At this time of year elderberries are dangling in lacy fronds of black berries and they are great to use in cooking if you can beat the bird to it! Elderberries medicinal uses too – they are an excellent source of vitamin C and are rich in antioxidants. They are used to lower cholesterol and boost the immune system. Elderberries have been used to fight coughs, colds and flu for centuries; in fact Elderberry juice was used to treat a flu epidemic in Panama in 1995.
The berries come from the Elder tree which was traditionally planted around Dairies and it was thought to keep the milk from 'turning'. Cheese cloths used in the Dairy were hung out to dry on Elder trees and the trees were also planted near Bakeries where loaves and cakes put out to cool under the leaves. (The elder leaves are a natural insecticide so they help to keep flies away).
In the 17th and 18th centuries elderberries were sometimes added to Claret – it was a common practice for London merchants to add colour to wine by blending in a little elderberry juice. If these were in short supply, the juices of the sloe, bullace, damson, mulberry and even beetroot were resorted to! Elderberries can make a good home made wine and in the North of England a drink called Ebulon was very popular which is a sort of ale. Nowadays elderberries are used in desserts, cakes, syrups, sauces and pickles and I have a lovely recipe for Elderberry Sorbet to share.
1 ½ lb (680g) elderberries – removed from stalks (be careful not to include any bits of leaf)
100g caster sugar
1 egg white
Place the sugar, elderberries and the juice of ½ lemon into a saucepan with 120ml water. Heat until the mixture boils. Allow to cool and then liquidise. Strain into a bowl through a fine sieve (I use a piece of muslin). Pour into a container and freeze until almost firm. Remove from the freezer, cut the mixture into chunks and whip in the egg white with a blender. Transfer back into the container and freeze once again until almost firm. Remove from freezer and blend once more until the sorbet is very smooth and then freeze again.