Many people seem to know that elderberry syrup is good for you: It’s been clinically proven to help your immune system, and, well, it tastes nice. So how do you make elderberry syrup at home?
You need elderberries. Where I live in Northern California, they start coming ripe at the end of May, and you can find them somewhere all the way into October depending on where you live.
Making elderberry syrup is always the first thing I do with elderberries once they come ripe. Why? Because it’s so damn versatile. I’ve used it to make elderberry ice cream, poured it on top of other ice creams, and I use it in my go-to sauce for venison and wild duck, the classic Cumberland sauce.
Making your syrup seems pretty intuitive. I mean, all you need are elderberries and sugar, right?
Well, yes. But my method for making the syrup is different from most others. Other 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. A better way is to 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. I suppose that works fine, but with my method you don’t have to water down your berries to make a sufficient amount of syrup — unless you are in a serious drought.
Do it this way and you will get 3+ pints from 3 pounds of elderberries, as opposed to 2 pints from 2 pounds of elderberries with another 2 to 4 cups of water thrown in. Believe me, this is a huge flavor difference.
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? 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.
- 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. Pour the juice through your finest mesh sieve to catch any stray seeds or pulp.
- 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 to 2 hours. You should have a little less than 1 quart. You don't need to strain the juice the way you do with the food mill 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, skim the froth, 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.