Sunday, November 1, 2009

Elderberry jelly: the mountain man's soft side.

Sambucus caerulea  
Adoxaceae (honeysuckle) family

Shrub to small tree to 6m tall with soft pithy twigs. the bark is dark reddish brown and warty. yes, warty. the foliage has a strong, characteristic odor. The flowers, blooming in creamy white, rounded pyramidal parasol-like clusters are downright stinky. However, the smell is banished with drying or cooking. The flowers, battered and fried are said to be delicious. 

The flowers can also be steeped in oil which is used for soothing, therapeutic, massage. Mmm survival is sexy!

There are a few different types of elderberry in washington. red, blue and black (S. caerulea , S. racemosa. black elder is a sub species of red).
Which type of elderberry you will be picking will depend on which region of washington you are in. West of the cascades grows red elder, in the rich moist soils of open meadows, swampy thickets and stream banks. On the interior, east of the cascades where it dries out a little you will find more blue and black elder. There is hardly any difference other than the color of their fruit and all of them are highly medicinal. Flower infusions and berry extracts have been proven to fight influenza very effectively. Infusions and tinctures can also be applied externally to treat swelling, rashes, chilblains, conjunctivitis, and for eye washes. 

There are many food uses for the berries. from juice to pie filling. Oh and lets not forget elderberry wine, because nature loves to get you drunk. The plant in the picture is blue elder and it is the bush we used for making jelly.

Probably my favorite thing about this class is the drastic transitions in the curriculum. One day we are learning how to make knives and the next day we are making jelly. Right when im getting in touch with my inner mountain man   he takes a seat for my inner grandmother. If you cant have fun making jam then i feel bad for you.   In any case making jelly is  best way to preserve your elderberries for long term storage.  

Separate the berries as best you can from as much of the fine, tiny stems as possible and put into a large pot with just enough water to moisten the berries. bring to a full boil. Elderberries have levels of cyanide in them that can make you sick if eaten raw but cooking neutralizes cyanide. Cyanide is also destroyed on contact with air so if you must eat elderberries raw (which are still very tastey) they can be crushed to split the seeds and dried for a short while which will destroy the cyanide.

Start the berries on medium heat and begin mashing them. If need be a little more water can be added. mash the berries until they are boiling and let boil for about 3-4 minutes then add some lemon juice.

When the berries are done boiling pour them through a strainer to seperate the juice. press and mash the berries into the strainer to extract as much juice as you can. If you are not in a hurry a jelly bag  can be used to let the berries sit and strain. A good trick for fast juicing is to put the strained berries into a ziplock bag and gently mash and squeeze. Pour the berries back into the strainer or poke a hole in the bag and squeeze through the juice.

When you have as much juice as will satisfy your given level of OCD the juice goes back in to the pot with an equal amount of sugar. A little less can be used just dont use MORE sugar than juice. with the sugar add one 4 0z. packet of pectin. Pectin is what makes a jelly or jam set and firm into something spreadable. All berries contain pectin but some are higher than others. apples and pears are very high in pectin along with choke cherry, crab apple and hawthorn berries. These fruits may not even need extra pectin to set and and some of their juice can be added to jelly recipes using fruits with lower pectin.

Next bring the mixture to a full boil, one that can not be stirred down. if the mixture begins excessive foaming and frothing add a small amount of oil. test for donenes using a sheeting test with a cold spoon. After the mixture has been boiling a few minutes take a cold spoon and dip into the sauce. Remove the spoon and hold sideways. The jelly mix should fall away from the spoon in a sheet with little sticking to the spoon. If it drips and is liquidy it isnt ready yet. Some juices like that of elderberry, dont sheet very easily but you can tell they are done if the mixture forms a thick ridge along the bottom edge of the spoon.

Right from the stove, begin pouring the mixture into canning jars. befor using the jars make sure you have sanitized them. This should  be done by boiling the lids and tops and pouring boiling water into the empty, clean jars. Boiling the lids also softens the rubber seals, ensuring a tight fit. later, the jars and screw caps may be re-used but do not reuse the rubber lined lids.

Fill the jars to the twist lines and wip the edges clean. It is important that the edges are clean so that there is no residue in the screw top which may go bad and contaminate the jelly. 

As the mixture cools the air inside the jar condenses and the pop top on the lid will depress. This is how you know if/when your seal is tight and secure. once the lids are screwed down and seal all you need to do is wait. The jelly will be finished setting and ready to eat in about a week.



  1. if you need a few jars, at any time, please ask. i have tons... also, whenver you want to make jam, let me know and i'd love to make some!

  2. the list of future projects is growing exponentially.....

  3. I didn't realize elderberry was so pretty to look at. Its in my favorite liquor, St. Germain.