We had our first frost the other night and, although it wasn't a hard frost, tender things like peppers and basil have bit the dust and the tomatoes are knocked well back. Consequently, A and I have some last of the season canning to accomplish. We've put a bit by this year, including one wild fruit new to me.
On an unsuccessful mushroom hunt in late summer, we came across some heavily fruiting elderberry trees. The first tree we saw had quite a few berries on it, but was a lone tree. I'd seen elderberries fruiting in the mountains before, but never very heavily and this lone tree was interesting but nothing more than that. However, on our way off the mountain, we passed a number of trees drooping with ripe fruit, inspiring us to stop and pick what turned out to be 11 pounds of berries off three trees in just twenty minutes or so.
Lots of elderberries.
A day or two later, we sat down in front of the tv and de-stemmed the whole batch, then weighed it out.
We cooked the berries in a bit of water to soften them, then extracted the juice- enough for 3 1/2 batches of jelly and a batch of "membrillo" as well.
Membrillo is quince paste cooked to a jelly-like state, often paired with cheese. The elderberry membrillo, rather than orange color you get with quince, is the beautiful dark purple you see below. Slightly sweet, we dusted it with sugar to keep the wedges separate. Served alongside manchego cheese, lucques olives and perhaps some thinly sliced tasso, it is very good.
Both the elderberry membrillo and the jelly have a flavor similar to dark cherries, although slightly less sweet and with a vinous funk near to that in some red wines- a slightly green, earthy note that recalls to me a bit of the flavor of the cambium of some trees. (What, you never split a piece of green oak and thought it smelled so good you had to taste it, or wondered what elk find so appealing in aspen bark?) The flavor isn't quite the same, there is another note, perhaps a little like latex or green fig that also goes along with it. However, all this is a subtle undercurrent to the overall tart cherry flavor, making elderberry jelly or paste both reminiscent of and more complex and appealing than cherries.
Once again, a wild food that is unique and very, very good. The juice of elderberries is supposed to be a tonic and a bit mixed with a citrus soda (or likely, club soda and vodka) was quite nice. With any luck the elderberries will come on again next year and, if they do, we'll spend some time up in the mountains gathering more to put aside.