Elderberries can be so prolific that the branches are hanging very low dripping with the dark red fruit. So it seems a shame not to utilise on this incredible fruit.
I’ve tried making jam from it before, but the many small pips per fruit make the jam feel strange and slightly crystallised. This syrup is therefore a great way to utilise the elderberries without having to tackle your way through the pips or skin as it’s strained off to just the liquid half way through.
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Elder trees are so called, from the Saxon term for fire, Aeld. Their hollow stems were good for use as tubes for bellows.
Now this feature of a large pithy, easily removed centre is often utilised when making beads, whistles, and hand drills.
The bark, leaves and stem of elder trees contains cyanide, so it’s really important when making any elderflower or elderberry preserves to remove the umbral flower stems before processing.
Folklore states that elderberries help fight off the flu, and there’s a few recent studies done that appear to support the fact that elder does contain a flu fighting ingredient sambucol. Personally I’ve found I’ve succumbed to less colds when I’ve still been drinking the supply in the cupboard than when it’s runout. Though whether this is my energy reserves matching the elderberry syrup reserves I don’t know!
The joys of this style recipe is that before adding sugar you can almost add anything you like, to almost any volume. Be mindful of pectin though, as it can set if you use high pectin fruits.
Elderberries – I used about 3kg before any processing
Cloves – 5-10 to taste.
Ginger – Inch long roughly chopped – more to taste
Sugar – this volume of elderberries needed just under 1kg of sugar
Lemon – this volume of elderberries needed 2 lemons.
Elder trees are usually prolific so once you find a tree you are usually in for a treat, and collecting a few kg’s rarely takes long. The berries are ripe once they are a lovely dark red and the umbrals are turned upside down with the weight.
Make sure you leave enough for local wildlife, birds and other animals use elderberries as a good food source before winter sets in.
Do check the legalities of foraging in your area – I’ve written a brief summary of this for the UK here.
This is a somewhat time consuming process, but easily done whist enjoying good company around a fire as it doesn’t take much concentration.
Wash the berries, and de-stem them. Some people find this easier and faster with a fork – your hands will be much less red. I tend to just run my hands through them, as I notice any unripe or wrinkly ones more this way.
It is important to remove the stems from the berries as the stems, along with the bark and leaves of elder contain cyanide.
Add the elderberries to the pan, with the cloves and chopped ginger (I’ve used crystallised ginger before too).
Cover with water, then simmer for 30 minutes until the elderberries have gone soft.
Don’t squeeze it though or the final product will be cloudy not clear.
Heat clean bottles up in an oven or dutch oven, to stop them cracking and to sterilise them, boiling also works. I dry heated mine in a dutch oven and boiled the lids and corks.
For every 600ml of juice you need to add 450g of sugar, and the juice of one lemon.
Return all the ingredients to a clean pan and stir continuously until the sugar has dissolved.
Boil hard for ten minutes.
A funnel is useful for this stage, if the tops of the bottles get stick it can damage the seal.
Add the lids whilst the syrup is hot. Label once its cooled, else you’ll get hot fingers and the glue melts. Enjoy – I liked to drink it like a posh hot Ribena, it also goes well drizzled over ice cream and with venison steaks.
To be on the safe side I’d freeze this, maybe in an ice cube bag. I stored it last year in a glass bottle in the fridge and then cupboard for a few months and it didn’t suffer any visible ill affects.
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© Pippin and Gile - Lizzy Maskey