Respect for my elders

I am old enough to be of that generation that still thinks of wine (made of grapes) as something of a novelty. When I was a child wine was either a half bottle of Sauternes at Christmas or a small glass of elderberry wine or parsnip sherry at my grandparents’. *

In the spirit of growing as wide a variety of fruit as possible, two elderberries have been planted along the drive. Elderberries are reputed to have many and various nutritional benefits but the idea is that they will provide the raw materials for elderflower cordial and elderberry wine, though I appreciate that if I strip them for the former I won’t have much for the latter.

I am talking here about the native Sambucus nigra. I already have the ornamental ‘Golden Tower’ and ‘Black Tower’ though the latter are small. And there are several Black Lace which have already been raided for cordial. So it seems strange to plant more, especially as elderberry is a native and is often a weed. But elderberries are curiously absent from the hedgerows around here and the one tree down the road does not set many fruits.

So I decided to add two cultivated, cropping varieties. I am not aware that these are easily available so sent for them from Poland. Many fruits that are ‘marginal’ here are well established in Eastern Europe. It means I was buying with blind faith and there is not much information about them, even with Google translate.

Planted this spring, both have grown well and, remarkably, flowered. You do not usually get flowers on one year-wood. If elderberries are pruned hard in spring they make vigorous growth and no flowers, whether grown for ornament or crops. You need to prune lightly, in summer, for flowers or fruit.

So the first bunch of berries is on ‘Samil’. I did pick a bunch off the wild elderberry and these are at the lower half of the photo. If you look closely and optimistically you can see that the ‘Samil’ truss has better fruit set and the fruits are larger. Even a slight increase in fruit diameter will be a significant increase in fruit weight. At least that is what I am telling myself.

What is also a good sign is that the way that the plants are flowering so precociously. The other ‘Sampo’ did not bloom in spring but is making flowers now, on sideshoots. So I picked one off and placed it beside the berries of ‘Samil’, to take a photo I never thought was possible.

Have you grown these cultivars or any other ‘culinary’ elderberries rather than foraging? I would be interested to know more about them.

* (Yes, I was allowed to have small amounts of alcohol as a child and I know this may not be PC but it did not encourage me to drink excessively)

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5 Comments on “Respect for my elders”

  1. Paddy Tobin
    September 28, 2021 at 1:29 pm #

    Childhood wine recollections don’t go beyond altar wine and Buckfast Abbey which was commonly recommended as a tonic. We pick wild elderflowers each year to make cordial and add some pink flowers from one in the garden so that we have a pink cordial and it is beautiful with sparkling water.

    I haven’t picked elderberries in years – since I used them to make an elderberry port, a fortified wine, which was reasonably good and potent at about 25% alcohol.

    The Polish cultivars sound very interesting and very promising. Isn’t it Bob Brown’s (Cotswold Garden Plants) son who grow a big selection of elders in England?

    • thebikinggardener
      September 28, 2021 at 1:43 pm #

      Yes I have been making cordial with Black Lace for some time and it is very good. I am not sure that my Nan fortified her elderberry wine but I remember it being sweet and warming! I am not quite sure why I drank it but I remember drinking Sanatogen in my youth, a tonic wine. Yes, Bob Brown’s son has done a lot of work on elders and some sound very interesting – shame we will have to get them via Europe if any become commercial. I will be watching their availability.

  2. tonytomeo
    September 28, 2021 at 5:58 pm #

    No, but I tried. Elderberries had been quarantined from California, although some of the ornamental cultivars had been available from nurseries. It is difficult to identify the species of some of the cultivars. The native blue elderberry has worked out well though. I intend to eventually add some to my home garden, since cultivated plants are more productive than those I find in the forest or our landscapes here. Now that I find the blue elderberries to be so satisfactory, I am not so interested in cultivars of culinary black elderberries, whether or not they are now legal in California. My elderberry jelly predictably wins second place in the Jelly and Jam Competition of the Santa Cruz Mountains Harvest Festival.

    • thebikinggardener
      September 29, 2021 at 8:39 am #

      Well done for on your success – first prize is surely inevitable!

      • tonytomeo
        September 30, 2021 at 5:37 am #

        Success? I want just one blue ribbon! (It WILL be mine!)

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