Elderberries: I am not a fan

Elderberries12Oct13_MG_3717I have just tried elderberries for the first time, and it may be my last. Some other people have a different view.


It’s the smell. We picked elderberries on Thursday morning and I started to process them in the evening. I wanted to make a jam and proceeded as I usually do for soft fruit, heating the berries in a pan for 10 minutes from boiling point and passing them through a sieve to remove the seeds. I would have then added sugar, some lemon juice and I would have cooked the jam . But it never got to that stage. The smell of the simmered berries was unpleasant, and we still have the juice, of a beautiful dark purple colour. I just don’t know what to do with it, I have no inspiration whatsoever as to adding something that would make the jam good. Sorry elderberries fans!

Unsweetened elderberry juice, first step of a jam that won't be made.

Unsweetened elderberry juice, first step of a jam that won’t be made (click to enlarge picture).

Maybe they were too ripe, as we picked them quite late in the season. Also, I added the bottom of the bucket to the berries I had separated from the stalks, where some had already fallen, without separating the good ones from some that were probably already gone. But I don’t think this is the reason. I just didn’t like the smell, and taste once partially cooked, of these elderberries. Maybe I should try elderberry wine.

We actually didn't use all the elderberries we picked two days ago and retrieved these from the bin (click to enlarge picture).

We actually didn’t use all the elderberries we picked two days ago and retrieved these from the bin (click to enlarge picture).

Having said that, some people like them and propose elderberry recipes. I also take this opportunity to include a link to Eat Weeds – ‘The wild food guide to the edible plants of Britain’ and its elderberry cordial recipe. We picked our elderberries in a private garden, but they probably can be found in all London Commons, as it is very common to see an elder tree¬†around here. You may find me around them in June to pick their flowers, as I love¬†elderflower cordial, but probably not in the autumn to pick the berries again!

6 thoughts on “Elderberries: I am not a fan

  1. Oh dear sorry that they were not good – elderberry wine is supposed to be good. Perhaps you should have added something to it. We will get the flowers next year – Gilli

  2. Elderberries have a lovely spicy taste – it’s never occurred to me to try making jam out of them, but like bilberries they make delicious pies and crumbles. Try with ginger or allspice.

    Maybe yours were overripe: the sprays of berries around here ripened very sporadically this year, with a lot of sorting required to remove the green ones. If you waited until they were all black it may have been too late.

  3. JJ, my experience is the same. The flavour is earthy and smokey. I had some very ripe berries on the edge of rotting.
    In hindsight perhaps i could have made a Christmas spiced jelly to go with roast meat, or game. Or use the fruit’s character as an advantage?
    I have made a hedgerow fruit spirit. Rosehip, blackberry and elderberry. About 38%, not for the faint of heart or weak of liver.
    Yes elderberry wine is good. But like any fruit wine is not like a grape wine.
    I have had some champion fruit g veg wine.
    Believe it or not Parsnip is probably the best.

    • Hi Tim, this tells me that elderberries are more for the experienced cook than apples and pears, which can be used by any of us. Thank you so much for these comments, which give us a sense of how diverse, elaborate and subtle the use of local fruit can be.

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