Matt takes some time off while the Urban Nature Gal, Carolina, demonstrates how to bake a wild elderberry pie. Of course, this is Urban Nature Man, so it will never go as planned.
As I've said many times, eldeberries are my all time favorite wild edible. They're easy to spot (in the spring the bushy trees will have wide flat cream colored flowers made up of dozens of tiny individual blossoms, and in the summer the berries will very closely resemble a bunch of tiny grapes). Just like grapes, they come in purple and green varieties. I have found the purple berries work best for food recipes, while the green are best used in making a sweet white wine.
They are also plentiful (a person can easily pick upwards of ten pounds of berries at one tree) and easy to pick. Just cut the main stem leading to the elderberry bunch and drop it into a plastic bag (I use old shopping bags). I don't recommend cloth bags as the elderberry juice stains.
To clean your elderberries, you'll need a work surface like a table or open space on the floor and the following items:
Berries (the more the merrier)
3 bowls (they can be different sizes)
Old newspaper, plastic, or tarp (to protect your work surface)
Tupperware or quart sized freezer bags
Now, for the actual cleaning process. I'm a righty, so if you're left handed, you may want to reverse the orientation of everything. I clean my berries like this:
1) Spread the newspaper or plastic over the workspace.
2) Set up your bowls.
- If they are different sizes, grab the smallest bowl and set it right in front of you. This is where you'll put the cleaned, de-stemmed berries.
- Take the next largest bowl and fill it 2/3 full with water - this is the washing station. Set it to the left of the berry bowl, next to your bags of freshly picked berries.
- Now take the largest bowl and set it on the right, opposite of your water bowl. This is where you'll put your empty stems.
4) One by one, grab an elderberry bunch by its main stem and dip the bunch into the water. Shake the berries hard enough in the water to dislodge any dirt or bugs (they are wild edibles, after all). Do this for 5-10 seconds, then move on to the center bowl.
5) Holding the main stem in your left hand so that the berries hang down, lightly drag and pull your right hand under the berries to remove them from the stem. Think of "tickling" the underside of the berries. Some people recommend forks, but I find they tend to break the skin of the berries and waste the tasty juice.
6) Drop the empty stem into the largest bowl and begin the process again.
7) Once the berry bowl is 2/3 filled, fill it with water and stir the berries. Let sit for about a minute. Any berries or stems that float to the top, pour off and strain the rest of the water out of the bowl.
8) Drain off the water bowl in a similar manner, and any berries that remain in the bottom, rinse them and add them to the other cleaned berries.
9) Put all the berries into freezer bags or tupperware and freeze them for later.
And a tip, more sugar=more sweet but less berry. Less sugar=more berry goodness!