Common elderberry, Sambucus nigra canadensis, is a native member of the honeysuckle family located throughout North America. There are other species throughout the continent, but here in the midwest where I write and forage, that is what I have. The above link has great identification information, but as always, never eat anything you are not 100% sure of.
Elderberries have toxic lookalikes, parts of the plant are toxic, and there are only certain times parts are edible. While they are fairly easy to identify and know when to harvest with research, make a mistake and you might be eating poison. With all things foraged, use caution and lots of research, and field guides. Learn what, when, where, why and how you harvest foraged edibles.
The weather has been crazy, and the elderberries FINALLY ripened up, more or less. I’ve been out several evenings to check on them, and then a thunderstorm came through and beat them half to death. I’ve gotten in more foraging during this pandemic! Not having to drive to work has given me two hours of my life back every day and I will be so very sad when I lose it. I’m grateful to be working and humbled by the knowledge that not everyone is so lucky.
Like everything else this year, with inconsistencies. Over ripe and green berries on the same umbrels. Given that the only non-toxic part of elderberry is the ripe fruit, one should limit the number of green berries, and bits of umbrels when you remove the fruit.
To harvest, it is best to cut or break the umbrel stem off the plant at the base of the umbrel. Berries will go flying, so it is best to have a large canvas bag ready to put the umbrels in. There are many sources that tell you how to remove the berries, and I’ve tried them all. The best so far is to put them in a bag with the stems at the top of the bag and the fruit heads in the bag and then shake the crap out of it. That won’t knock ALL of them off, but a lot of them.
At some point, you are going to have to pick them off, by hand. You use a sort of combing method with your fingers and thumb, and pick out as much of the plant material as possible. Some people suggest freezing them, them shaking them into a bag, and in my experience, that just makes a mess. However you do it, get the berries into a bowl so you can pick out the majority of the green bits and the plant pieces.
The recipe I use is a pretty straight forward, low sugar recipe that yields 36 ounces with about a tablespoon left over for immediate gratification. The end product will have 12.2 calories, 5.3 carbs, and .01 g protein per teaspoon.
So how do I know how many calories, carbs, and protein are in each teaspoon? Witchcraft? Almost. ALGEBRA!!!!
So, reading the nutritional label on the sugar bag, one teaspoon has 15 calories and 4 carbs. This recipe makes 36 ounces. Google there are 48 teaspoons in a cup, and 6 teaspoons to an ounce.
Elderberry has 105 calories, 26.7 grams of carbs, and 1 gram protein per cup.
(15*48)*3=2160 2160/(6*36)=10 Calories per teaspoon sugar.
(4*48)*3=576 576/(6*36)=2.6 Carbs per teaspoon
(105*4.5 c=472.5 472.5/(6*36)= 2.2 calories per teaspoon.
(26.7*48)*3=576 576/(6*36)=2.7 Carbs per teaspoon
1*4.5c=4.5 g 4.5/(6*36)=.02 g protein per teaspoon.
Total carbs and calories:
- Calories: 12.2 per teaspoon
- Carbs: 5.3 per teaspoon
- Protein: .02 grams per teaspoon
- 4.5 cups of prepared elderberries.
- 3 cups of sugar
- 2 tablespoons Pamonas Universal Pectin
- 2 tablespoons calcium water (comes with Paminas Universal pectin)
- 3 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon vinegar
- 1 tsp coconut oil (optional)
- Add elderberries to non reactive saucepan (DO NOT USE ALUMINUM OR IRON!! Those are chemically reactive metals. Use stainless, enamel or powder coated pots) over medium heat.
- Crush berries with potato masher or spoon.
- Add enough liquid to cover and make a slurry. An immersion blender can be used to turn it into liquid.
- You will want a lot more then 4.5 cups here because about 1/3rd is seeds.
- Simmer (and continue to use an immersion blender if you have it) until it forms a seedy mash.
- Pour the (super hot- be careful) mash through a food mill or a fine sieve and stir to separate seeds from pulp.
- Measure off 4.5 cups of the now seedless mash and return it to the sauce pan.
- Add prepared calcium water from the Pamonas Pectin, and lemon juice.
- Bring to a rolling boil.
- Add pectin to measured sugar and stir together well while waiting.
- Add coconut oil to saucepan as an anti-foaming agent and stir to reduce foam.
- Bring to a full rolling boil and stir in the sugar/pectin mixture.
- After adding sugar/pectin, return it to boil that can’t be stirred down.
- Remove from heat.
- Skim off any foam and ladle into prepared jars. I used 1/4″ headspace and it should have been more. This foamed up a lot during processing.
- Wipe the rims down, and place lids/bands on the jars.
- Load jars into your canner and make sure there is at least 2 inches of water covering jars and lids.
- Add the vinegar to the canning water. That will help prevent mineral scale from building up on the outside of your jars during the canning process.
- Process time should be determined by your elevation and contents; see the USDA guidelines for that. Here they are.
- As a high acid food, at my elevation, it is 5 minutes at a full boil.
- After 5 minutes, turn the canner off and let jars sit in canner for 5 minutes.
- Remove the jars from from the canner and set on a dry towel, out of drafts, to cool.
If you are using single use metal lids, you should almost immediately begin hearing *PING* as the jars seal. I use the Tattler reusable lids now and I rather miss that. What are Tattlers? Find out here. They don’t sponsor me or anything, I just like the sustainable aspect. (I am hoping to switch over to Weck jars, but I’m still in the research phase).
Wait until they are fully cool, preferably overnight, THEN REMOVE THE BANDS. Label with date & contents and store in a single layer in a dark place. Do NOT leave the metal bands on the jars, I don’t care who told you to do it. Why? Keep reading.
Do NOT stack jars. That defeats the purpose of a two part lid. The whole reason lids come in two pieces is so that if there are bacteria or enzymes in the jar, the lid will pop off and you will know not to eat it. It is a built in safety feature. If you leave the bands on or stack them, the jar can be full of botulism and stay sealed or even RESEAL. I don’t care who has done what for how many years and been fine. All it takes is ONCE. Just be smart. Don’t do it. Remove the bands and get shelves that are closer together if you are worried about space. The health, safety and welfare of your family is far more valuable than some tradition of leaving bands on your jars.
Always remember that final results depend heavily on the effect the weather has on the fruit. Things can be sweeter, more tart, strong flavor, weak flavor, good set, loose set, all using the same recipe and technique everytime. Usually the jam is dark purple, but this year its pinker than that. *shrug* You never know what you will get until you get it. Good luck and happy jam making!