Dr. Burt's Medicinal & Magical Elderberry!
The beautiful elderberry comes from a large shrub that is native to the U.S. and Europe...and grows wild where I grew up in The Berkshires of Western Massachusetts. By now you may know that my fam loves experimenting and whipping up creations by using some of natures finest ingredients. This one comes from my Dad, Dr. Donald Burt. He chose to make elderberry liquor out of the berries that he collected from the elderberry tree in his backyard. He swears that (and I quote), "Even if my Elderberry Liquor doesn't have true medicinal powers, it will make you laugh and feel good (in moderation)!" Doctors orders! He has so graciously shared with me (and all of us) his recipe for this delicious concoction, but first, a bit about the magical elderberry... High in antioxidants, the elderberry has been used for centuries to lower cholesterol, boost immunity, improve vision and strengthen the heart. It is helpful in diminishing coughs, colds, flu, bacterial and viral infections. Besides hosting a plethora of flavonoids and antioxidants, elderberries contain 87 percent of the daily value in vitamin C, and high amounts of vitamin A, potassium, iron, vitamin B6, fiber, and betacarotene. They are super tart and not generally eaten alone....but they make lovely syrups, wines, jams and pies!
The great thing about growing elderberries is that it is not hard. They can handle poor growing conditions or soil that is too wet. One thing growing elderberries cannot tolerate is a drought...and that is why we won't find them out here in LA where I currently reside.
The elderberry produces a white flower that usually appears in early June in Western Mass, which can be harversted to make elderflower tonics such as the delicious and famous Saint Germain. My Dad explained to me that if allowed to grow, those white flowers will first produce a small, green berry which matures into a small, dark purple berry (in clusters) on the elderberry shrub.You will find that there is a period between mid August - mid September where the berries become ready for picking...this is your time to stock up! So, here is what you do:
1. First you cut the stem and use a pronged fork to pull off the berries slowly and gently off the stems.The stems must be removed because they they are a super laxative. Not so fun! 2. Next, add the berries into a strainer, rinse thoroughly in cold water and take a large glass jar (5 gallons) and fill that jar halfway full with berries. Add 1 cup fresh squeezed organic lemon juice and the zest all of those lemons to the glass jar. Add 1 cup organic honey. You can also add some funkiness like blueberries (we did) if you have any hanging around. 3. Now grab some vodka...okay, lots of vodka. Don uses Skyy Vodka because it doesn’t have much flavor and it is not super expensive. Fill the glass jar to the top with the vodka. Cover the jar tightly and let sit in a cool dark space for 6- 12 weeks. The longer you let it age, the more flavor you will capture. 4. After 6-12 weeks (the longer, the better), cyphon or pour through a filtered funnel into another clean glass jar ~ large enough to hold all of the liquid. At this point you can taste it and add more lemon, honey or other spices to taste. It should be a beautiful redish purple color.5. Cover tightly and let stand for 1 more week so that the small particles are able to create a sediment. After that week passes, you carefully cyphon off all of the clear liquid, leaving the sediment at the bottom of the jar. The final product is now ready to be bottled, labeled...and enjoyed......and just like that, you have your very own, homemade Elderberry Liquor! You can use it to pour over ice cream..or mix in a little gin, lemon and lime for a fabulous martini!
So, now that it is starting to get super chilly and the holidays are just upon us, start thinking about all things summer and your spring planting...and get yourself an elderberry shrubs and make your own elderberry liquor!
Cheers to you Don Burt!!