isn't too runny.
I'm going to load the dehydrator up with shelves of elderberries, goldenrod and rose hips (cut in half) for winter teas. And the dried elderberries can also be used for making syrup.
I'm also making a mental note to, come spring, get a couple cuttings and get some bushes started along my back yard. Be real handy to just go out the door to gather them. And I wouldn't forget to make fritters.
Marion Tucker-Honeycutt, an award-winning columnist, a Maine native and graduate of Belfast schools, now lives in Morrill. Her columns appear in this paper every other week.