A recent trip to Hamburg lead to the discovery of a new delicious thing available growing free on the city streets: Holunder berries. Holunder is a species of Elder that is native to Europe. The English translation is Elderberrry or Balck Elder, but I don’t think they grow in the US. The Latin name however makes them instantly familiar –Sambucus nigra. It’s what the Italian schnaps Sambuca is made of. But Sambuca is flavored with anis, which overpowers the Holunder berry taste. So when Anne suggested making Holunder berry jelly together, I enthusiastically agree.
We went to pick up her kids from school and then walked to a long row of trees where the berries were growing. It had been raining earlier and it was hard not to get wet as we clipped big bundles of the berries -lovely, dark shiny clusters growing off a bright red stalk. In the spring, the same tree produces millions of tiny white flowers that Germans use to make a syrup that they sweeten with sugar and drink with carbonated water. They also make lemonade and even a sort of champagne out of it. My friend Claudia told me that her grandmother used to make Holunder flower soup.
Back home, we separated the berries from the stalks and cleaned them. Making the jelly was easy -you boil the berries briefly, strain the skins and add gelatin sugar to the juice, cooking it for another short bout. The process can be quite messy though and by the time we poured the mixture into jars to cool, we all had stained finger and lips.
Anne sent me home with a jar with a beautiful label she designed herself -a circle of silhouetted mosquito bodies. I was back in Berlin before I tried the jelly for the first time, the jar opening with a promising pop. The jelly is a potent mixture of sweet and tart that is really addicting. Christian and I found that it goes especially well with lemon-ricotta pancakes, but it’s also very good in PB&J and just by itself on buttered bread.