A little over a month ago I spent a morning picking elderflowers at my friends’ farm in Southeastern Pennsylvania. Last weekend I returned to find one lone cluster of white flowers and an inordinate number of reddish- to blackish-purple berries drooping from the limbs of their elderberry trees. Since my last visit those pert, little flowers had transformed into August’s big bounty, tart and spicy elderberries.
As with all of this summer’s foraged fruit, elderberry collecting is a new undertaking for me. Sure, I’ve been the beneficiary of others’ wild berry gathering, adding elderberries to mini apple pies and boiling them into violet-colored sauces. However, this would be my first venture into harvesting them.
Thankfully, the task turned out to be quite easy. Just look for the darkest fruit, snap off the sprays of berries and shake them into a big bowl. As I said, easy!
Berries picked and shucked, I took my share home and tried to think of creative ways to use two pounds of this fruit. After washing and removing any remaining stems, leaves, green berries and unlucky insects, I placed half in a large freezer bag and popped them into the freezer. At some point I’d include these in a pie or tart. Along with putting them in baked goods, cooks have long made elderberries into jams, jellies, chutneys, cordials and wine. The fruit’s bold, tangy flavor works particularly well in the latter beverage. Because elderberries do possess this strong, rather earthy taste, I like to temper them with mild and sweet or sweetly tart ingredients such as whipped cream, ice cream, yogurt, apples, pears and oranges.
The following dish may call to mind such earlier summer offerings as Blackberry Fool and Coconut Syllabub. Unlike in fools, the fruit in this recipe is not folded into the cream. If you choose to mix the elderberries into the whipped cream, you will technically have the aforementioned British dessert.
ELDERBERRIES AND CREAM
Serves 4 to 6
1 pound elderberries, washed, drained and all debris removed
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons Grand Marnier or other orange liqueur
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup confectioner’s sugar, sifted
Place the elderberries, granulated sugar and water in medium saucepan and bring the ingredients to a boil over medium heat. Cook, uncovered, for 8 minutes.
Remove the pan from the burner and add the Grand Marnier. Stir to combine, return the pan to the heat and bring the ingredients to a boil. Cook for an additional 2 to 3 minutes. Remove and allow the ingredients to cool completely.
To make the whipped cream, using an electric mixer, beat the cream until soft peaks form. Add the confectioner’s sugar and vanilla extract and continue beating until stiff peaks take shape.
To assemble the desserts, spoon equal amounts of elderberries and sauce into 4 to 6 small or juice-sized glasses. Cover the berries with a thick layer of whipped cream. Spoon another layer of elderberries over the whipped cream. Top this with a final layer of whipped cream. Refrigerate until ready to serve.