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The Tuesday tree: my breakfast smells of elderberries!

October 18, 2011

Elder trees are barely trees at all. Scrubby and untidy, these hedgerow weeds usually look little more than shrubs. Nevertheless, trees they are, and most potent ones at that. The elder is one of those trees (like the rowan) which is strongly associated with faeries and all things uncanny; and which, therefore, has acquired sinister associations since the advent of Christianity to these shores. (As always, the wonderful Highland website Trees for Life gives an excellent summary of its folklore.)

In more recent tales, elder continues to feature in a negative light. It has a deadly past in Harry Potter (the Elder Wand – spoiler alert in this link for anyone left on the planet who intends to read the books and hasn’t yet done so) and an unfortunate one in the sublimely silly Monty Python and the Holy Grail, when a French soldier taunts King Arthur: ‘Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries’. Glorious though this insult is, I like elderberries. They smell perfectly innocuous (it’s the flowers that smell musty), they look beautiful and, once cooked, they are appetising and full of goodness.

At this time of year, therefore, I often pick a spray or two of ripe elderberries to use in cooking. Last week I used some in a simple compote. A few apples from the garden, chopped up; a handful of brambles and some elderberries, all simmered in a stoneware pot with brown sugar, ground cinnamon, a little grated lemon rind and a splash of water.

I suppose I really intended to use this mixture as a filling for a crumble. The crumble never materialised, however. Instead, I have enjoyed a few delicious autumnal breakfasts of granola with plain yogurt and apple-and-elderberry compote. Others use elderberries to make a rich, juicy wine: I haven’t made it myself, preferring to leave it to the experts like Cairn o Mohr (care no more – geddit) winery in the Carse of Gowrie, Perthshire. Their elderberry wine is autumn in a glass and dangerously more-ish. The elder and its berries is a bounty to be celebrated, then – whatever Monty Python might say.

You might enjoy Harvest thanksgiving, another post about ‘wild’ cooking from this time last year.


15 Comments leave one →
  1. hmunro permalink
    October 18, 2011 6:40 pm

    What a feast for the senses! And I adore that you managed to get a Monty Python reference into your marvelous post as well. Thanks for a wonderful respite from the daily grind, DB.

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      October 18, 2011 10:40 pm

      Aha, I thought that you’d appreciate the Python reference! Glad you enjoyed it. 🙂

  2. October 18, 2011 10:14 pm

    Umm your breakfast looks delicious! I love the taste of elderberries, so rich and unlike anything else somehow. Obviously the hamsters are attracted by them too!

  3. dancingbeastie permalink*
    October 19, 2011 10:46 am

    They are really good, aren’t they? Their dark, smoky taste grows on me more each autumn. Luckily there are no hamsters around here to have to share them with!

  4. Liz permalink
    October 19, 2011 1:39 pm

    I was going to ask if your mother was a hamster when I saw the title, but you got there first! I’ve never eaten elderberries because when I was small someone told me they give you guts ache, but clearly not! Something to try next autumn.

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      October 19, 2011 11:35 pm

      Ha, glad you got the reference! I used to be wary of elderberries too, for the same reason. Don’t eat them raw, but as long as you cook them they are fine.

  5. Erika W. permalink
    October 19, 2011 2:05 pm

    Every year I make elderberry jelly and this year I made elderflower cordial for only the second time. This was a lucky decision because as the result of a sudden very hot, very dry spell the birds completely stripped the berries from our 3 trees. This has never happened before–usually they leave the remainder of them, after we have picked, until they are shriveled in the Winter. jelly and no apple and elderberry pies for us this Fall and Winter.

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      October 19, 2011 11:38 pm

      Respect: I’ve never made jelly yet, nor even cordial come to that. I bet your elderflower cordial was delicious though, so we can’t really begrudge the birds their share!

  6. October 21, 2011 3:56 pm

    Good afternoon Dancing Beastie
    I loved this post and will get back to it and check the links…promise..
    The beautifully sinister bunches of elderberries have been catching my eye for days…How do they stay so shiny even in the dreich….?are they edible?…maybe I can take up Herbology when I retire ….?P’raps I can make a truly confounding potion (non-lethal) for the delectation of mine foes…the list becomes silly.
    Off to the wild and woolly west…
    Thanks again for your lovely prose.

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      October 21, 2011 7:18 pm

      Thank you for your kind comments, Alison. Elderberries, unlike nightshade, are really not as sinister as you think: just don’t eat them raw. I think your elderberry potion might indeed be delectable.

      We are also off to the wild and woolly (and wet) west shortly – hurray! Hope you enjoy your trip.

  7. October 21, 2011 4:51 pm

    Your photos are a feast for the eyes! What a lovely, simple but tasty start to the day and how beautifully the whole meal is presented! We often lose sight of the fact that food must satisfy the eye as well as the belly. Thanks!!!

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      October 21, 2011 7:23 pm

      My pleasure, Janet. For all that many meals are just fuel for the day’s tasks, I do enjoy the presentation when I have the time and we always lay up the next morning’s breakfast table properly before bed. It makes a small moment of pleasure from the ordinary. Better stop there, though, I’m beginning to sound like Martha Stewart!

  8. December 14, 2011 8:05 am

    I love this blog a lot!!!! You have mentioned two of my favorite things Harry Potter, and Monty Python!!!! All though I have to say that I love Harry Potter more then Monty Python, what can I say Harry Potter has been in my life longer. I mean I have been reading and had them read to me since I was 6 years old and I am now 21; so I guess that pretty much says everything. Elder Berries sound really good, I will some how have to try them in something sometime! Sorry that was a long one, I guess I really liked the blog!!! Thank you for writing it!!!!

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      December 15, 2011 1:07 pm

      You are very lucky to be of the generation who grew up with Harry Potter. My boys are just too young to have been swept up in the books as they came out. They enjoy them, but they don’t really see what all the fuss was about. Whereas I adore the books!


  1. Fruits of the forest | Dancing Beastie

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