My love affair with Elderberry Jam
We all have our mothers to thank for many things, and for me, I am forever grateful for the time Mom spent with me in the kitchen teaching me how to make jams, jellies and preserves. This bonding time between Mom and me happened rather late in life; I was a mom of pre-teens myself when my mom discovered the glory of home-made jam. By late summer her pantry was filled with strawberry preserves, Damson plum jams, blueberry preserves, and a host of other delicious creations. My folks lived about an hour’s drive away so we’d often go down to their house for a weekend. Breakfast at their house always included homemade scones or English muffins with one of her jams slathered on top. Mom sent us home after each visit with a supply of her homemade jams and preserves to tide us over until the next visit.
Before long we were collaborating in the kitchen. We’d hit the farmer’s markets and U-pick operations together to get the freshest fruit in season and then pour through recipe books to find new and intriguing recipes. Those were some long and happy days, mornings spent over long rows in the strawberry fields, and afternoons spent washing and preparing fruit, sterilizing jars, and cooking up some of the best preserves I had ever tasted. We were soon adding unusual ingredients like nuts, ginger, fruit peel, and even tomatoes trying to come up with the next recipe that deserved the claim of “the best tasting jam we’ve ever made!”
These glorious jam making days with my mom ended too soon for me. Due to a form of slowly progressing dementia Mom eventually found jam making to be frustrating and confusing, and so, as with so many things, I learned to make jam without her.
My First Elderberry Jam
Years later, when my father-in-law settled on growing elderberry on his farm I knew I was going to have to learn how to make elderberry jam! Fortunately for me, the world of google and the internet had arrived because I wasn’t able to find a recipe for elderberry jam or jelly in any of the cookbooks I had inherited from my mom. I found lots of recipes on-line like this one, which I found appealing due to the simple ingredient list. Whenever I pull out my big sterilizing kettle and tongs, gather all my mason jars together and give them a good wash, my mind is filled with pleasant memories of my mom. My first elderberry jam making adventure was no different, and I found myself wishing that my mom was around to enjoy the exquisite smell of elderberries cooking in the kitchen with me. Unfortunately my first batch was a big disappointment…the berry aroma was great but those darn seeds were spoiling the delicious flavor of the berries and adding an unwelcome crunch to every bite.
The little tiny elderberry is about the size of a bee-bee and believe it or not, is about 50% seed. And unlike raspberry or blueberry seeds, the elderberry seed is not insignificant-about the size of a sesame seed-and I can’t say that it tastes very good. If it weren’t for the fact that our family farm was producing a rather large supply of elderberries I probably would have given up. While puzzling through the problem-love the fruit, hate the seeds-I remembered times in my grandmother’s kitchen making homemade applesauce with a contraption Grandma called an “apple saucer”. This contraption bolted to the side of the counter and separated the apples from the seeds and peel with a few quick and easy turns; perhaps it would work with elderberries!
This is the best jam I’ve ever made!
Well, it did, and after a few more attempts at making elderberry jam I found myself proclaiming “this is the best jam I’ve ever made!’ Running the cooked elderberries through the apple saucer yielded an elderberry jam with a consistency more like a fruit butter, and the deep dark deliciousness of the elderberry was nothing like I had ever tasted before. This recipe became the foundation recipe for the many different kinds of elderberry jams we make at Norm’s Farms, and our Elderberry Ginger Pecan Jam is in tribute to those long ago days of making jams with my mom. Each time I slather some of our jam on an English muffin or piece of toast, I am filled with sweet memories of those lovely times with my mom, so many years ago.