Listening To My Elders: A Writer Wednesday Post

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

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, 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.

The 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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