Wild Elderberry Preserves with Honey and Almond

August 18th, 2008  |  Published in All, Fantastic Fruits, Farming, Gardening, & Food Preservation, Lemon, Most Popular, Nuanced Nuts, Preserves and Pickles, Weekend Projects  |  39 Comments

Elderberry Preserves

Perhaps you would have chuckled if you saw me leaping into the air, grabbing at bunches of elderberries that grow alongside Moody Road yesterday morning… without a ladder, one must leap!  That’s right — it’s the time of year when elderberries are ripe, and just waiting for wild food enthusiasts to come harvest them.

I’ve been interested in wild foods for a while now (nettles, lamb’s quarter (aka pigweed), dandelion), but usually, I procure these things at the farmer’s market.  This was one of my first foraging experiences — and it was fruitful!

Elderberry haul
My elderberry haul

A couple weeks ago I picked up ‘Stalking the Wild Asparagus’ (circa 1962) by Euell Gibbons.  This is a fantastic and fun-to-read book with lots of information about wild foods that reads like a personal narrative.  After reading the chapter ‘A Salute to the Elderberry (with a nod to Sumac)’, I figured out that I have a (small) elderberry tree growing outside my front door!  Who knew!?!  It’s funny how things happen right under our noses and we don’t realize it!  Once I figured this out, I started seeing elderberry trees everywhere!  Really, I’ve seen no less than 40 trees while meandering around my neighborhood.

Elderberry Tree
Elderberry tree with ripe fruit

So, yesterday morning I went foraging.  In an hour or so of berry picking, I came away with about 16 cups (4 qts) of elderberries!  Elderberries are tiny, about a half inch in diameter, and require a fair bit of work (de-stemming and rinsing) before they’re ready to use.  The leaves and green stems MUST be removed before using the berries, as I hear there are trace amounts of poisonous substances present (namely cyanide, though I’m no botanist).  The berries are completely edible and safe.

Stem the Elderberries
De-Stemming Elderberries

Rinse the Elderberries
Rinsing Elderberries; skim off anything that floats to the top (dried flower petals, old berries, etc.)

I wouldn’t recommend using the berries raw, as they have a bit of a musty taste;  however, when cooked or dried, any disagreeable taste disappears.  With 16 cups of elderberries, I had quite a bit to work with — I made elderberry jam (recipe above), dried elderberries (to be made into chutney), and elderberry juice (for… cocktails?  and perhaps another jelly recipe — this time with using crabapples for the pectin).

And I must say, the preserves turned out great!  This is a fairly ‘loose’ jam, and is not overly sweet (a problem with many preserves).  The hint of almond adds a wonderful complexity to the jam.  And oddly, for all the preserves I’ve made, this was my first time using purchased pectin.  Previously, I had shied away from commercial pectins for fear of strange additives and chemicals, but I found this at my local natural food store, and thought I’d give it a try.  Pomona’s Pectin is a citrus based pectin, and does NOT require large amounts of sugar to jell properly (not the case with regular pectins like Sure-Jell, etc.).  If you notice, this preserve has only about 25% the typical amount of sweetener in jams — usually it’s 1:1 fruit to sugar.  Having had success with this low-sugar preserve, I envision many possibilities for preserves using low-pectin fruits (cherries, kiwi, peppers, tomatoes, etc.).  I’ve also considered making my own pectin from slightly under-ripe crabapples, but this is a large endeavor  on its own…

Well, foraging is an adventure in itself, and culinary delights often follow!  I encourage you to get outdoors, find some edible wild foods, and try something new!  You certainly won’t regret it!  And a tip if you’re anywhere near Los Altos Hills, CA — there are a plethora of elderberry trees on Moody road near Foothill college and Hidden Villa Farm; Page Mill Road also has 20+ trees.

And for the next foraging adventure — prickly pear!

Wild Elderberry Preserves with Honey and Almond
using Pomona’s Pectin (citrus-based)
makes ~ 4 1/2 – 5 cups

4 c. mashed elderberries (from about 4 1/2 c. berries)
1/4 c. lemon juice
2 t. calcium water (from Pomona’s Pectin package)
1 c. honey at room temperature
2 t. Pomona’s powdered pectin
1 t. pure almond extract

Sterilize 5 cups worth of canning jars and their corresponding lids and rings according to your favorite method.  (I heat the jars in a 250 degree oven for 15 minutes (or longer), and boil the lids and rings for 5 minutes;  leave rings/lids in water until ready to use; leave jars in oven until ready to use)

In a heavy bottomed sauce pan, combine elderberries, lemon juice, and calcium water.  In another bowl, combine honey and pectin powder and mix well.  Bring fruit mixture to a boil, then add honey mixture.  Stir vigorously for 2-3 minutes, return mixture to a boil, then remove from heat.  Add almond extract and mix well.  (Note:  with no-pectin preserves, I would do a ‘jell test’ at this point — with Pomona’s pectin, the preserves jell as they cool, and a jell test at this stage won’t tell you anything)

Ladle preserves into jars, filling within 1/4 inch of the top, wipe rims clean, and close with lid and ring.  Process in a boiling water bath for 5 minutes (add 1 minute for every 1000′ feet above sea level).  Preserves will set as they cool (allow at least 5-6 hours).  Stored in a cool, dark place, preserves will last for many months.

Cleaned, ready-to-use elderberries

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  1. maybelles mom (feeding maybelle) says:

    August 18th, 2008at 1:16 pm(#)

    Bravo, bravo to you. We just bought some elderberries at the market. But, this sounds like much more fun.

  2. Debs says:

    August 18th, 2008at 2:59 pm(#)

    Nice! I’m going to try this. Elderberries are among the few berries that grow around here that I haven’t used for anything. I also like that this jam doesn’t use sugar, and the almond sounds delightful.

    Food Is Love

  3. Debs says:

    August 18th, 2008at 3:00 pm(#)

    Ahem, I mean the few edible berries I haven’t used for anything.

    Food Is Love

  4. Maggie says:

    August 18th, 2008at 7:00 pm(#)

    Stalking the Wild Asparagus is a great book.

    The pectin looks interesting. I’m going to try and get some to use for my quince and grape jelly in the fall. Other than being able to make recipes less sweet, do you think it changes the flavor at all?

  5. Jen says:

    August 18th, 2008at 7:52 pm(#)

    Maybelles Mom — lucky you! I’ve never seen elderberries at the farmer’s market! what do you do with them?

    Debs — the pacific north west is so great for foraging edible berries! I have made countless blackberry cobblers using berries gathered near my father’s house near Tacoma. I’ve also seen cloudberries growing along trails near Issaquah and towards Snoqualmie

    Maggie — I’m not really sure I can answer your question as this is the first time I’ve ever made elderberry preserves (or used pectin for that matter), so I’m not sure how it ‘should’ taste… I can say though that in tasting the preserves, I found all the flavors I expected — berries, almond, and honey — and nothing I didn’t expect (metallic, mustiness, acidity, sharpness, etc).

  6. maybelles mom (feeding maybelle) says:

    August 21st, 2008at 7:46 am(#)

    our amish purveyor at the market always has had them. they always have very interesting stuff. As for what we made, fennel and elderberry pies. I have plans for a savory dish too, but I can’t figure out what.

  7. Jen says:

    August 21st, 2008at 8:55 am(#)

    maybelles mom – elderberry + fennel?! I would have never thought of that, and it sounds delicious! I bet that could be made either sweet or savory depending on what else you add (I lean towards savory so am imagining onions, goat cheese, lots of black pepper, etc)

  8. Delicious Beets says:

    August 21st, 2008at 8:39 pm(#)

    Love your blog Jen- was wondering if you would consider adding my site to your farming and gardening links? (We beets should stick together… :)

  9. Eileen says:

    August 22nd, 2008at 5:18 am(#)

    Love your website. It’s my first visit. Great recipes!

  10. Jen says:

    August 22nd, 2008at 9:37 am(#)

    Delicious Beets – thanks! How can I not add ‘The Best Garden in the World’? :)

    Eileen – thanks! The tomato tart you have on your site is so unique and beautiful looking!

  11. denise says:

    August 22nd, 2008at 10:36 am(#)

    at first i thought almond extract was an interesting addition to a jar of berry preserves, but then i read about your entire adventure into foraging – incredible! any chance you’d be up for sharing your blackberry cobbler recipe? this is such a great site!

  12. Jen says:

    August 22nd, 2008at 2:05 pm(#)

    denise – I’ll dig up the recipe at home and either make one and post it(yummm….), or just send it to you — it also works great with peaches (or a mixture of peaches + blackberries)

  13. Debbie says:

    August 23rd, 2008at 10:04 pm(#)

    Mmmmm…. I’ll be swinging by Moody Road to pick some elderberries this coming week. Thanks for a great looking recipe!

  14. Jen says:

    August 23rd, 2008at 10:11 pm(#)

    Debbie – thanks for commenting! Page Mill Rd is also a good place to find elderberries. You might consider taking a ladder or stool to reach the higher berries

  15. Debbie says:

    August 23rd, 2008at 10:17 pm(#)

    Page Mill on the east or west side of 280? I am assuming east. Thanks for the suggestion of bringing a stool, that’ll be helpful.

  16. Jen says:

    August 24th, 2008at 9:00 am(#)

    Debbie — actually, I mean the WEST side of Page Mill, past 280 heading up towards Skyline Blvd. In particular, between Arastradero & the entrance to Foothills Park there are quite a few trees

  17. Easy Fast FOOD » Blog Archive » Elderberry Fennel Mini-pies says:

    August 29th, 2008at 11:34 am(#)

    [...] picked up some elderberries at the market. Unfamiliar with elderberry? I would suggest you read the entry at Modern Beet. I only knew this product from the numerous references to elderberry wine in literature. Of course, [...]

  18. Easy Fast FOOD » Blog Archive » Vegetarian 100 says:

    August 29th, 2008at 2:27 pm(#)

    [...] Elderberry (?) [...]

  19. Rebecca says:

    September 3rd, 2008at 1:05 pm(#)

    Wonderful! I saw some elderberries ripening on the bushes on our local college campus–perhaps I will walk over and see if there are any left!

  20. Elizabeth Walker says:

    September 6th, 2008at 12:19 pm(#)

    Love your column; I just made elderberry jam with sure jell. Delicious, tastes similar to raspberry. I look forward to trying your recipe with Pamona’s pectin and honey. I also make jelly from guavas, and carambola (star fruit). The guava flavor is potent, the carambola very subtle taste, but beautiful. I also make jam from the same fruit.

  21. Jen says:

    September 6th, 2008at 1:35 pm(#)

    Elizabeth — your preserves sound great! I love raw starfruit, and bet preserves from them would be delicious. Right now I’ve actually got an interesting jam on the stove — cucumber + hot pepper! we’ll see how that goes…

  22. The Omnivore's Hundred and its Vegetarian Cousin | Apple Pie, Patis, and Pâté says:

    September 13th, 2008at 11:48 pm(#)

    [...] Elderberry (?) [...]

  23. FoodieView Blog » Eating Your Way to a Healthy Heart says:

    February 1st, 2009at 7:03 pm(#)

    [...] Carlile of Modern Beet makes Wild Elderberry Preserves with Honey and Almond. Elderberries are high in phytochemicals and flavonoids. Jen harvested elderberries she found [...]

  24. Christina says:

    April 10th, 2009at 1:25 pm(#)

    Thanks for posting this. The local hillsides are covered with elderberry trees, and now that I’ve experimented with the flowers, I’m looking forward to playing around with the fruit later in the year. This is a great resource.

  25. Erika says:

    April 16th, 2009at 9:01 am(#)

    What’s even better than elderberries are the flowers of the bush (common elderberry) made into a sweet and slightly tart drink. It’s traditional and very common here in Sweden, where I’m from. It’s called flädersaft or fläderblomssaft. Google it and try it for yourself!

  26. Stevie Pittsley says:

    July 20th, 2009at 9:27 pm(#)

    Great sounding recipe …. I have it saved , and when the berries are in season, look out ! …lol… I own my own landscape Design Biz, so I’m out and about a lot . I forage grapes ( Both Concorde , and Muscet, here in Massachusetts ) Blueberries , and huckleberries … tons of both in the nearby state reservoir , ( Quabbin Reservoir )
    I just packed up a dozen quarts of whole dill pickles, 6 pints of sliced bread and butter , and two pints of wild Blueberries. I also am trying pickled carrot sticks this year ; a friend turned me on to them , so I did up 3 quarts of her recipe .. They are addicting !
    Looking to put up some three Bean salad next …

  27. Jen says:

    July 21st, 2009at 12:08 am(#)

    Stevie Pittsley — have you seen “The Joy of Pickling” by Linda Zeidrich? you might enjoy it. She has some great and unique recipes in there (including a couple for pickled carrots), and it’s my go-to for pickling recipes. Euell Gibbon’s “Stalking the Wild Asparagus” has some good ideas too, especially for not-so-common foraged items, which I am guessing you might have access to

  28. Michelle says:

    September 29th, 2009at 2:10 pm(#)

    I am assuming from your recipe that you did not strain out the seeds,yes? Right now I have a huge amount from a recent harvest in the Columbia Gorge region of WA. I brought them back home to Santa Fe, NM along with Italian prune plums. I was thinking that a jam that included both would be nice, plus I’ll add a few of my local apples. I also have a crock full with vodka to be made into liquer. Thanks for your site!!!

  29. Jen says:

    September 29th, 2009at 9:05 pm(#)

    Michelle — You are right that I did not strain out the seeds. I bet that a plum/elderberry combination would be delicious and unique. Since this recipe uses pectin, you don’t have to worry much about the pectin content of the fruit (I think elderberry and ripe plums are fairly low-pectin). A spice I like a lot in preserves (especially with plums) is ground cardamom, which you might consider using (perhaps leave out the almond extract or substitute vanilla instead). Good luck!

  30. Grandma Carol says:

    August 16th, 2010at 1:22 pm(#)

    Dear Jennifer,
    What a fun grandduaghter you are. I’m so proud of you.
    Grandmother Carol

  31. donna says:

    December 31st, 2010at 12:37 am(#)

    It’s nice to see someone else who harvests the wild elderberries that grow in the bay area. I’ve found using a fork and pulling the berry clusters through the tines a great way to remove them from the stems. You may also want to look into making elderflower syrup or “champagne”, it’s simple, delicious and refreshing in the summer.

  32. Jen says:

    January 11th, 2011at 8:42 am(#)

    donna – I’ve had St. Germaine champagne cocktails before (which were delicious!), and have been scheming on making an elderflower infusion… any tips how to do it?

  33. Katie K says:

    January 28th, 2011at 9:06 am(#)

    You can replace elderberries for blueberries in some recipes like blueberry muffins. Elderberry muffins are my favorite, and the little seed in each berry gives a tiny crunch.

  34. Preserving honey | Bestpriceantiques says:

    June 1st, 2011at 2:49 am(#)

    [...] Wild Elderberry Preserves with Honey and Almond | Modern BeetBeen foraging lately? Recipe for low-sugar wild elderberry preserves with honey and almond … Wild Elderberry Preserves with Honey and Almond; using Pomona’s Pectin (citrus-based) makes ~ 4 1/2 – 5 cups… [...]

  35. Canning & Preserving with Honey | Real Raw Honey says:

    August 4th, 2011at 3:50 am(#)

    [...] Wild Elderberry Preserves with Honey and Almond (Using Pomona’s Universal Pectin) [...]

  36. becky says:

    October 10th, 2011at 12:38 pm(#)

    Hi there,
    Elderberries are not edible raw. A handful might be okay but any more than that and you’re likely to wind up with stomach cramps and vomiting.

    thanks for the recipe!

  37. Elderberries : Miss Chiffonade says:

    October 21st, 2011at 11:35 am(#)

    [...] and Boots) • Elderberry Jelly (Simply Recipes) • Elderberry Syrup (David Lebovitz) • Wild Elderberry Preserves with Honey and Almond (Modern [...]

  38. Ani says:

    November 26th, 2011at 9:00 am(#)

    we have wild elderberry bushes on our property. I cut them off in bunches, then I’ve found that the easiest way to destem them, is to rake the tines of a fork through them, while you are holding them over a bowel. I just stumbled upon your site…lovely!

  39. Elderberries | Roots & Marvel says:

    January 17th, 2013at 4:18 pm(#)

    [...] and Boots) • Elderberry Jelly (Simply Recipes) • Elderberry Syrup (David Lebovitz) • Wild Elderberry Preserves with Honey and Almond (Modern [...]

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