Sunday, September 4, 2011

Elderberry Time

By Joann M. Ringelstetter

Ruth and I enjoy picking wild berries in the summer, such as black raspberries (or blackcaps as they are sometimes called), blackberries, and elderberries (which might not be familiar to some people). Elderberries are small dark purple berries that grow in umbrella-like clusters on bushes along roadsides, marshes, and streams.

In Wisconsin, the elderberry bushes are covered with pretty, white blossoms around the end of June or the beginning of July. We enjoy being out on the backroads at that time of year because the roadsides are usually lined with orange day lilies.

This year, in early July, Ruth and I were on the lookout for blossoming elderberry bushes in our area so that we might return to these bushes later to harvest the fruit, which can be used for making pies, jelly, jam, syrup, and wine. A couple years ago, Ruth made elderberry jelly and gave some to everyone in the family for Christmas. Often, we just add a small amount of them to our morning smoothies. They’re great for boosting the immune system.

In July, Ruth was also on the lookout for one of her favorite wildflowers, which is chicory. She loves the periwinkle blue color of these small roadside flowers, which bloom from May through October. However, each flower blooms for only one day.

When we were kids, we got into a bit of trouble with our mother over some elderberry blossoms. There was an elderberry bush growing right next to one of our outbuildings on the farm. Elderberry blossoms are sometimes used for making elder flower fritters (elderberry blossoms dipped in a light batter and fried). I don’t remember Mom ever making fritters out of them, but she did make jelly out of the fruit.

Well, it seems that we were playing house and we decided to make some pretend fritters, so we picked all the blossoms from the bush. This innocent action on our part meant no fruit later for our mother’s jelly-making. Needless to say, she was “mad as a hornet” and we were fittingly punished.

Around the end of August, we often hit the backroads to watch and photograph the tobacco harvest in this area. And we start to see the ripe elderberries drooping on the bushes along the roadsides. Often, they are nearly impossible to reach because they are in the marshes or down steep embankments. So, having staked out some nice bushes that I could easily reach, I returned to these bushes intending to harvest some of the berries. Unfortunately, the birds had also staked out these same bushes and had “harvested” most of the berries before they were ripe enough to pick.

Luckily for me, Ruth had scouted out some other bushes and, while I was busy taking our niece’s senior class portraits last Sunday morning, she harvested a bagful of elderberries for me and I found them on my porch when I returned home. Now I have these beautiful dark purple berries in my freezer and will be able to use them throughout the winter.

As with any wild edible, please use caution and make sure you know what you’re picking and consuming.

Happy Shunpiking!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the elderberry story, Joann! I do remember Mom's elderberry-apple jelly - it was delicious as was the jelly that Ruth made a couple of years ago. Mom always said the elderberries were a little strong tasting by themselves so she usually put a little apple juice in her jelly to mellow out the elderberry flavor a bit for us kids.

    Over 30 years ago my family and I moved into an apartment building on the north side of Madison near Warner Park. There was a bush along side of the building and when it got blossoms and then the small clusters of berries on it, I knew it was an elderberry bush. When the berries were ready, I told my husband, Vern, that I was going to ask our landlord if I could pick them to make jelly. Vern was nervous about that - "are you SURE you know what they are?", he asked. I was sure they were elderberries and and to his surprise I just picked a couple berries off the bush and tasted them and said, "yup, they're elderberries!". I think he kept a close eye on me for several hours to make sure I hadn't eaten something poison. Well, I survived eating the elderberries so I asked our landlord if he and his wife were planning to use the elderberries next to the building and if not, would it be alright if I picked them to make elderberry-apple jelly. He said No! they were not planning to use them as they had no idea what they were and asked if I positively sure they were edible. I said I was sure and that I had already tasted a few of them so he said, "well, if you're sure, go ahead". So I picked them and made elderberry-apple jelly for our family. As Mr. Food says, "Ooh, it's so good!!"