I thought of this because I noticed an elderberry bush behind a friend's garage recently and it occurred to me that I hadn't heard much about elderberries in recent years. But it brought back a lot of memories. My Grandmother Werner claimed that elderberry tea, mixed with elderberry juice, was the very most reliable cure for flues in the winter time and for years she bottled elderberry juice to save for such an emergency. My Grandmother Valentine, on the other hand, used the elderberry flowers to make pancakes. These were quite a treat.
Toward the end of June or the beginning of July, when the elderberries flowered with their pretty, white blossoms, Grandma would pick the blossoms --- one per pancake --- and dip them, face down into pancake batter and fry them in lard until the were golden and crispy on both sides. They had a nutty, sort of elusive flavor that we thought was quite astonishing. Probably more because of the pretty patterns they made in the batter.
My mother made elderberry jelly. We'd pick buckets full of the berries which were heavy and black, each berry bursting with a tart, tangy juice. She'd wash them and put them through the Foley food mill and then strain the juice and boil it down with lemon juice and sliced up green apples to add extra pectin. Then the juice would be strained again, through cheesecloth this time, and simmered with sugar and Sure-Jell and put up in little glass jars with a diamond pattern in the glass. Sometimes, if there was a surplus of rhubarb, she'd combine the elderberries with that to make elderberry-rhubarb jam. It was tart but so delicious with a rich, wine-like taste which was luscious spread on buttery, home-made bread on cold winter mornings.
Sometimes, if there were enough elderberries to be had --- and there often were because we knew every elderberry bush that lurked behind an abandoned barn or tool shed --- she would can them whole in their own syrup and use them for elderberry pies. An elderberry pie is a beautiful thing, dark and winey. When you scoop ice cream on top of it and mosh it down so the berries mix with the cream the color is absolutely stunning. Too pretty to eat, though not for long.
I'm told that elderberries are good for use in custard pies too, though I've never had one. The syrup is mixed with cream, sugar, vanilla and eggs and poured into shells and baked until firm. I can imagine the color --- and the fragrance.
I don't know how much use people make of elderberries anymore. I rarely hear mention of them. But spotting that elderberry bush behind my friend's garage made me smile. “Do you use your elderberries?” I asked. She laughed. “I never get a chance, the birds usually get to them before I can.”
Well, that's good, too.
Thanks for reading.