Sunday, September 8, 2013

Elderberry Pie

A couple of weeks ago (late August), I was driving towards Corbett from Troutdale (AKA: the boonies) and did a double take as I spotted something in the corner of my eye. I then yelled "WHAT! That's Elder!" and then did an epic u-turn back to confirm that the massive, deciduous bush was, indeed, blue Elder, which is native to the Pacific Northwest. Of COURSE I then picked the powdery-blue berries that resemble little Earths.

Blue Elderberries (Sambucus cerulea).

The Sambucus species native to Oregon is S. cerulea (blue Elder) and S. racemosa (red Elder). You can eat a few blue Elderberries fresh off the bush, but consuming more than a handful can cause stomach upset in some people due to the small amount of hydrocynanic acid content. Cooking the berries thoroughly destroys the toxins. Red Elderberries (S. racemosa), however, have a higher amount of these toxins, and therefore should be regarded as toxic. Sambucus cerulea, much like its well known herbal cousin Sambucus nigra (European black Elder), has powerful medicinal properties. Blue Elder was an important source of food and medicine for Northwest Native Americans; infusions were used to aid a variety of ailments, including but not limited to fever and gastrointestinal issues. 

Blue Elderberry competes with the Huckleberry as my favorite berry. In other words, blue Elderberry cooked in baked goods is a total foodgasm. The flavor of blue Elderberries in a pie has a slight "bite" to it. The only downside in using Elderberries is removing the berries from the stems, which is a real pain in the ass. No, really: Plan to destem for at least a couple of hours. Also, you want to be really careful when destemming, as the stems and leaves are toxic.

I made a pie with the blue Elderberries, and it was epic. It was so epic that I refused to leave the house before eating a piece for breakfast/brunch/lunch (or if you're a pig like me, all three). Now as for a recipe to share, this is the thing... when I cook, I don't often use recipes -- it's usually something like, "Eh, that should be enough there, a dash of this here, throw in some of this stuff" -- but below is basically the recipe... as much as I can remember, anyway.

Blue Elderberry Pie

About 3 1/2 cups blue Elderberries
A tiny bit of water, about 1/4 cup (if berries are frozen, don't add water)
Juice of 1 lemon
1 cup of sugar, add more to taste
3 1/2 tablespoons of cornstarch
Dash of cinnamon
A little honey, about a tablespoon

For the gluten-free crust:

2 cups of flour, Bob's Red Mill All Purpose Gluten-free flour OR 1 cup of Bob's Red Mill Sorghum flour, 1/2 cup Bob's Red Mill White Rice Flour and 1/2 cup Bob's Red Mill Tapioca Flour
Dash of salt
About 1 teaspoon xanthan gum
2/3 cup of vegetable oil
1/3 cup of milk

Mise en place ingredients. Mix flour with salt and xantham gum in a bowl, add the vegetable oil and milk and blend well. Divide the mixture in half and roll out the dough on a sheet of wax paper. Place the dough in a 8" pie pan.

Cook the elderberries in a saucepan until soft. If fresh, add the water. Add the berries to a blender and blend for about ten seconds. Return the mixture to the saucepan, add the sugar, honey, lemon juice, cinnamon, and then the cornstarch and bring to a boil. Remove from surface to allow the mixture to cool and thicken.

Add the mixture to the pie crust, top with the other half of the dough (a lattice crust is recommended, but any sort of pie topping will do). Pinch sides, cut slices in center of pie, and brush the crust with milk to aid browning. Bake at 350 degrees for about 40 to 50 minutes, or until pie crust is golden brown. Serve with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

This basically evaporated.

This post was written for educational purposes only. When foraging for wild berries, please be 100 percent positive of identification. Remember that red Elderberry (S. racemosa) is toxic and should not be eaten. For more information, please see:

Sambucus cerulea at BLUE ELDERBERRY at USDA Plants Database

Wild Berries of the West by Betty B. Derig and Mararet C. Fuller - has excellent Elderberry recipes!