Summer is in full swing here at Nigerian Meadows! The goats are tolerating the heat and rain quite well. I am busy with canning the produce from our garden, and even picking blueberries and elderberries! It seems the days go by so quickly that the summer will be over before I can blink.
I wanted to share a little about the elderberries I have been using. They are a long-lost source of food in today’s modern age, but are a wonderful source of anti-oxidants and healthful for the skin. The best part is that many times you can obtain these little berries for free! Below are some pictures to give you an idea of what they look like:
Elderberries are often considered a weedy bush or tree, growing on roadsides and in ditch-banks. While cultivated versions of this plant were brought to the America’s by early settlers, there are 4 varieties of wild ones as well. Much of what you will see growing today are mixes of the cultivated and wild elderberries. They make wonderful jams, jellies, and pies, as well as wine, cordial, and tinctures. You have to be careful to only use the deeply colored burgundy and blue berries as the under-ripe and light colored varieties contain cyanide. The flowers can be used to make wine, skin treatments and lotions, and a light form of lemonade (or “elder-aid” as I call it!). The leaves are not edible.
Elderberries need sugar added to make them taste sweet, and need to be cooked before eating. My favorite things to make are elderberry jelly (no seeds in jelly!) and cordial. For making the cordial, simply remove the ripe elderberries from their stems and fill a clean quart jar 2/3 full with them. Pour 80-100%proof vodka over them, filling the jar to the shoulder. Cap tightly and leave in a cool, dark cabinet for six weeks. Strain the colored vodka off. In a saucepan, combine 1 part sugar to 1 part water and boil until the sugar dissolves. Add 1 cup of cooled syrup to each jar of cordial. It is very nice with deserts, and can be used as a medicine for coughs, sore throats, and stuffy noses, though discretion is advised. Below is a picture of the beginning stage of cordial:
My family loves the jelly I make with elderberries! Totaling less than $1/pint jar, it is very economical and will remind you of grape jelly. I make a lower-sugar version and it’s plenty sweet!
To make elderberry jelly:
Fill large stainless steel or enamel-coated aluminum pot with elderberries and cover them with tap water. Heat until berries are soft, then strain, being sure to mash out all the juice from the berries. Discard the seeds and skins.
In a 6-quart pot, add 9 cups elderberry juice and 1/2 cup lemon juice. In a separate bowl, mix 4 pouches of low-sugar pectin with 2 cups sugar. Stir into the juice. In another bowl, measure and set aside 5 more cups of sugar.
Heat juice and sugar on med-high heat to a roiling boil (a boil that cannot be stirred down), stirring constantly. Add the rest of the sugar and return to a roiling boil, and boil for exactly 1 minute, stirring constantly. Pour into prepared jelly or pint jars, wipe rims, and apply lids. Process in a boiling water bath canner for 5-10 minutes. Set jars on a double-thickness towel to cool in an undisturbed place for 24 hours. Check to make sure jars are sealed, label and shelve. Yield: aprox. 6 pints or 12 half-pints