Most people drive by roadside clumps of wild American Black Elderberry bushes every day without realizing what they’re missing. Sambucus Canadensis grows wild in the hedgerows and gullies of Eastern America, and is an absolutely amazing plant. In the early summer, it’s blossoms can be harvested for making deliciously delicate simple syrups and cordials. In late summer, the lacy bunches of tiny blue-black berries can be used in pies, jellies, and wines.
Beyond simply being delicious, the berry extracts are also medicinal – having been shown in studies to reduce the recovery time of Influenza B.
European lore claims that cutting the elder wood releases the wicked spirit of the Elder Mother. Elderwood is used in all sorts of witchcraft stories, and is historically the material out of which “magic wands” are crafted. Burning the wood is considered quite risky, as superstition says it might be followed by the death of a loved one.
Elderberry bushes are terribly easy to grow. They seem to pop up wherever bird droppings containing seeds land. But even though they are found near many roadside ditches, it’s not because they like their feet wet, it’s because they like the constant even flow of water the ditches edges provide. Chances are you can convince a farm neighbor to let you dig some up to replant, but if not, you can purchase some here.
We don’t seem to have too many wicked spirits around the Beekman but we do have several outcroppings of Elderberry bushes. The most prominent one squeezes out from between the base of the old silo foundation and the barn. Because the birds seem to get the berries long before we have a chance, this year we decided to harvest the blossoms instead, to make an old European favorite: Elderflower Fritters.
This is a fairly simple recipe, but for good reason. The flavor and fragrance of the elderflower is quite mild, so the fritter batter is very lightly seasoned. For added sweetness, we drizzle a little clover honey over the fritters before serving them as part of a weekend morning brunch on the Beekman porch.
Five large elderflower bunches
1.25 cup of flour
2 small eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup of very cold seltzer water
3 T of Cointreau or other flavored liqueur
Clover honey or confectionary sugar for drizzling/dusting.
Light canola oil for frying.
Cut the elderflower clumps into florets. Not too small. About the circumference of the top of a tin can.
Fill heavy pot with about 2 inches of oil. Heat to 350F.
Sift flour into a small bowl. Make a well in the center and pour in the eggs. Stir until just combined. Add in liqueur, stir. Pour in seltzer water slowly, while mixing with wooden spoon. The fritter batter should be the consistency of a very thin pancake batter, or like double cream.
Once oil is heated, dredge an elderflower floret through the batter, covering thoroughly. The delicate flowers will seem to clump together in one messy blob. Don’t worry. As you drop the battered flowers into the oil, they will pop and separate again, resembling their original form. It’s important for the oil to be the correct temperature, or they will not separate. Fry in small batches, adding the fritters to the oil one by one, being careful not to crowd.
Fry the fritters for about one minute before turning over. Fry the other side for another minute or until golden brown. Remove from oil, and place on paper towels to absorb excess oil.
Drizzle with honey, or dust with powdered sugar. Serve hot.