We strive to use as much of the natural bounty on the farm as possible. So far, we’ve made water kefir with the mulberries and blackberries that grew untended. We’ve also been keeping an eye on several black walnut trees that will drop nuts in the fall, with the idea that we’d like to have our pigs (yet to be acquired) take advantage of those.
Our elderberry bushes have been heavy with fruit, and the chickens, ducks, and wild birds have been eating the berries. We picked the remaining berries yesterday and noticed one of the bushes had berries that weren’t ripe yet – they should be dark purple, and these were still red.
Elderberries stain everything they touch. Knowing that, wearing disposable gloves provided some protection from having purple fingers while we picked berries. Once picked, the berries needed to be sorted. There were many berries “past their prime” (looking like sundried raisins) that needed to be weeded out, as well as stems and underripe berries. While there is conflicting information about whether fresh ripe elderberries are safe to eat, there is consensus about all other parts of the elderberry (including stems, leaves, and underripe berries): these are toxic and must not be eaten.
The elderberries are small, ranging in size from large BBs to tiny caviar-like berries. The syrup recipe called for a cup of berries – we thought we had picked more than enough, but ended up with exactly one cup. Per the recipe, we combined the cleaned berries with water and let it simmer, smashing the berries with a potato masher after about a half hour. The liquid didn’t reduce as much as expected, but after we removed it from the heat, strained it, and let it cool, we stirred in honey. The recipe called for 1/2 cup, which we reduced to 1/3c and still found plenty sweet.
Now we have a colorful bottle of elderberry syrup in the fridge, ready to boost our immune systems during cold season…though it’s tasty enough to want to sample anytime. In fact, it may find itself flavoring water kefir soon.
Next season, if we can harvest before the birds decimate them, we’ll try making elderberry wine!