Cleaning Elderberries

It is Elderberry season and time to shuck Elderberries! I’ve been trying a new method to clean the elderberries that I am going to share with you. I also have information on shucking elderberries on my Elderberry Project page.

I love Elderberry Wine, but cleaning the Elderberries is time consuming. I’ve been trying to find new ways to improve the process. The most widely used way to clean Elderberries is to shuck them by hand, pulling the berries off with your fingers. This method produces Elderberries with very few stems. Stems give a bitter taste to Elderberry Wine so the less stems the better.

Freezing Elderberries is another way to shuck them. This method consists of putting the Elderberries, stems and all, in a bag or box and freezing them. Then a day or two later, shaking the bag or box to dislodge the berries from the stems. The up side is that it is quick. You can remove lots of berries from the stem in just a few minutes. The down side is that the berries have lots of stem parts in them. The stems will impart a bitter taste to wine. Also, once the berries are frozen, they are hard to work with because if they thaw slightly, they will burst, loosing their juice.

The freezing process seems most promising, so I am trying to improve on it. The two largest problems I encountered last year were stems in the elderberries, and the occasional bug or leaf. (Stink bugs are not good for wine!)

I addressed the leaf problem in the field by only putting elderberry pods in the bag. I cut the pod from the bush above the last leaf. Sometimes there are leafs close to the berries, I just remove them before putting the pod in the bag.

Next, I addressed the bug problem back at the house. The Elderberries are going to need washed at some point in the process. You need to get the bugs and other stuff off the berries before using them. I have a large wash tub in the basement, and this is where I washed the berries. I put them all in one side of the tub and sprayed them with water. I take the berry pods out one layer at a time and spray again. My goal here is to wash the bugs and dirt to the bottom of the tub.

Berries being cleaned

Berries being cleaned

As I take them out of the tub, I lay them out on newspaper to get them the drip dry for a few minuets. (Five or ten minuets at the most) My goal here is to not have them dripping water at the next step, wet is OK.

Elderberry drying after cleaning

Elderberry drying after cleaning

Next I cut the Elderberries off the pod into a bowl. I am trying to get most of the stem removed at this point, but not all of the stem. I’ll get to that later. There are usually 5 pods of berries on the stem. I was able to cut all five off at one time on most of the pods.

After cutting the Elderberries off the pod, I placed them in 1 gallon freezer bags and froze the clean elderberries. At this point, the bugs and most of the stems are removed from the berries. (The berries left in the tub were gathered up and placed in a bowl and covered with water. This floats the bugs and stems to the top. I then pour the bugs and stems from the bowl and save the berries at the bottom of the bowl.)

After they are frozen, I take the bag out of the freezer and shake a bit. (Don’t shake it too hard, because it may break and spill elderberries on the floor. Frozen elderberries thaw pretty quick when laying on the floor and make a bit of a mess. ) :) This shaking will shake the berries off the stems. The berries will fall to the the bottom of the bag, and the stems will move to the top. I also get my fingers in the bag in a raking motion, and bring the stems up to the top of the bag. When done, the top of the bag will have lots of stems, and the bottom of the bag will have lots of berries.

Frozen elderberries seperated from stem

Frozen elderberries seperated from stem

Here is a picture viewed from the side. Notice the stems are on the top and berries are on the bottom. I haven’t removed these stems yet.

Frozen shucked elderberries

Frozen shucked elderberries

When I remove the stems, I place them in another bag to go back in the freezer. The first batch of stems will still have some berries on them. This will allow me to get some more berries off these stems. Once the stem bag is full I put it in the freezer for a day, I’ll repeat the shaking process with the stem bag to get more berries. Then I will discard the stems after the second cleaning.

Here is a picture of cleaned Elderberries.

Cleaned Elderberries

Cleaned Elderberries

Notice there is still a small amount of stems in the bag. This small amount should not affect the taste of the wine. I will report back after I have a batch of wine made.

While this method is not perfect, it does save some time over shucking the berries. It took me about a hour to process 10 pounds of berries. I imagine the time will go down as I get more practice. I am always looking for better ways to clean elderberries, so if you have any ideas, post them in the comments below. Unfortunately, I only get a couple of weeks a year to try to improve the process, but there is always next year!

Enjoy!