Respect Your Elderberries: Elderberry Syrup Recipe
During the summer, like everyone else in Paris, I get outta town for a long break. I often visit friends who live in the country in nearby in the Seine-et-Marne, a region a little over an hour from Paris.
You probably know about the famous cheese from there, brie de Meaux, which is sold in big, gooey rounds at most of the markets in the area. There’s a big one on Sunday mornings in Coulommiers, but I prefer the smaller but better market on Saturdays, in the town of Provins, which features actual producteurs, the folks who grow and sell their own fruits and légumes.
Elderberries are pretty prolific and although I’ve not seen them in any markets, the friends who I stay with have a huge tree and if you’re a spry climber, you probably can pick more than you know what to do with all at once.
The difficulty in preparing elderberries, or as they call them in France, sureaux, are picking the tiny berries off the microfiber-like stems. (Earlier in the season, the blossoms can be turned into elderflower fritters or elderflower syrup.) The berries appear in spidery tufts on the farthest end of the branches and I nearly chopped down my friend’s tree trying to get the ripest berries way-high up at the top. And I almost killed myself using their pre-war ladder…and that’s pre World War I, mind you.
But I need to keep busy even when I’m relaxing on vacation, which is my very own French-American paradox, and when I saw the giant elderberry tree practically awash with tiny purple berries behind the house I was staying at, I couldn’t resist hauling out the ladder and spending a good couple of hours clipping away. Unfortunately the berries that caught my eye were higher up than I thought from down below, and I ended up perched too-high up on that rickety ladder with a saw and clippers, risking my life for the little buggers.
The gorgeous syrup is great in a glass of sparkling water over ice, dripped some over plain yogurt, atop a bowl of vanilla ice cream, or use it to make an lively kir. And hello pancakes and waffles! You can also use the berries to make Elderberry jelly.
Once you get them down off the tree, the fun just keeps coming and coming. You need to pluck the little purple berries off the branches. But too often a little bit of the delicate stem usually comes off with them and that needs to be removed if you’re going to toss them in a compote or a crisp. It’s picky work, but the rewards are delicious.
Makes 1 quart (1l)
Make sure the cookware you’re using is non-reactive and your clothes are stain-friendly. If you use an aluminum pot, it’ll get stained and the next batch of mashed potatoes you make may come out pink. Ditto for spatulas and anything else to plan to use to stir the syrup while it’s cooking.
If you live somewhere where huckleberries are available, you could use them instead.
- 2-pounds (1kg) elderberries (see note below), woody stems removed and rinsed
- 4 cups (1l) water
- 2½ (500g) cups sugar
- one nice-sized squirt of freshly-squeezed lemon juice
1. Put the elderberries in a large, non-reactive pot with the water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a low boil and cook for 15-20 minutes, until tender and soft.
2. Pass through a food mill, then discard the skins.
3. Pour the juice back into the pot (I use a fine-mesh strainer again at this point, but I’m crazy…), add sugar, and cook at a low boil over moderate heat for 15 minutes, until the syrup has thickened. Add a spritz of lemon juice. Cool completely.
4. Pour into a bottle or jar and store in the refrigerator.
Note: Some varieties of elderberries are not meant for consumption and none should be eaten raw, especially the leaves. I remove all of the hard, woody stems as well before cooking. For more information, Cornell University’s Department of Horticulture has guidelines, noting the fruits are used in “…pies, jellies and jams.” If you’re unsure if your elderberries are edible, consult your local cooperative extension before consuming.
Storage: In the refrigerator, I’ve kept this syrup up to one year. If it shows any signs of mold, scrape it away, and bring the syrup back to a full boil again.
Hehe, I like the title! Even in some of the pictures, the berries look old and wrinkly :) Your recipe is awesome…thanks for sharing it! And that picture of the elderberry yogurt is beyond mesmerizing…
Oh yes we do get E! Entertainment Television in Paris. (“E!” is still pronounced “eee!” rather than “euh!”) It’s very educational. Shows are sometimes dubbed, sometimes subtitled. That’s where I learned that a six-pack – as in abs – is called une tablette de chocolat.
I have a ready supply of elderberries in my garden, courtesy of the Norfolk hedging we planted a few years ago, but I tend to use the blossoms more – they’re just so headily fragrant and delicious… if I’m organised enough (I wasn’t this spring) I make enough elderflower cordial to last a year, make fritters as you suggest, jam them with gooseberries – in fact marry them up a lot with gooseberries, including sorbets, ice creams and fools. Very refreshing.
You’ve sold me on the apricot/elderberry combination though – the colours look so beautiful.
I saw a repeat Naked Chef episode recently where he took elderberries and other fruits and suspended them in prosecco gelatin. They looked gorgeous once popped out of the ramekin molds. Jamie offered this little tip: he said that it was easiest and least messy to remove the berries by using a fork and running it down the length of the stems. I have yet to try this little trick though. Your desserts look equally beautiful too!
Had a discussion with my husband lately about why he was quite sure that elderberry trees were toxic, despite recognizing that he’d heard of cordials, even wine, made from elderberry, and after all, their Latin name is Sambuccus, surely related to the liqueur Sambucca, no? I just did a bit of googling and found that while the berries are edible, other parts of the plant can be very toxic, stems included — symptoms include fun stuff like diarrhea and profuse sweating. Anyone know more about this? We have an elderberry tree in our yard and I’d love to harvest some of the berries.
So beautiful and intersting to read about. I haven’t seen elderberries in ny, but I have been drinking plenty of rose.
P.S. don’t know if you’ve seen the ice cream series on my site, but thought you might want to check it out since I’ve referenced you and your book often.
david, i’ll be slightly off topic as this comment is not on elderberries but on french fries. I read the barrage of comments on the battle vs the integrity of french food, and wanted to let you know about an excellent brasserie “Pipo” for fries. my boyfriend is french and took me to his fav spot, just down from the Pantheon towards the Seine. Try them for yourself :)
Funny! Yummy! Does that make fummy or yunny?
Louisa: In that case, I certainly qualify as having a ‘tablette of chocolat’. Although it is possible to have two…or more?
katie: Will check it out. Had some very good, nicely-browned frites at Ma Bourgoune for lunch yesterday. But minutes later, all the subsequent fries coming out of the kitchen looked pale and limp. They must be reading my blog : )
Mercedes: Looks like you’ve got almost as much ice cream on your hands as I do!
Ellen: Like red currants, you could use a fork, but the teensy-weensy (yet tough) little bits of stem that attach to the berries still need to get plucked off the old-fashioned way—by hand.
materfamilias: I remove as much of the woody stems as possible. I certainly wouldn’t eat the leaves, branches or raw berries, nor advise anyone else to.
Many people do make fritters out of the blossoms, and the venerable Blue Ball Book of Conserving has recipes using elderberries.
There’s a few links to sources for more information at the end of the recipe, including Cornell’s Dept of Horticulture, which notes elderberries use in various cooking applications but they should be cooked before consuming. If you have a local cooperative extension, I recommend bringing in a branch and some berries (unless you have an aversion to hunky farm-types…) or to a horticultural or agricultural expert for confirmation.
Oooohhhh – I’m so excited!!!! I’ve known about sureau for years, but I’ve always wondered what elderberries were!!!! (And am currently feeling a little like M. Jourdain, when he discovered that he spoke in prose…)
thanks for this info, David. And really, hunky farm-types, well, I can deal . . .
Christina, I think fummy.
Fummy should be when it’s funny and then gets yummy. Yunny should be when it’s yummy and then gets funny.
When I was a kid in Ohio my mother sent us off with baskets to pick elderberries. We came back, literally, with a bushel of the buggers. And then my great grandmother and I spent the afternoon picking the stems. Our fingers were purple for days.
We made it into jam. It’s not bad. Better than the choke cherry jam we made the summer before but not nearly as good as the raspberry jams we made every year.
I enjoy reading your blog.
I’ve noticed that people with a sensitive digestion can still have problems with elderberry delights if the seeds are included in the end product. Otherwise, they are nice substitutes for currants in cakes, when dried.
Love the bit of country dust on the unwashed strawberries that will never see a Paris marche.
As much as I love elderberries (I sometimes drink the health food store version of them mixed in white wine), elderflowers are the main attraction for me. I make an elderflower and melon sorbet that makes Summer actually tolerable, but here in Hawaii, I’m stuck using the dried blossoms. If you have access to the fresh version, bless your circumstances!
the title of this post alone, made me chuckle.
so now I will go back to reading the entire thing, and report back later. :)
My mother gathers elderberries, practically by the side of the road, in Berlin where they flourish. I’ve never liked her elderberry jams, but this post has me salivating for the way you’ve done them!
i’ve never seen let alone tasted fresh elderberries. but how totally beautiful…
BUT DAVID i am making the summer pudding. it’s in the fridge now doing it’s thing and will be eaten tomorrow. i got beautiful raspberries and blackberries and bought champagne grapes – or currents. but they weren’t red – more purple and sweet. i hope it comes out well!
I grew up in Austria and we had that huge elderberry tree in the backyard. We made syrup from the blossoms! SO GOOD! And we batterned the berries and deep fried them.
I don’t even know if there are Elderberry Trees in Illinois but I am craving some syrup now
Hello, I came to your blog via the mincemeat cake recipe. Love your writing and share the rosé-passion. I am German and there the elderberry tree is dedicated to Hera, the goddess protecting home and couple. It brings bad luck when you pull a elderberry tree out in your garden, it is said. My mother used to combine elderberry and apple juice to make jelly and confectionary. Delicious! In France, the elderberry tree is rather seen as a bad weed and pulled out everywhere…
The elderberries look lovely, but that word always reminds me of Monty Python, “Your mother was a hamster and your father smelled of elderberries!”
Also samite. Although that word doesn’t come up as often.
I have been canning elderberries since the 90’s-elderberry martinis rock. Best use to date is: stilton, foie gras and elderberry syrup served on a herb/olive oil toasted baguette.
OK Mister. Go easy on the maliging of elderberry for medicinal purposes. An efective winter tonic has been made for generations in the American South (US).
Your elderberry syrup would be fantatsic made with agave syrup.
You know, David, I’ve never been much of a fan of elderberries – I love elderflowers, though, VERY much. on my recent visit to Austria, i noticed that lots of chalets in the alps have elderberry bushes around them, apparently they’re a good protection against lightning… not so much anymore once they’re all jarred up, I guess.
My gran never used to pick the berries off their stems, in they went with the stems and she’d remove them when the berries had come off naturally in the cooking process. Not the neatest method, I believe, but once put through a passoire, nobody will notice!
Thanks for submitting this to SHF#34!
My dear man! There’s nothing particularly goofy about “claims” that elderberry syrup can help cure colds; there are supporting studies Here’s the link for the avian flu study:
Love the blog!
I am in the middle of making elderberry syrup. My grandmother used to make it and we took it as children as a tonic against flu and cold.
I have spent at least six hours stripping the berries from the stems. Yes I know I could use a fork, but I am a stickler for quality control!
Each year I panic that I miss the best fruit, but for the past two have managed to get out there and make the most of the season.
The recipe I follow includes cloves and sugar and is much fun. I will be doing that bit tomorrow.
I store the syrup in green screwcap glass bottles and it seems to keep well for quite a few months.
It’s elderberry crunch time here in New England (Connecticut). The birds are gorging, one more day and they’re gone! I managed to pick a pail full from roadside finds. They’re simmering at present and will be made into syrup this year. I used to make jelly, my boys remember me having purple fingers for days. It’s interesting to read about “trees”, our native bushes remain fairly low but I have been known to stand on the trunk of my car to gather “tops”. What draws me most to elderberries is their color, so jewel-like and rich. I find that few people pick them here, most prefer the blueberry, more for me and the birds! They are an acquired taste, friends that are gifted my treasures aren’t sure at first but I’ve made several converts. I’m also just finding out about their medicinal properties. I’m not going to strain through cheese cloth this year, don’t want the essential oils absorbed into the cloth. Wonderful flavor, gorgeous color and healthful too! What more could you ask of a little berry! Enjoy!
We make elderberry wine here in Missouri. It is a regional favorite. Our elderberries grow like bushes, or shrubs, and we separate the berries from the stems by freezing them first in ziploc bags, and then while they are frozen, the tiny berries just pop off.
What beautiful pictures!!!
Here in Missouri,elderberries grow like weeds, so around this time of the year I am literally SWAMPED in the damn things…we pick a couple gallons a day then spend about 4 hours cleaning,de-stemming,etc them.
But all the work is worth it,in the end….elderberry jam….elderberry syrup on pancakes….elderberry syrup and vanilla ice cream,yum yum !
And every year, after Elderberry season is over,I think “I am never looking at a dmaned Elderberry EVER again,as long as I live!” but every Summer, here I am,sweating under 105F weather,pciking Elderberries.
Elderberries are my drug :)
And my son, who is three and a half, is getting into the swing of things.He loooves helping his mommy make “that sticky purple stuff’ for his pancakes, pies,vanilla icecream,etc.
And I hope it is something that he loves enough to pass on down to his own kids,and etc. …or at least untill the Ozone is destroyed so much they can’t grow any more (Elderberries I mean,not grandchildren!).
I just made 2 batches of elderberry jelly (yum) and about to do syrup. I have already extracted the juice using my juice steamer (awesome) but the syrup recipe doesn’t give me a juice mz for the recipe. How many cups? I do all the berries at once, (this was a good year) yielding a bushel for me and over 2 bushels I gave my neighbor. I’m addicted to the stuff! I’ve also discovered they don’t stain nearly as much as blackberries or raspberries.
Excuse me, but all elderberries are edible. The leaves are not supposed to be eaten, but then, who goes out and eats the leaves off any berry bush/vine/plant? This advice gets passed along without critical examination, and it’s bunk. I also advise that you not eat the cornstalks in the field or your SUV tires, as these are bad for you. Same thing, eh?
Wild elderberries are smaller than the cultivars (Nova and York are two popular varieties.) I like knowing what my fruit-bearing bushes are growing in, given these polluted times, but other than that, there is no reason you may not wild-gather. My husband makes wine, I used to make jelly and syrup, and wearing an apron can help. We pre-freeze the berries, making it slightly easier to remove them from the stems without getting dyed purple.
Dear Elaine: From my understanding there are varieties of elderberries that are not suitable for consumption. And according to the USDA (on the downloadable PDF fact sheet) “Red elderberry fruit may be toxic when taken internally without sufficient preparation.”
I did not use red elderberries but if people are foraging for their own berries, if they have doubts, they may wish to consult their local cooperative or agricultural extension for advice.
I love elderberries and have been making syrup for many years. I have used it more as a remedy for cold and flu and the recipe I use calls for 50% brandy or vodka. It keeps about 1 year in the fridge. Family and friends keep asking for more and we rely on it at first sign of illness. I found the recipe on the net years ago.
One of my favourite fall rituals is removing the berries from the stems – rolling them off with my fingers – and them falling into the bowl :)
Those are some yummy looking pictures for sure! I have been getting into the Elderberry harvest the last couple of seasons. I started out because of the medicinal information and have grown to syrups juices and jellies. Next year I may try the wine. I have dried frozen juiced jellied syrup-ed and vodka soaked this year! Yep been a busy girl. Next on to rose hips! Love this wild harvesting Makes me happy and thankful.
Most blogs just bore me and cause me to wonder why people think we all want to hear their thoughts. Outside of one or two professional/trade blogs I use, this is the only one I’ve ever appreciated (or left a comment on).
Thank you David. Thank you other commenters! I’m off to make Elderberry Syrup.
This being my debut into blog-land, I am entitling myself to a single random post: I grew up in a little town in the midwest called “Elderon” — though I was certain it was named after elderberries, I never convinced anyone else of that. Now that I can truly appreciate elderberries (getting some fine fruit on my 3 year old plants) I’ll have to begin research to support my theory.
hi there – I have recently made elderberry juice, and when I opened up a bottle, it has gone a bit fizzy. Should I throw it away?
rachel: In general, if you’re unsure of if something is still good, you should probably toss it out and not consume it. If you just made juice, you may not have had enough sugar in there for long-term preservation; you didn’t say whether you made this recipe or not. There is probably some fermentation issues that happened, which might be interesting, but if you’re unsure of something, I don’t recommend consuming it.
There’s a good crop of elderberries in our local Southern California mountains now. We picked 12 gallons of fruit clusters hoping to make Elderberry meade and jelly. We used our Juiceman juicer, seperating the juice from rinsed and fairly well-cleaned clusters. The process was fast and productive, yielding about a pint of settled juice per gallon. I think the toxic bits are efficiently removed by centrifugal force, but I’m not sure, after reading advice. I am sure that the process must be a lot easier than hand seperation mentioned. I’ll toss out the seeds and fiber close to the plants we harvested to encourage more berries later on.