Now that blackberries are done for most of us, Elderberries are the next wild fruit in season. I can’t just sit by and watch good food go to waste, so of course I must climb through the remaining rose and blackberry brambles to reach the tiny purple fruits of the Elderberry. Poke berries are also starting to ripen so be sure to avoid those!! Know how to identify your berries before consuming. Poke is poisonous!
Elderberries should be picked and consumed with some knowledge as well:
“The leaves, twigs, branches, seeds and roots contain a cyanide producing glycoside. Ingesting any of these parts in sufficient quantity can cause a toxic build up of cyanide in the body. In addition, the unripened berry, flowers and “umbels” contain a toxic alkaloid.
Due to the possibility of cyanide poisoning, children should be discouraged from making whistles, slingshots or other toys from elderberry wood. In addition, “herbal teas” made with elderberry leaves (which contain cyanide inducing glycosides) should be treated with high caution. However, ripe berries (pulp and skin) are safe to eat.“
If you’re fortunate enough to have access to this wonderful plant, I suggest taking the time to prepare one of these tasty recipes. The sweetened berries taste a bit like a cross between a cherry and a blackberry. Who could go wrong with that?!
- Wash berries and pick out any green fruit and stems. This can take quite a while for 3 pounds worth of fruit. I suggest pouring the berries onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper (for contrast) to make the job easier.
- Sterilize all equipment with boiling water. If you purchased campden tablets you can crush one per gallon of water to ensure sterilization.
- Boil water and 1-1/2 lb sugar until well dissolved. Pour into elderberries and allow to rest for 5 minutes.
- Put elderberries into a food mill to release juices. Return berry skins to liquid. Alternatively, wear rubber gloves and smoosh with hands.
- Add crushed Campden Tablet and citric acid then allow to rest for 24 hours.
- The next day, add yeast to your soon-to-be wine and mix well. Top off your carboy or watercube with an airlock and allow the juices to do their work over the next 2 weeks.
- After 2 weeks, strain berry pulp from fermenting liquid using a cheesecloth or fine mesh sieve. Make sure you use sterilized equipment! Add final 1/2 pound sugar and close your container with an airlock or balloon.
- Allow to rest 10 days.
- Ten days later, use your original bucket (cleaned and sterilized) and tubing to siphon the fermenting liquid from the sediment. Place your bucket on the floor and your carboy/watercube/jug on a table or counter. Insert one end of tubing into the wine and suck just a bit to get the siphon action going.
- While the siphoned liquid is resting in the bucket, clean your carboy/cube/jug and re-sterilize along with your tubing.
- Siphon the liquid again – back into the cleaned carboy/cube/jug .
- Close container with airlock or balloon as before.
- Let rest for 3 months or longer so that the yeast can work its magic. Once the mixture stops bubbling (if you’re using an airlock) or the balloon deflates the wine is ready to be siphoned into your sterilized bottles and corked.
- Allow to age an additional 3 months minimum (9 months to one year is best) before drinking.
Country Wine: Equipment and Ingredients
It is possible to make wine with minimum equipment and purchases. The bare necessities (in my humble experience) that you’ll want include:
- Food-grade bucket, preferably 5-gallon. Check with a local bakery or deli.
- A large strainer or sieve plus some cheesecloth.
- About 4-5 feet of food-grade tubing. Look in the plumbing section of a hardware store.
- Gallon-sized glass carboys or 5-gallon collapsible water cubes. Carboys can be saved from juice purchases. The water cubes are fantastic for making odd-sized batches of wine and can be found at camping supply stores.
- Balloons and cotton balls, or airlocks.
- Yeast. You can use regular baking yeast, but if you want a better flavor you can opt for different “wine” strains of yeast found at winemaking/brewing stores. I’ve used Montrachet as it’s recommended to balance the flavors of berry wines.
- Bottles and Corks. I save all my bottles from other purchases like wine, vinegar, juice, and so on. I purchased “mushroom” corks since they don’t require a tool to insert them into the bottles.
- Campden tablets to sterilize equipment, remove stray yeast and bacteria (highly recommended unless you have problems with sulfites).
- Tannin, citric acid, or Earle Grey tea for flavor balance in sweeter wines.
- Extra sugar or wine conditioner to sweeten and brighten finished wine.
- Pectic acid for removing extra pectin and “clarify” wine.
- Yeast nutrient to feed yeast. Recipes without nutrient require extra sugar.
You can purchase all of these items from a wine and beer making supplier or spend a little more energy and locate many things locally. I purchased my airlock, water cube, yeast, campden tablets, and corks from E.C. Kraus. for less than $50. The rest I found locally or did without.
from the Ball Blue Book, yield about 3 pints
- 2 quarts crushed elderberries (ripe berries, stemmed)
- 6 C sugar
- 1/4 C vinegar
- Combine berries, sugar and vinegar. Bring slowly to boiling, stirring occasionally until sugar dissolves.
- Cook rapidly until thick. As mixture thickens, stir frequently to prevent sticking.
- Pour, boiling hot, into sterilized jars. Adjust caps.
Yield: about 3 pints.
I hope you get the opportunity to sample some elderberries in one form or another this year! The purple stains are worth it!!