After a hearty breakfast of Krapfen and coffee (see future blog post about weight gain), SWMBO shares her recipe for elderberry syrup.
Elderberry syrup is good for coughs and colds and also delicious in its own right. Elderberries can be tricky to find in Ontario but they grow rampant in most parts of Europe. If you want to make this syrup, make sure you know what you are picking. Pick only ripe berries and remember that:
- All parts of the plant except the berries will make you ill. It is therefore important to remove the berries from the stems before cooking.
- The berries will also make you ill if you eat more than a couple raw. Cook the berries! They don’t taste good right off the branch anyhow.
- One easy way to tell the ripe berries is that they are black and the stems are red.
- Be careful when picking because stinging nettle, raspberry brambles and thistles all tend to grow right underneath elderberry bushes.
- Don’t get too scared because elderberry juice is packed with antioxidants and vitamins.
Fahbio wanted to go back to see a Fehrienwohnung (cottage for rent) that we had stayed in when we only had two children so that shows you how long ago that was! Lifelongfriend thought that we absolutely should go “up on a mountain” while we were in Austria. It was a glorious day and we wanted to let Lifelongfriend rest quietly in bed with her fever so we packed up and headed to Weyregg on the Attersee, at which point we turned left and drove up, up, up and away.
The view from the top of Miglberg is wonderful and there is definitely something special about being on an Austrian mountain. The major peaks have fancy gondolas ($$$$) that whisk you to the top where you will find snow even in summer. They are stunners but to get a real feel for Austria, you can’t beat a day on an Alm. An Alm is the high pasture land and mountain huts used in the summer by cowherds and goatherds. There is something so unique about being in the mountains and yet still having steep rolling hills dotted with animals and wildflowers. In fact, on our way home, we saw the Sound of Music Tour bus.
We had a picnic at the top and then we walked to our former farm cottage. On the way back, we foraged for elderberry. You can pick a large quantity of elderberry easily in less than 1/2 hour.
After a few hours on the Alm, we drove back and made our syrup as follows:
Rinse branches of fruit, then remove berries with your fingers. Many people advocate using the tines of a fork but I have found that this takes longer and results in bits of stem getting mixed in.
Add water – not too much! I like to add water until it just comes to the top of the level of the berries. Simmer on medium heat for 30 minutes (don’t boil). Fahbio takes this time to make chicken broth, another great cold buster (back burner). Mash by hand using a ricer (potato masher). Strain juice by pouring through a strainer into another vessel.
Add honey. The sugar acts as a preservative so don’t skimp on the honey unless you plan to drink the juice within a couple of days. I believe that the benefits of having potent antioxidants in the winter months when all we get in Ontario is bananas and clementines is well worth it. I used 3/4 of this large (1 kg) jar of forest honey for the soup pot of juice that I made. This is a good time to use high quality, flavourful honey that can stand up to the strong taste of elderberries. Stir well to blend.
Bottle the syrup. Clean, dry 375 ml (1/2 bottle) wine bottles with screw tops make great storage vessels. Other good choices are glass maple syrup bottles/beer bottles with swing caps. If you have a lot of juice, full size wine bottles or Italian tomato bottles are great. When the juice has cooled, refrigerate. It will keep for several weeks.
I recommend taking a portion of your syrup before bottling and adding a strong, neutral spirit. Vodka is usually used for this but since we’re in Austria we went with a fancy Schnapps made with enzian (mountain gentian). Make the mixture strong but not deadly. A 1:5 ratio of alcohol to syrup is about right. You are going to use this as a cough syrup and you want it to last the winter. Again, don’t skimp on the alcohol because it acts as a preservative and will allow you to keep your syrup longer than the 3 weeks that your other bottles will last. Handy when you get that flu in early February!
In summary – we made 3 full wine bottles and two half bottles of syrup. We drank half of one of the large bottles and now I am going to add about 1 cup of Snapps to what remains in that bottle. I’ll give it a hard shake and it’ll be good to go. The cost to make this quantity of premium quality, organic, anti-oxidant juice and cough syrup was 8 euros/$12 Cdn for the fanciest honey in the store and 3 euros/$4.50 Cdn for premium Schnapps = $12.50.
Quote of the Day needs no introduction:
The hills are alive…