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The Marvelous and Wondrous Sauco (Elderberry) in Jam and Pie

Weighed down by stems of small, black fruit,  a tall bush, almost a small tree, drew me.  This is not a fruit you see in the markets, stores or supermarkets of the United States, though it grows here, abundantly. It is, though, a Peruvian standard called sauco or, in English, elderberries.

Our grandparents and great-grandparents did know it here in the north and they used it. It just did not get commercialized and industrialized and so has almost disappeared from people’s memory.

A Slice of Hot Pie (David Knowlton)
A Slice of Hot Pie (David Knowlton)

In Peru, though, it is popular. It is made into a runny, full-fruit jam, almost more of a compote. The fruit has little natural pectin to jell it and so must be enjoyed as something delicious and a bit liquid or it requires the addition of pectin or other fruit that is higher in pectin.

Peruvians prefer, it seems to me, a runnier, low pectin jam, since their popular jams of sauco, strawberry, and aguaymanto (husk cherry or ground cherry) are all runny as is their yogurt. In the US, people prefer them all to be more solid. 

That is why we have three words where the Spanish has one. Its mermelada, becomes jelly in  the US when it is made from juice, jam when it involves pieces of fruit, and marmalade if it uses citrus. We classify the world of preserves differently and require different vocabulary, as a result.   

Sauco is enjoyed on bread and it is also common as a standard topping on cheesecakes in Cusco and elsewhere in the country of the Incas. The jam, or mermelada as it is called in Spanish, is also served over pork roast or poultry. Peruvians love sauco.

Sauco en el árbol (David Knowlton)
Sauco en el árbol (David Knowlton)

In Europe, the flowers of the elderberry are used to make fragrant syrups. You can also find old recipes for elderberry p in the northern hemisphere. People make wine from the fruit and the liquor sambuca from Italy is named after the fruit, which it does contain though it is most known for its anise favor. Elderflower is a main ingredient in St. Germain liqueur.

The owners of the elderberry tree found in a Garden Store called Traces, allowed me to pick several pounds of the fruit and even offered a ladder if I wished to pick more. They said, “you pick it you can have it.” Though they are a business, so few people use elderberry here they were happy for me to take it home to make something. And, I did.

First you must remove all those little, black berries from their stems. I did not use gloves and so my fingers turned purple from their juice.

Once you have the berries, you decide which treats you wish to make.  n other years I have made the Peruvian-style mermelada and enjoyed it thoroughly. This year I decided to look north and combine Gringo with Peruvian to do something different. From the hybrid comes wonder.

I decided to make a  jam and a pie. I fell in love with the taste of this fruit in Peru and am troubled to see it fall out of use in my county in the face of the industrial onslaught. Here are my recipes.

Plum Elderberry Jam in the Garden (David Knowlton)
Plum Elderberry Jam in the Garden (David Knowlton)

Plum Elderberry Jam

(Heavily adapted from David Lebovitz, Plum Strawberry Jam)

Since elderberries have so little pectin, I decided to add to the elderberries another fruit high in pectin, plums, and just happened to have some my neighbor had given me from their tree that produced abundantly this year.

For this jam, I adapted a recipe made with another low-pectin fruit. Fortunately, David Lebovitz published one I really like in which he mixed strawberries and plums, which are high in pectin, and then finished off the jam off with a touch of liqueur. I used pisco since I am staying with my Peruvian inspiration. (Note I also used lime juice instead of the lemon most recipes called for to also continue my Peruvian theme).

1 pound (450g) elderberries, de-stemmed.

4 cups (800g) sugar

2 pounds (900g) plums, pitted and cut into quarters or eighths.

a squeeze of lime juice.

1 tsp pisco (or if you prefer, a squeeze of lime juice).

Place the elderberries and the sliced plums (along with the pits —or stones, if you prefer) into a heavy pan, add the sugar. Bring to a simmer and stir frequently.

Cook until the jam reaches the appropriate point.  You can use a candy thermometer, although the mixture will clump a bit and look thick when ready The best way to tell, according to most cooks, is to chill a plate in your freezer and add a teaspoon of the concoction to it to cool quickly. If the new jam wrinkles when pushed back, it is done.

When done, stir in the lime juice and the pisco.

Spoon into sterilized containers: either bottles you seal by filling them, placing their lids on them tightly, and turning them upside down to rest until cool; or you can place in jars or tupperware containers to keep in your refrigerator and use.

Elderberry Pie (David Knowlton)
Elderberry Pie (David Knowlton)

Elderberry Pie

(adapted from Namely Marley)

1 pie crust (for both top and bottom)

4 cups of elderberries, de-stemmed and cleaned.

1 1/2 cup sugar

1/4 cup anise infused water

3 tablespoons cornstarch

1 tablespoon lime  or lemon juice

Make the anise infused water by bringing a half cup water to a boil and pouring it over a tablespoon of aniseed.  Let steep for a few minutes. Remove the seeds.  This is now your anise infused water.

Place the elderberries and sugar in a sauce pan.

Add the 3 tablespoons of cornstarch to the anise infused water and mix well before pouring it over the berries and sugar. Combine.

Bring to a simmer and cook until the berries and their juices are thick before adding the lime or lemon juice.  If you wish, at this point you can also add a couple of teaspoons of pisco or anisette liqueur.

Pour the concoction into you pie crust.  Place the top over the pie and make a few slices for steam to escape. If you prefer, you can make a lattice.

Bake in a 375 degree oven for around 45 minutes. 

With its touch of pisco, the jam was delicious as it joined plums and elderberries, Gringo and Peruvian.  I will enjoy it for days and well into winter.

But the pie, my god!  The combination of sauco and anise with a flaky pie crust took me to a realm of modern and age old pleasure.  I recommend it to you.

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