It's finally here! Elderberry season! The end of August and start of September is the perfect time for elderberries, at least where I live. I try to pick as many of them as I can and make elderberry jam and cordials. Recently I have researched the humble elderberry a lot, and I've found that it is one of the best foods you can consume to fight colds, influenza and a wide range of other diseases and infections. This is because it has one of the highest amounts of vitamin C per weight in the world - along with other incredible nutrients like vitamin A, B-6 and iron. This recipe is for elderberry cordial with apples, which will not only add some extra nutrients but also give it a nice crisp aftertaste.
If you've ever looked for a supplement for the winter months to keep you fit and healthy, it is likely that you've seen pills that contain elderberries. They are one of the best wild foods in the world not only due to their vitamin C levels but also because of flavonoids. Flavonoids are antioxidants that are proven to reduce the time flu infections last, and they also reduce the toll the flu takes on your body regarding cell damage and stress. In fact, I would recommend adding elderberries to your diet if you are anaemic as elderberries used to be the go to treatment for anaemia and blood-related diseases in the middle ages. You can buy elderberry cordial in specialist shops but to make your own is so much fun, and the result is as pure as it gets.
Start by making sure you have about 1.5 kilos (3 ½ lbs) of berries. Follow this elderberry picking & cleaning guide if you are unsure where to forage for them or how they look. Pick them off the stalks by gently pulling on the berries; alternatively, you can also freeze them on the stalks for easier removal - this is something they do when making elderberry wine. To use the freezer method just put the whole harvest in the freezer in a ziplock bag or freezer friendly container for 6 hours. Take them out and hit the bag until the berries are loose. I like to do it without the freezing technique, but it is a very viable way to do it if you are short on time. It is also a good method if you end up with a huge harvest like I did this year. As you can see below the berries are frozen and went straight into the pot.
Recipes tend to tell you that you should add liquid to the berries at this point but I found that it is best to leave the heat on low and let the juices come out naturally. This method also gives you a stronger tasting mixture and more nutrients per serving. It is not necessary to boil it; a gentle simmer is enough at this stage. Stir gently every 10 minutes, or so with a metal spoon or fork, this will ensure that the berries on top get mixed in and break up. After about 45 minutes of very gentle simmering, your berries are ready to be sieved. Put a strainer over another pot and pour the whole mixture through a cheesecloth over the sieve. Let the mass of berries and apples cool down before you start squeezing on the cheesecloth.
Patience is the key here since hot berries with a high sugar content like these will quickly give you second-degree burns. Once it has cooled down enough, squeeze the cheesecloth until you get no more liquid out of the berries and discard the pulp. Mind you it will look like you killed someone and you might want to use gloves for this if you have to go somewhere the next day. It will stain your hands for a day or two in a very bloody colour. I give the pulp to the birds in the garden; they eat it up as soon as I place it on the feeder.
You will now be left with a deep red, pure juice that you can either turn into an elderberry cordial or jelly. If you are indecisive at this moment, then freeze the liquid in a freezer friendly container. I pour mine into an ice cube tray and transfer the frozen juice into a container for easy portioning. It might not look pretty but it is the easiest way to portion and keep the juice from spoiling.
If you want to make elderberry cordial, then all you need to do is add the juice back to the heat and turn the temperature to medium. Add the sugar along with the juice of one lemon. The lemon acts as a natural preservative and makes sure that you can store your elderberry cordial for longer in the fridge. Bring the liquid to a quick boil and pour into sterilised bottles for later use. It will stay fresh for up to a year in a cold place, but once you open your bottle, it will need to be used up within two weeks. Serve either with hot water like a toddy during cold nights or with ice as a refreshing drink.
Elderberry Cordial with Apples
- 1 kg elderberries
- 300 g sugar
- 1 lemon the juice of it
- 2 - 3 cooking apples
- Clean and wash the elderberries. Wash the apples, but there is no need to peel or core them, just cut them into quarters.
- Place the fruit in a pot, cover with a lid and slowly let it warm up over low heat until the fruit releases its juices. Simmer very gently for about 45 minutes. Stir now and then if you feel it is necessary.
- After about 45 minutes the fruit mixture is ready to be sieved. Put a sieve over another pot and pour the whole mixture through a cheesecloth over the sieve. Let the mass of berries and apples cool down before you start squeezing on the cheesecloth. This is very important because you can severely burn yourself if you try to squeeze out the liquid immediately.
- Squeeze the pulp thoroughly and discard it. Add the sugar along with the juice of one lemon to the pot of red juice. Bring the mixture to a quick boil and pour it into sterilised bottles.