With the advent of mega marts and big box grocery stores selling everyday foods in bulk and a diminished personal home garden experience in America, our palates have shrunk compared to that of our parents and Grandparents. In other words, unless the Food Network makes an ingredient popular we all get the same kinds of vegetables and fruits from the store. The most exotic we might see is cara cara (blood) oranges, jicama, and some bok choy. The variety is a bit better in a health food or whole foods store. And it is definitely better at a farm market. Still, nothing compared to the variety of produce that my own parents had.
Growing up, one of the things that my mother always reminisced about was the Elderberry wine or cordial one of her mysterious ancestors, a great aunt of mine, made. My mother grew up in Dearborn, a bedroom community outside of Detroit. A large German enclave settled there and kept many traditions alive. I don’t think of Detroit as a hotbed of organic gardening but I guess if you want to eat you plant fruit trees instead of lilac bushes. And that is what many of her relation did. Enter the Elderberry.
When ever Seed Catalog Season rolled around (right after Holiday Goodies Catalog season) my mom would day dream out loud about planting Elderberry trees. My dad was of course skeptical as the red and black current (Johanisbeer) experiment went no where fast. We had a mulberry tree when I was very little and if Elderberries were like Mulberries I was on board. There are not and we did not get any trees. As I am researching German foods and I am finding so many interesting, if bizarre, flavors I am feeling quite bold in my experiments. Enter the Elderflower.
Having fallen in love with Waldmeister (sweet woodruff), I figured the flavor from the Elderflower should be compatible with my taste buds. My pen pal sent me a jar of Elderflower, Holunderblüten, jelly. It was not love at first taste. Straight out of the jar it is astringent and resinous like bitter honey. The sweet is almost sickening, like large amounts of honey. The color is a pristine pale apple jelly color. Not one to let things go to waste and cognizant of the fact that somethings need other ingredients for accompaniment, I set to work. Before you run you have to walk. In other words, before you get too carried away use it for its intended purpose first. And that was the key! Elderflower jelly needs the fat from the butter and the body from the toasted bread to offset its less than desirable traits. Also, the American palate really needs to warm up to some of the stranger flavors out there. And this isn’t even all that strange!
Once you get used to the flavor, it has a zingy tang that brightens up toast for breakfast. The flavor is light unlike honey. I am wondering how I might like it on oatmeal. I hate oatmeal but I need to eat more of it. Of course I could be asking for a whole bunch of trouble with that combination.
Elderflower is taking a hold in America in the alcoholic beverage industry in a liqueur for mixers and cocktails. I do hope that the Foodies here will help to revive the flavor and its usage so that it is no longer relegated to an antique American culture.