I can’t believe I’ve never written about elderberry syrup. It’s the first thing I do with elderberries once they come ripe in summer. Why? Because it’s so damn versatile. I’ve used it to make elderberry ice cream, poured it on top of other ice creams, alongside lemon verbena panna cotta, and it is a mainstay of my go-to sauce for venison and wild duck, the classic Cumberland sauce.
I guess I never wrote about it because it was pretty intuitive. I mean, all you need are elderberries and sugar, right?
Well, yes. But when I described to some friends my method of making this syrup, I realized it’s actually different from most. Most syrup recipes ask that you cook your elderberries, mash them with a potato masher and let them drain through a jelly bag. Well, there is a problem with this. You will never break all the berries with this method, and given that it is a time-consuming and persnickety business to take all those elderberries off their stems — the stems are toxic, by the way — you really want as much juice as you can get.
So instead, I use an immersion blender and a food mill to make short work of our little blue friends.
Works so well you can get twice as much yield from your elderberries. Twice, you say? Yes, twice. Most elderberry syrup recipes require you to add water to your boiling berries. Shame! Watering down that elderberry goodness! I suppose it works fine, but you don’t have to water down your berries to make a sufficient amount of syrup — unless you are in a serious drought. Use my method and you will get 3+ pints from 3 pounds of elderberries, as opposed to 2 pints from 2 pounds of elderberries with another 2-4 cups of water thrown in. Believe me, this is a huge flavor difference.
What does 3 pounds of elderberries look like? Well, like this:
When they are on their stems, it is roughly equivalent to half a paper grocery bag. On a good year, that can take you all of 10 minutes to harvest. Destemming, however, will take an hour — if you are good at it.
Why make elderberry syrup? Uh, why not? Aside from ice cream, wild game sauces, etc, you can use elderberry syrup:
- As a sorbet base
- In an Italian fruit mustard, a/k/a mostarda
- As a flavoring for panna cotta or creme caramel
- In a martini
- As flavor for an Italian soda
- On your pancakes
The possibilities are pretty endless. And since elderberries grow in most of the 50 states, as well as in Canada and most of Europe, there’s no reason you can’t go outside and get some yourself.
You will need at least a pound of elderberries for this recipe, and preferably three pounds, so you have enough to last a while. I use a food mill to extract as much juice as I can from the berries, but if you don’t have one you can use a jelly bag. I am pretty cavalier about my canning practices with syrups, as they are so sugar-dense they are incredibly resistant to bacteria. I don’t bother to sterilize my equipment, although I do make sure everything is freshly cleaned, and I do use a brand-new canning lid. If you feel the need to process your syrup in a boiling-water bath, 10 minutes will be more than enough.
Makes 3 pints.
Prep Time: 1 hour
Cook Time: 20 minutes
- 3 pounds elderberries, destemmed
- 4 cups sugar
- You will need to remove the berries from the stems; elderberry stems are toxic. (I go through some tricks on destemming elderberries here.) It should take you about 45 minutes to an hour to destem 3 pounds of elderberries, which equates to about a half a normal paper grocery bag.
- At this point you can empty your berries into a large bowl of ice water. Weird debris will float, like dead flower husks, bugs, etc. Pour this off.
- Pour the elderberries into a large pot and either mash them thoroughly with a potato masher, or, better yet, with an immersion blender. Only break up the berries for a few seconds using the immersion blender, and use it on low setting. You don’t want to grind up the seeds, which are bitter.
- Bring the elderberries to a boil, stirring often. Now, if you are using a food mill, set it up with its finest plate and pour the elderberries into it. Run the food mill until the mash is pretty dry, then squeeze out any remaining elderberry juice. You should have a little more than 1 quart. If you are using the jelly bag method. Mash the berries again after they’ve boiled, then pour them into a jelly bag suspended over a large bowl. Let this drain for 1 hour. You should have a little less than 1 quart.
- If you are using the food mill, pour the juice through your finest mesh sieve to catch any stray seeds or pulp. You don’t need to do this with the jelly bag method.
- Return the juice to the (cleaned) pot and add an equal volume of sugar, normally about 4 cups. Bring to a boil until it froths, then turn off the heat and pour into clean jars. Always use a new canning lid when you are making this syrup, unless you plan on eating it in the next few weeks. Seal the jars and let stand until the lids pop. They will keep for a year on the shelf or in the fridge.
MORE ELDERBERRY RECIPES