Listening To My Elders: A Writer Wednesday Post

August 28th, 2013 | Posted by Irene in Essays | Uncategorized


It's The BerriesIt’s The Berries, photo and all text ©Irene O’Garden, 2013


To listen to this post, please click here:  Listening To My Elders

Dagnab ‘em. Birds are peckin’ at ‘em, but loads of purple caviar still droops on the stem. The valuable, healthy elderberries are ready, ripening the crop of guilt that started when they bloomed.  (Elderflowers are also good for you, and I picked none of them.)

I have images to scan, emails to dispatch, but a few days ago, I yielded to the yield. Tiptoe on the wall to harvest them,  I’ll make Elderberry Syrup, I tell myself. I ordinarily buy it –it’s good for colds.

But scouting a recipe a half hour and a basin-ful later, I discover you can’t toss leaves, stems and berries in a pot, boil them and strain it later, as I’ve always done with red currants. Elder leaves and stems are poisonous (as are the uncooked berries.) Oh, great. Another step.

Joy of Cooking tells me freeze ‘em and the berries’ll drop right off. For three days a cookie sheet of pointy, fruity stems obstructs all freezer justice, raining icy peppercorns everywhere every time we open or close the drawer. Yesterday, at last, it was time to take time to shake them off their stems, make syrup, put things by, appreciate things, dagnab it!

Phooey. Still stuck to their stems. Have to pluck these thousands manually. I stopped cursing and began pulling. Called my old friend Cecile, chatted as if we were quilting. When the conversation was over, so was the stemming.

So, Elderberry Syrup. How exactly? No recipe in Joy of Cooking, just one for Elderberry Vinegar. But wait. Just roast the elderberries in cider vinegar for 90 minutes, let it sit a day, strain and bottle it?  I could start half the berries right now while I look for syrup instructions. So I did. (It turned out well–a wonderful wallop of flavor.)

While the vinegar simmered, I found this helpful syrup video from Mountain Rose herbs, calling for ginger, cinnamon and honey. Took only twenty minutes. Deep, delightful flavor and very nourishing. (If you’re not blessed with an elder bush, you can use dried berries.)

Syrup and Vinegar Syrup and Vinegar, photo and all text © Irene O’Garden, 2013

Cut to dinner. We usually don’t have a cocktail, but the crystal summer night made a martini seem just the thing.  Alas. No vermouth.  “Shall I go get some?” John asks. “No, not worth it. I’ll make something else,” I say, browsing a bar book.

Then, lightbulb! What about Elderberry Martinis?  The Big Bartender In the Sky guided my hand. Using both blossom and berry, I created a recipe on the spot. Very tasty, not too sweet (and full of antioxidants!) I call it:


2  oz gin (I used Magellan, a floral gin)

½  oz St Germain Elderflower liquer

½ oz elderberry syrup

½ oz lime juice (or to taste)

Shake with ice, strain and garnish with lime.

For an alcohol-free version, just mix the syrup with seltzer and lime.

Do enjoy it, with appreciation for all the pleasures of listening to your elders.

Wise ElderThe Wise Elder, photo and all text ©Irene O’Garden, 2013


Goodbye for now, friends–we’re headed overseas. I’ll be back in a month with new stories to share. Meanwhile, please check back to hear some of the poets your fellow readers have voted to hear in my absence!

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  • Scott

    I wish you a sweet voyage. While you are gone, I will fantasize the incredible sensation of the elixir of your elderberry martini hitting my tongue for the first time. There’s quite a metaphor finding sweet deliciousness amongst poisonous leaves. Hmmmm.

  • ccdewolf

    wonderful! thank you for taking me on this sensuous ride!

  • mark

    ….. Elberberry Wine was an old fave song of mine/ song by Elton John / pre – glitter….. Your post is an interesting analogy of life and its thin edges —– poisonous in one approach/ healthy and nourishing with the other…. enjoy!

  • ceblain

    Your blog today was a true trip down memory lane for me, Irene. As a teen, I would help my grandmother and aunts to make elderberry wine each year. We also made syrup that the elders used on pancakes or waffles and possibly in alcoholic drinks, but as a young teen, I was not totally sure of that. 🙂 It was just so lovely to have this flash back of my youth, and I appreciated your interesting comparisons tonight.
    Enjoy your trip and will be looking forward to your postings.
    Take care,

  • Linda O’Brien

    Fun! Bon Voyage!

  • Sheilah Rechtschaffer

    I love reading your blog…so gentle and sweet. Have a lovely trip.

  • Jenna

    “I yielded to the yield.” Perfect – and vintage O’Garden.

  • giom

    …sweet….really really sweet…

  • Jorie

    Irene, this is such a glorious reminder of the treasure that (nearly) always rewards us when we push the usual demands aside to make something of something, even though the process often includes an assortment of setbacks and discomforts…but what a finish!!

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