Around here you can find elderberry bushes growing in nearly every forested area. And as luck would have it! In my yard back at the farm as well. Everything harvested early this year so I barely got any picked before the birds got to them, but I did manage to pick enough for a small batch of elderberry liqueur for cordials.
If you’re out and about and see a large, open branched shrub with whitish, blueish berries, grab a bag and start picking! Elderberries make the most wonderful wine (if you’re so inclined) and jam. I usually try to make a batch of each. But with only slim pickins’ this year, here’s what we did.
On a wet and chilly Friday morning, the kids and I sat on the kitchen floor and picked a zillion little blue berries, one at a time, off their stubborn branches. The kids actually did a great job, don’t hesitate to invite your helpers. Sure, they ate some, and squished some, and lost interest about 10 minutes too early, but I was impressed at how well they did! I put down a large towel first and was able to easily collect up all their spills.
The berries kind of stick to their tender branches, so you almost have to pick them off one at a time. There is a way to kind of “comb” them with your fingers against their growing grain – sort of scrape them off backwards. You really don’t want those little stems in with the fruit, they’ll add a weird waxy film to your wine and/or cordial.
Once done, we had about four cups of berries. I gave them a good rinse, checked for any errant stems, and used a large funnel to corral them into a wide mouthed quart jar. You should also peel two very thin 1-in by 2-in strips from a clean lemon and stuff it in there (not pictured).
Slowly pour enough vodka over the berries to cover them. Use a lid/bail capping system or just one of these reusable plastic lids to cover the jar. In a pinch you can use a ziploc baggie or something secured with a rubber band.
Park the berries + vodka jar in the fridge for about 6 weeks. The vodka will take on all the lovely dark color and flavor from the elderberries. After that 6 or so weeks, strain the liquid from the berries. I pour it through a coffee filter – it wastes some of the liquid, but it catches all the seeds and dirt and who know what else got in there. Throw the berries in the compost bin – don’t give them to the chickens unless you want some very dotty birds that day!
The infusion will be such a dark purple it will look almost black! Good for Halloween martinis, no?? put it into a clean pint jar (you’ll have about 2 cups) and add about 1/3 cup of sugar. Seal it back up and let it settle down for a few more weeks. This part can be done in a dark cupboard or liquor cabinet. Once the sugar has dissolved, you are ready to start DRINKING! We sip on it when we had a cold – it is a rich source of antioxidant and vitamin C (and with that much vodka, you won’t care as much about having the sniffles).