My co-worker clued me into the ripe elderberries. Large umbels heavy with shiny dark berries were ready to be picked. After work on Tuesday Jeff and I went out and picked a bucket full of berries. Well, actually, we cut. It’s easiest to simply snip the stem taking the whole head of berries.
If you are going to juice the berries you don’t even need to take them off their stems. Put the heads of elderberry fruit in a nylon or linen bag and blanch them in boiling water and then hang them over a pot and let the juice drip out. Resist the urge to squeeze the juice out as this will yield a cloudy liquid which will in turn make jelly or wine cloudy.
However, if you plan to eat the berries whether in pie or preserves then you will need to remove them from their stems. A fork can be a useful tool to comb the berries off the stem or you can gently pull them off by hand.
In the end we picked about eight pounds of elderberries. I have to admit, I’ve never picked them before. I’m not sure what to do with them. I put up a post asking what to do with elderberries and I got lots of answers. I did put about a pint of the berries in really high proof grain alcohol with the idea that we can mix it with simple syrup and make elderberry liquor. Basically the same way limonchello is made. But I still have seven and a half pounds of elderberries.
Then for dinner last night we made elderberry pancakes. I used the recipe for our wedding pancakes. I have an epic post on how to make pancakes. You can find it here: How to make Perfect Buttermilk Pancakes. To upgrade to elderberry pancakes you need about a cup of berries. Make sure to get all the little bits of stems out. The stems and leaves contain the mild toxins sambucine and hydrocyanic acid that can cause nausea. The USDA has a nice brochure on elderberry uses, cultivating and history here: http://plants.usda.gov/plantguide/pdf/cs_sanic4.pdf