Elderberries ready for juicing-1

Our members blogs continue, with Ingrid Glenddinning offering some words of wisdom on how to make the most of this year’s amazing elderberry crop… 

Elderberries are abundant this year due to the good summer we have had. Last year there were very few berries compared to this year; they definitely need a lot of sun to flower and ripen.

Everyone knows about elderflower cordial or even elderflower fritters, but elderberries in the UK tend to be more often used to make elderberry wine.

Elderberry tree-1

Elderberries on the tree

In Romania, where I was born and in Germany, where I lived for 7 years, elderberry juice/cordial is much better known and many varied recipes exist to use the berries in desserts, vinegars, preserves, jellies, wines, teas, soups, cordials etc. Even the leaves of the elderberry tree can be used externally for medicinal uses.

In previous centuries people used to take a bow in front of every elderberry tree they passed as a mark of respect for its amazing medicinal properties. These include treatments for many ailments like using the leaves for burns and insect stings. A tea can be made from the dried flowers or dried berries and this is widely used in Germany for soothing coughs and sore throats, but most amazingly as a very effective treatment for colds and ‘flus during the winter. Elderberries boost the immune system, like garlic does, and treat respiratory infections by promoting sweating.

These are just a handful of remedies from Elderberries/flowers, for a full list and more information search the internet. On top of that they are very rich in vitamin C and many other vitamins and minerals and bioflavonoids. At this time of year they can be found very easily as they grow along road verges, hedges, parks, and gardens. The whole plant, including the roots, bark, leaves, flowers and berries can be used medicinally.

In Germany there are many books specifically about preserving elderberries and their culinary/medicinal uses, but it’s important to remember that elderberries can and should be enjoyed like any other berry, and not just as a health supplement. In the UK most books refer to them as a health supplement or as an ingredient for making wine. But it is delicious simply eaten like any other berry in desserts, jams, cordials etc. Do not however, eat them raw, as in large amounts they are poisonous as are the green stems they are attached to, in large amounts. Having said that, I never detach them from the stems, as it is far too fiddly and time consuming; I have drunk the juice for 40 years now and am still around. But if you want to be 100 % safe or are very sensitive, remove them from the stems using your fingers or a fork and maybe asking a good friend/family member for help. As long as you cook them, they are safe to eat.

But of course the best thing about these berries is that they are absolutely free, local and better than any medicine for you. And it’s fun to pick them and use them in the kitchen. If you have never tasted elderberry juice before, it looks like blackcurrant juice and tastes slightly like it, but you just need to try it for yourself. Some people need to get used to its taste. You should always dilute it to taste. Try it hot (dilute with hot water) or with sparkling water. I drink it as a normal diluted juice, not just when I feel under the weather or ill. My dad swears by it and even uses it to help him sleep, and some people have found it very helpful to treat their eczema as it boosts the immune system and is a good internal skin tonic.

So go out and pick some elderberries and make your own free “diluting juice”. Make enough to last you for a year, so you don’t have to buy the cheap, sugary, processed juice from the supermarkets.

Elderberry Cordial

Elderberry juice after straining-1

The juice after straining

1 kg Elderberries (removed from stalks, but not absolutely necessary; increase the weight slightly if leaving stalks on)
1 cup water
Lemon juice
300 g sugar

Put the elderberries (with or without stalks) in a big pot with the water and bring to a slow simmer. Simmer gently for a few minutes until the berries are soft.

Strain the mixture through a sieve or a Mouli to extract the juice. Do this thoroughly as you want as much juice as possible to take advantage of all the goodness and the nutrients in it.

Measure the juice and add 300 g of sugar for every 1l of juice and a squirt of lemon juice.

Bring the mixture back to a simmer and simmer gently again for a few minutes to dissolve the sugar.

Pour into sterilized bottles and seal.

Note: I have only used 125 g of sugar per litre of juice as we don’t like it too sweet. You can get away with this but be aware that the keeping/storing qualities are then reduced and you may not be able to keep it for as long as if there was more sugar in it. But for a less sugary, healthier option, this works for us. Keep the juice in the fridge once opened. It is ready for consumption as soon as it has cooled.

If you want to speed up the juice extraction process and extract even more juice, you can use a steam juice extractor available from online suppliers; they can be expensive but are worth getting if you make a lot of juice, or get together with friends and share the cost.

I used recycled cider bottles with screw on tops, that I washed and then sterilized in the oven. You can use this juice as a base for desserts, jam or jelly.

Elderberry juice-1

The finished juice, all bottled and ready for drinking!

Elderberry soup

Serves 4

This is a typical German recipe that is absolutely delicious. It is a bit unusual as it is a sweet soup and is probably more of a dessert than a main meal.

500 ml Elderberry cordial
A handful of plums, peeled and chopped apples, brambles or a mixture or any other frozen berries that you may have
Sugar/honey to taste
2tbsp of corn flour
2 egg whites
1 tbsp vanilla sugar or real vanilla pod seeds (or vanilla extract)

Stew the plums/apples/brambles/berries and add enough sugar/honey to sweeten it to your taste.

Bring the juice to a simmer. Mix the corn flour with 2 tbsp of cold water and stir into the simmering juice to thicken. Add the stewed fruit/berries.

Mix the vanilla sugar/flavouring with the egg whites and whisk until stiff. Take tablespoonfuls of the mixture and pop them on top of the simmering soup mixture for a few minutes until they are stiff, firm and cooked.

Serve the soup in pretty wide bowls. The egg white “clouds” make the soup look pretty and taste amazing.

Note: The egg white clouds are optional but do add a very nice and delicious touch and flavour to the soup. But for those who are allergic to eggs or vegan, they can be left out. You can vary the soup and add cream instead of the egg white clouds or crème fraiche.

We’re looking for Fife Diet members to share their experiences of local eating in future blogs. How do you make the Fife Diet work for you? What successes (and failures!) have you experienced? Why do you think a local diet is so important? Get in touch with mags@fifediet.co.uk if you’d like to write for us!