Wild Food Lab Projects:
Salted Fish in a Day
Wild Food Lab
Elderflowers Wine/Cider with Wild Yeast.
I love living in Southern California. It's only mid-March and the local elder trees are already in flowers. Of course when you see an elder tree most people think elderberry wine but why wait for the berries when you can also use the flowers?
I have tons of elder trees so I don't mind picking up flowers on a few and leave the others untouched so I can forage for berries later on.
The elders we have around here are called Mexican Elders (Sambucus mexicana). At the right time, usually early or mid summer small, blue/black fruits appears following the blooms.
Note that some Mexican elders also have white/greenish berries which can be foraged as well.
To keep it simple, aside from the berries and flowers, the tree is considered poisonous (cyanide-producing glycoside in their leaves, twigs, and seeds). In fact, don't eat the berries raw. Cooking the berries removes the toxic compound. Don't freak out though, realize that cherries, peaches, etc... also have similar compound in the seeds.
Anyway, we're not making anything with berries right now so we can skip that part. I'm interested in the flowers.
The first thing you realize when you forage flowers is the amount of little bugs in it. This makes it a fun challenge and you get the shake each flower probably 2 or 3 times to remove them and when you think you're done, you see more coming up and so you shake them again. After a while, you just resign to the fact that you may still have one or two (or more) left in there. Oh well! life goes on.
I don't clean the flowers and would not advice you to do it, I want to use the wild yeast. From past experience, cleaning the flowers thoroughly does not help to get the yeast started. I don't have a scientific background but the yeast, usually attracted by sugar, is probably located where the pollen is. In this recipe, we want the natural yeast and pollen (which contains some sugar) and washing the flowers may remove quite a lot of the pollen.
I try to remove the green twigs from the flowers as much as possible but you'll see it's nearly impossible to remove them all, so just do a good job at it and keep going.
So now your flowers are ready to be used, let's take a look at the recipe:
Take one gallon of water and add around 2 cups of sugar. The sugar is actually optional, some traditional recipe don't ask for sugar and you may get a wine with a very low level of alcohol (like 1-2%). What can I say? I like my wine to be a bit more strong.
Boil the water and sugar in a pot (make sure you keep the lid on). You basically pasteurize the water and keep the lid on so bacterias and such can later infect your brew/wine.
Next, place the pot with the lid on in cold water (I place ice in the water) and let it cool to lukewarm. If you're tempted to test your water with a finger, make sure you clean it thoroughly!!!
Place around 4 cups of elderflowers in a container (I prefer glass or food grade plastic) so you can see what's going on in there. Place a lid on it (like the photo above) or a clean towel. Pout your sugar water, take a VERY CLEAN spoon (yes, wash it) and mix it all together. The waiting game has now started.
3-4 times a day, clean a spoon, remove the lid and stir the flowers/sugar solution for a few seconds then place the lid back.
In 2-4 days (depending on various conditions such as temperature, etc...), you should see some bubbling going on. Congratulations!!!!!! Fermentaton is occuring. It's not always easy with wild yeasts, usually my chances of success is around 70%.
Don't wait too long, when you see the fermentation going nicely, transfer it to another container. On my side I use a bottle with an airlock but I've seen people simply using a food grade bucket with a clean towel on top of it. Let it ferment for around 10 days then bottle it.