How to pick and cook elderberries

Elderberries are in season in the autumn and can be used for all manner of delicious things, from warming puddings to elderberry liqueur.

I think elderberries are one of our most neglected native fruits. Come autumn, the small purplish-black ripe berries hang prolifically in clusters in the hedgerows and are not grown commercially, so picking them in the wild is the only option.

Elderberries have lots of culinary uses. The easiest way to remove the berries from the stalks is to strip them using the prongs of a fork. It's a messy business though - the inky juices will stain clothes and hands; in fact in the past, the berries were used to make a purple dye.

Plu & apple cobblerThe berries are quite rich so I find they're best mixed with other autumn fruits such as apples, pears and plums. Add a handful of elderberries to a fruit crumble, cobbler, pie or a summer pudding made with autumn fruits. I make them into jams and chutneys, which have a wonderful fruity flavour, although the berries are low in pectin so need the addition of jam sugar or lemon juice to ensure a set.

The famous German Black Forest ham is salted and seasoned with spices, elderberries and juniper berries, then left to mature and produce its distinctive flavour. In the Abruzzo region of Italy, elderberries are an ingredient of an unusual juniper cordial.
Elderberry syrup, made by cooking the berries with water and sugar, straining, then boiling the liquid until reduced and syrupy, is delicious drizzled over ice cream or plain yoghurt or added to a glass of sparkling water or white wine.

Elderberries can be used to make a liqueur in the same way as sloe gin. Steep 225g elderberries and 115g sugar in 600ml gin or vodka, with a twist of lemon peel. Seal tightly and leave for about 3-4 months before drinking. If you make it now it will be ready for Christmas.

The Food Standards Agency recommends cooking elderberries to destroy toxins present in the raw berries - some people find that eating raw elderberries makes them feel nauseous, while others suffer no ill effects. Personally I don't eat raw elderberries, as I think they taste much nicer after cooking.

Have you tried cooking with elderberries?


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