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SCVNews.com | Opinion/Commentary: Elderberry Jelly | 07-28-2016
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Commentary by Mari Carbajal
| Thursday, Jul 28, 2016

maricarbajalDisclaimer: Never use or consume a wild plant or any part of a wild plant until you have first made a positive identification of the plant.

A year ago in April, I wrote a commentary about the Mexican elderberry shrubs I noticed along Escondido Canyon Road between Agua Dulce and Acton. After writing that piece, I found one shrub in September that had grown elderberries … only one shrub out of dozens of elderberry shrubs.

I gathered some of the berries and took them home to process into jam – or whatever; I wasn’t too sure what I wanted to do with all of them, and at the time, I didn’t know how to process them, either. I sat the bag of berries outside and, shame on me, forgot all about them.

This year, I found that almost all of the shrubs were bearing fruit. I researched the process to make jelly before picking and wasting valuable berries. So the weekend before last, my son-in-law Benny and I gathered about 2-1/2 to 3 quarts of berries.

Elderberries

Elderberries

The darker blue the berry (almost deep purple or black), the better. However, you can use the lighter blue berries that are still covered in yeast – the whitish film on the berry.

Do not use any green berries, because they are poisonous. Also, the ripened berries must be cooked before eating. Do not eat raw berries.

I brought the berries home and prepared them as follows…

Warning: Elderberry juice is extremely dense and will stain your clothing. Make sure you wear something you don’t care about.

1. Take each cluster of berries and, using a fork, rake the berries loose into a large bowl. One tip I heard was to freeze the berries first, and it would make it easier to remove the berries. However, I had no problem getting the berries off of the stems by using a fork.

2. Cover the berries in the bowl with cold water. Use your hands to scoop the berries around gently in the water, and then let them settle. Try not to squish the berries. Any berries that float to the surface should be skimmed off and thrown away, because these might not be ripe enough to use.

While rinsing the berries, try to remove as many leaves and twigs that may still be in the bowl. The berries will be strained later in the process.

Elderberry flowers | Photo: Leon Worden

Elderberry flowers | Photo: Leon Worden

3. After thoroughly rinsing the berries, make sure you drain them to remove as much water as possible. Now you will cook them. Place the berries in a pan and let simmer over low to medium heat for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Do not cook longer than 15 minutes. The juice will extract from the berries.

Do not add water. The berries will make enough juice without adding water. Let the berries cool for a minute while you prepare to strain them.

4. Place cheesecloth or other fabric like an old, clean T-shirt or a pillowcase over a colander. Then put the covered colander over a bowl that is big enough to hold 3 cups of juice.

5. Carefully spoon all of the berries into the cloth, and allow the juice to strain into the bowl. Take a break and give the mixture time to strain. This should yield about 3 cups of juice.

6. Once the juice has strained completely – and you might squeeze the cloth a little to remove excess juice – remove the colander. You will have a nice reserve of elderberry juice in the bowl.

You can throw away the drained berries, but I give mine to my chickens. Let the juice cool down a little.

Elderberry leaves | Photo: Sara Indiana Jane

Elderberry leaves | Photo: Sara Indiana Jane

7. You will need the following: ¼ cup lemon juice, 2-1/2 tsp sweetener (I use Stevia concentrate powder); 1 packet of fruit pectin (I use Sure-Jell), and 3 sterilized 1-cup ball jars with seal lids. You can sterilize the jars and lids by boiling them in water for 3 to 5 minutes; then remove them and let them stand.

Note: You can use regular sugar (about 7-½ cups) instead of Stevia, but doing so will yield about 5 to 6 jars of jelly. Stevia works well and gives you a nice jelly without all of that sugar.

8. To cook the juice, it’s best to use as wide a pan as you can find, but one that still has a high enough side. The more surface area there is in the pan, the faster evaporation will occur.

Pour the juice into the pan. Over low to medium heat, add the lemon juice, sugar and pectin, and stir. Continue stirring until the mixture reaches a rolling boil.

Tip to help the jelly set – use a candy thermometer during Step 8 above. Making sure you’re getting enough heat to the fruit and sugar, raise the boiling point to 212 degrees, which will alter the structure of the sugar. Keep stirring and watch the temperature until it reaches 220 degrees.

Once the boil has started, continue stirring and cook for 1 minute. Remove from the heat and pour the juice into the sterilized jars. I use a ladle and a funnel to fill the jars. Allow the jars to cool for a minute and then seal the lids. Refrigerate.

There are many more things you can make from this flavorful berry – jam, wine, cough medicine, pies, syrup and more. Elderberries are high in vitamins A, B and C, antioxidants, thiamine, calcium and niacin, to name just a few.

As an added bonus, the flowers that begin blooming in spring are also edible and can be used in many ways for their wonder fragrance.

Try it and let me know how you do – but you have to get out there and find the berries before the birds and other critters get it all.

 

 

Mari Carbajal is a docent-naturalist at the Placerita Canyon Nature Center.

 

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