OK, my father didn’t really smell of elderberries. But he was the one who first told me about these lovely fruits of Nature when I was very young. I remember when I first tasted them I found them a little less than wonderful. However if you catch them at just the right time they are palatable. Trouble is, the “right time” can slip away very quickly. They ripen slowly over many weeks and then kaboom!! they explode on you as you walk along the trail. Well OK maybe there’s no kaboom!! Seriously, they are only in their prime for a few days and then they become bitter.
Here in Beautiful West Michigan, elderberry bushes can be seen blooming everywhere. I see them every day, and some are making berries already. In a few weeks they’ll turn a dark purple, and they are ready to pick when the stems that support the cluster of berries also turns purple. The trick is to get them before the birds do… but I always leave some for the birds.
Elderberries have been used for eons, both for medicinal and culinary purposes. Personally I’m trying to start a “revival” of the use of elderberries. I say “revival,” because for many moons I would mention to people, “I picked a mess of elderberries over the weekend.” They would smile politely and then ask, “what are elderberries??” Many have heard about them in songs and whatnot, but it seems that the vast majority of people have not noticed them at all, much less picked them. Beautiful West Michigan is blessed with lots of water, and elderberries really like living near water. You can see them along the roadsides (and elsewhere of course); large bushes with big white flower clusters that mature into the beautiful dark purple fruits.
If you ever get the notion to pick them, DO NOT be silly and try to pick them one at a time. You’ll go crazy I tell you!! You’ll be working for hours and get maybe a few cups of berries. The best way I’ve found is to cut the berry clusters from the plant and drop them in your shopping bag. Those plastic grocery bags from the store perfect for this, but make sure you take some that don’t have any holes in the bottom. Bring a pair of scissors or maybe a sharp pocket knife and cut the berry cluster at the stem that connects it to the plant. Oh, and as I mentioned earlier, please follow this very important rule: always leave some for the birds.
Then take them home when you get your quota and prepare to spend at least an hour processing about a gallon of berries off the stems and into a container. I find it good meditation to pick up the clusters one at a time and roll the berries off the stem gently with your fingers. Your fingers get a bit purple from this, but it’s not permanent. If you’re lucky like me you may have a beautiful and devoted spouse who will actually help process the berries. After we’re done, we just chuck them in the freezer. When you want to use them, just bonk them a little to loosen them up and then scoop what you need out of the freezer bag.
So why go through all this hassle? Well folks, there’s simply nothing quite like elderberry pie with a glob of Breyer’s vanilla ice cream on top. Making the pie is at least 197% easy. First of all, I’m not ashamed to admit that I cheat on the crust. I buy the crusts at the store from the dairy case.
Hey if you want to make your own crust, knock yourself out. I mean that figuratively of course. Wouldn’t be very pleasant if you really knocked yourself out. Lots of people have told me that “crust is easy!!” Looks to messy to me. When it comes to making crust from scratch, I’m a lazy wuss, OK??
Other than that, I follow the same recipe for elderberry pie as I do for blueberry:
3 to 4 cups of elderberries
1/2 cup of sugar
1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon
1 1/2 tablespoon of flower
1 drizzling of honey
Mix these up in a bowl and pour them into a 9 inch deep dish pie pan with crust. Take a spoon and fill the rest of the pie with more berries until you’ve filled the pie pan. Then drizzle the top with just a bit of honey, and this is because elderberries are quite tart and just a little more sweetening is a good touch but certainly not necessary. Cover the pie with the other cheating crust and poke some holes in it so the steam will vent out. Cook in the oven at about 350 or 400 till the crust is nice and brown, or about 45 minutes.
I’ve also been known to make what I call “bluederberry pie,” in which I mix 1 part elderberries to 3 parts blueberries. Oh my, that’s good!
Then the fun part: STUFF YOUR FACE!! MMMMMMMMMMMMMMM!!!
So enjoy your elderberries, but when they start to come, don’t delay, they’ll be gone before you know it. And if you don’t want any of such silly treats, that’s just fine.
That’s more for me!!
Now, regarding my father.. he was a full blooded Norwegian, so he probably smelt more of lingonberries, or perhaps even cod. However, one of my favorite “insults” that I occasionally repeat aloud comes from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. One of my favorite movies of all time contains a boisterous proclamation from John Cleese: “Your mother was a hamster, and your father smelt of elderberries!!”
Here’s a fun clip: