One of my favorite memories from growing up was going out in the late summer and picking all the wild berries that grew around Humboldt County. It was always such a joy to eat these wonderful blackberries, huckleberries, thimble berries, salmon berries and know that you didn’t pay a thing for them! Yes, it’s true, I’m cheap and love free economies.

The first day that we had hiked up to Devil’s Spur we had noticed all of these blue berries in these tall bushes. They kind of looked like blueberries, but they weren’t. We looked it up on line and discovered that they were elderberries. There are three types of elderberries: red, black and blue. The red ones are poisonous when raw, so do not eat these. The others are edible, or at least the berries are.

All those berries!

We decided to go back and pick some and make some elderberry syrup from them. Overall, they were pretty easy to harvest as there are no stickers and the only challenge was bending the branch down low enough to cut the clusters off.

There were a number of recipes on how to do it. The biggest challenge was to get enough yield from the berries to make it worth your while. We harvested about 3 pounds of berries and brought them home. Susanne had read in one recipe that it helped to freeze them in order to get them off the stem. So we did that.

In the morning, we started working on getting just the berries. You don’t want the stems and leaves as they are mildly toxic. Susanne tried with what would have been my first thought ; that is she put the berries in a pot of water to try and get the stems and leaves to float to the top. Sadly, this method did not work very well.

I thought that maybe if you could get a colander and “sieve” the leaves and twigs out by shaking, this would make getting just the berries easier. It worked pretty well and then when you put them on a paper towel, it became pretty easy to get just the berries. It probably took us an hour or so to clean all the berries off the stems and get them ready to cook.

The culling process

The next step was to crush up the berries with an immersion blender. That also worked well and produced a lot of juice, but didn’t crush up too many seeds as they are a bit bitter. We cooked the berries with a little sugar and lo and behold we had elderberry syrup. The color of the syrup was amazing and the aroma was also pretty incredible.

One of the recipes warned to not wear anything that would get stained. Looking at the pic, you can see why.

For dinner that night, we cooked a wild mushroom risotto with a pork loin served with elderberry sauce. Let’s just say yummy! The elderberries have a wonderfully powerful flavor. Next up, we will try it in a dessert. Probably panna cotta.

Anyway, it was really fun and we will probably go pick some more and take some with us to give to Esther and Casey in Tacoma and Jason and Cynthia in Aptos.

Three cheers for free economies and now you know how to harvest and use elderberries.

A super yummy dinner
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