Tuesday, August 24, 2010

"Your Mother Was a Hamster...*

So, it turns out, my mother was right. About a lot of things, really, which at this point in my life, I freely admit.  But that saying, the one about staying busy being good for the blues, or getting involved in things so you don't dwell on your own unhappiness - ok, so maybe it's not an exact quote, but you know what I mean. And, she was right. I was SO down this weekend - bad day Saturday, lots of tears and frustrations and in general, a bad day of my own and circumstance's making.  When a day is THAT bad, I don't get over it easily. But Saturday, a friend brought me two huge, heavy bags of elderberries. I didn't want to let them go to waste, so Saturday night, I half-heartedly began picking them off the stems. You have to do this by hand, if you don't want the little twiggy things in your berries, and it is TIME CONSUMING. My daughter helped for awhile, and then she wandered off, and I gave up and went to bed early.

Sunday morning, I decided that I didn't want to lose the opportunity to make what I wanted to with them, as they are hard to come by, and would not be cheap if I had to buy them, if I even could, which I can't. Not the pounds and pounds worth that David brought me. So I got busy, and picked berries off the stems for hours and hours and hours, literally.  FINALLY, late in the afternoon, I finished, and got down to business.

When I put the four quarts on to boil, the kitchen slowly filled with a heady, autumn-ish aroma, unlike any other berry smell.  Elderberries are kind of an acquired taste, I guess. They are similar to blueberries, but not nearly as sweet. And very seedy, so they crunch. Actually, raw, they are even poisonous, or enough so to make you mighty sick if you eat them. Oddly, just drying them (as well as cooking, obviously) takes out the tanins and toxins and makes them a worthwhile berry to use.

I was able to get 3 and 1/2 quarts of syrup from the batch I boiled, and I am super excited. Somehow, last year, I learned that 2 TBS of elderberry syrup, a squirt of lemonjuice, and hot water makes an awesome hot "tea."  It's the perfect hot drink for me after school on rainy, chilly fall days, or on winter evenings before bed. I don't really enjoy actual hot TEA( I don't like the flavor of tea, when it's hot) , but I love hot, fruity drinks (my favorite, before this, is hot TANG!) Last year I only had a smallish batch of elderberries, and I got two quarts of syrup, but it didn't last the winter. This year, it will. And I swear by it for it's vitamin C content - I literally had not a single cold last year. Anytime I felt one lurking, I dosed up on elderberry tea, and never came down with it. I don't think that's just luck - you can actually BUY Sambucol at the pharmacy, which is made for colds and flus, and it's base ingredient is elderberry. 

The "payment" to the guy who gave David his elderberries for me was a pie. Easy enough. Fair enough. So, I made two, since I had never had an elderberry pie. It was great. Again, a little like blueberry pie, but crunchier, and not as sweet. I liked it it a lot. My kids are still undecided, but leaning toward not, I think.
I also thought I would try jam, since I somehow missed strawberry season this year, lost my supply of blackberries when a friend moved away, and don't really enjoy blueberry jam. It is fantastic. I think, besides the syrup for tea (it would probably also be great on pancakes, and I KNOW it's good on vanilla ice cream) the jam is my favorite use for elderberries. I also dried two cookie sheets full of the ones I had left, to use in breads and muffins over the winter. I had elderberry bread last year that a bakery made, and it was delicious. They don't give it a lot of flavor, but a nice little crunch.
If I have time, I will still go pick the ones Dave has left at his house, but if I don't get time to do so, the birds can have their treat, and my pantry is full and I feel ready for the fall.
AND? I was SO busy all day Sunday with elderberries, the blues began to fizzle. I didn't have time to focus on myself, other than how purple my fingers and hands and half the kitchen was, and NOT focusing on your own bad mood is, apparently, a good way to get over it!

*and your father smelt of elderberries."  (one of the best Monty Python quotes ever! - just in case you were wondering what your mother being a hamster had to do with my elderberry fun this weekend!)


Murphyfish said...

Ah yes: the French taunter - what a guy!
So a mountain of elderberries will help put my worldly woes into perspective, an interesting idea but does it work with apples? (yes I'm thinking of cider once more)
An enjoyable post me dear, lightened my own downcast mood.

Jennifer Montero said...

I've noticed the elderberries are colouring up here and should be ready soon. I'm going to attempt elderberry syrup this year, as well as elderberry cordial. Might pester you for your recipe.

Murphyfish: I think elders work great with apples, particularly in jelly. The pectin helps the jelly set. And jelly means you can skip the arduous task of picking berries from stems. The combo makes a delicious pie too.

Now I'm just hungry...