The Tuesday tree: my breakfast smells of elderberries!
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.