Elderberry Liqueur (part one)


I’ve long irritated loved ones heading off to the wilds of Ikea with demands for elderflower syrup. Since flowers are not the only part of the elder tree, I’ve been eager to diversify my palate.

A recent trip to the Madison farmers’ market presented opportunity in the form of a pint of black elderberries (Sambucus nigra); the berries are heartier than the flowers, which are the main ingredient in St. Germaine and are (in)famous for not traveling well. As much as I like edlerflower syrup and St. Germaine, the berries are not a consolation prize.

Some preliminary research revealed that elderberries are used as a folk remedy: among other wonders, elderberry vinegar heals a sore throat and elderberry wine apparently cures colds and influenza and soothes rheumatism. I’m not equipped to make wine, so I settled on a basic liqueur. The woman who sold me the berries told me she makes sambuca with them and has a little nip of it every evening to ward off illness; my liqueur will be simpler, but hopefully just as civilized.

Imprecise directions:

Since the leaves, bark, and stems are mildly poisonous and should not be included in the infusion, the tiny berries must be stripped off the stalks. It’s tedious but soothing: my sister, one of the aforementioned loved ones charged with procuring goods from Ikea, helped.

After the berries are free of the stems, place them in a clean quart jar and cover with about four cups vodka. I used Sobieski, a reasonable compromise between “cheap” and “vodka I will willingly consume,” because no way was I going to use Tito’s.

I’ll strain and add sugar after the berries have had a chance to infuse; I’m told the process takes anywhere from a few weeks to several months. Stay tuned: if this winter is anything like the last one, fortifying drinks are pretty much the name of the game.

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