As the fragrance of elderberry syrup wafts from my adorable 3-quart Instant Pot, I think of hot summer days, picking clusters of purple berries and, later, picking berries from the stems with fingers stained a dark bordeaux. In the depths of winter, those days are a mere memory, but the fruits of those labors are very real.
2021 was a bumper year for elderberries, producing berries nearly black in their rich darkness, and bushes drooping under their weight. I picked what seemed like thousands of the BB-sized berries, trying to collect them before the birds decimated them or they fermented on the stem (maybe that’s why the birds enjoyed them). At the end of the harvest, I had several gallon bags of berries and a couple of containers ready for the freezer.
Even pre-COVID, we valued keeping our immune systems strong by eating well, managing stress, and by ensuring that we regularly consumed several different types of fermented foods and beverages. On the farm, there are no sick days, so staying healthy is of paramount importance – and probiotics play a key part.
Making the syrup in my 3-quart Instant Pot is easy and quick: I just added 2 cups of frozen berries, chopped ginger, cinnamon sticks, and water to the pot. What was different in this version was the addition of the zest, juice, and, finally, the remaining bits of citrus to the pot. As the recipe stated, the entire orange and half lemon will simply “melt” into the syrup while it cooks…no waste.
As the syrup cooked, the fragrance filled the kitchen. Once the cook time elapsed, I manually released the pressure, and then strained out the pulp. The finished syrup, deep purple, went into the fridge.
Even without added sweetener, the syrup is flavorful and slightly sweet from the citrus. I’ve used it in water kefir (second ferment) and have also added it directly to finished kombucha. Both are delicious. And, as I enjoy my probiotic beverages, the effort involved in foraging for these tiny powerhouses feels completely worthwhile.
Want to make this yourself? Find the recipe here. My mods: I don’t keep vanilla paste on hand, so I subbed some vanilla extract; I omitted the honey, as this is naturally slightly sweet; and I let this cook for 10 minutes, rather than 7.