Some very early translations of the Bible mention a small, stringed musical instrument named sambuke. The frame of this instrument was made from the hollow branches of the Sambucus or elder tree. There are many different varieties of Sambucus, most being more shrub than tree. The variety that grows wild here in Bruce County is Sambucus canadensis, which bears dark purple, almost black berries. This variety has naturalized here, the elder tree being native to Europe, North Africa and Western Asia.
I have used both the flowers and the fruit in recipes and there are many recipes for elderflower or elderberry wine. The flowers form in large, creamy-white flat-topped clusters and their taste is somewhat bitter when nibbled right off the tree. (DON'T try eating any wild plant until you have verified it as edible. There is a dwarf elder that bears poisonous berries!). The fragrance and pleasant taste of the flowers is developed with the syrup or wine-making process, or in cooking them. I have made elderflower fritters by dipping the flowerheads in a light batter and frying them in olive oil.
The berries, which you see just forming in the shot below, taste a bit like blackcurrants and are made into conserves and jam. As the berries form and ripen, the stems that once bore the flowers turns from green (top picture) to dark red (picture below). You can substitute elderberries for currants or gooseberries in preserving recipes.
In anticipation of the elderberries, which won't be ready to pick here until late August, early September, this is my recipe for a smooth-finished, rich and fruity, sweet-tart syrup. Splash it into white wine or champagne, sparkling mineral water, smoothies, milkshakes and all sorts of cocktails and mocktails.
1 lb elderberries or red or black currants
grated rind and juice of 1 orange
1 cups water
1 cups granulated sugar
- In a saucepan, combine elderberries with orange rind, juice and water. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring frequently. Boil for 2 or 3 minutes, crushing the berries with the back of a wooden spoon. Strain the juice through a cheesecloth-lined sieve into a non-reactive bowl. Press the pulp to release as much of the juice as possible.
- Meanwhile, sterilize a 1-pint (2 cups/500 mL) jar in hard boiling water for 15 minutes.
- Return the juice to the saucepan and stir in the sugar. Bring to a boil over medium heat and boil hard for 1 minute. Skim and discard any foam. Pour hot syrup into hot jar. Cover with flat lid and metal screw band. Allow to cool completely. Label and store in the refrigerator for up to 6 months.