The last of Faith Lasher's elderberry recipes in the July/August 1973 issue of MOTHER EARTH NEWS is for elderflower wine, not elderberry wine. (You're right, Sandra . . . my hand slipped when I set the title.—MOTHER ) and looks to me as if it would turn out sickly-sweet.
Our favorite way to make elderflower wine at home — and we've tried five or six recipes, including ones with raisins, hops, oranges and Lord knows what all — is the simplest. Here are two basic recipes, one for elderflower wine and one for elderberry wine, and some wine making tips we can pass on from our own experience.
How to Make Elderflower Wine
Elder flowers (at least one quart)
1 gallon boiling water per quart of flowers
2 to 2 1/2 pounds of sugar per gallon of liquid
2 lemons or limes per gallon, juiced, per gallon
1 packet of dry wine yeast per 5 gallons of liquid
Snip a quart of flowers from the stems, pour a gallon of boiling water over them and let the tea steep three or four days with the blossoms pressed down under the liquid (they turn brown and spoil the color of the drink if they're exposed to air). Sometimes we soak orange peel at the same time, but it makes the infusion harder to clear.
Strain off the fluid and heat some of it to dissolve 2 to 2 1/2 pounds of sugar per gallon. If you have a hydrometer, aim at an 11 percent alcohol content — no more — for the finished product. When the solution cools, add the juice of 2 lemons or limes per gallon along with yeast. (You can use bread yeast — one package to five gallons — but the same amount of dry wine yeast will give you an infinitely better drink.) Then let the mixture work like any other such beverage . . . in a container that can be stopped with an air lock to let carbon dioxide out and keep air, bacteria and whatnot from getting in. Large batches, incidentally, are less likely to go bad than small lots.
Elderberry Wine Recipe
Elder berries (at least 2 gallons)
1 gallon of boiling water per 2 gallons of berries
3 1/2 to 4 pounds of sugar per gallon of boiled-down liquid
1 packet of dry wine yeast per 5 gallons of liquid (see "Wine Making Tips" below for more information about wine yeast)
For elderberry wine, pick nice plump berries about two days ahead of the birds (second or third week of August here in New York State) and strip them from the stems. You can use a fork and save your fingers, but I find my hands are faster. Then crunch up the fruit as if you were kneading dough. You'll need paint thinner later on to remove the gummy sap from your skin!
Pour boiling water over the purple mess (1 gallon for every 2 gallons of fruit) and let the mixture steep for about a week, punching down the berries occasionally. Keep the crock covered with a towel to protect the working "must" from dust and the odd yeast floating around in the air.
After the week of soaking, strain off and save the juice and mix 3 1/2 to 4 pounds of sugar into each gallon of the liquid. (There's a lot of acid in elderberries and they can easily take care of that much sweetening . . . the alcohol content will go higher than 15 percent. It's best to make additions of sugar in two or three lots a couple of days apart, or the fermentation can be explosive.)
Add 1 packet of dry wine yeast per 5 gallons of liquid (I like the madeira or port type yeast, but that's because we make our wine a trifle sweet to drink with soda and lime in the summer). Let 'er rip! You can improve the product by racking it . . . which means siphoning it off the dregs into clean, sterile containers every three months or so. We never consider our homemade beverage fit to drink until we bottle it when it's about two years old.
Wine Making Tips
Wine yeast can get a better jump on wild strains if you start it working about 48 hours before you want it. Take 1/2 cup water, add 1/2 cup orange juice (fresh) or juice from the berries and boil the liquid with 2 tablespoons of sugar. Let the syrup cool to lukewarm and add one package of wine yeast. Finally, put the mixture into a quart soda bottle and stop the mouth with cotton.
A good starter will be enough for about 10 gallons of wine . . . or you can stretch it by using half (for 5 gallons), then adding water/juice/sugar to the remainder in the original proportions and letting the stuff go to work again. The yeast mixture can be kept in the refrigerator from two to three weeks if you don't want to use it right away, but allow it time to warm up and become active before you add it to your future wine. Starter, in other words, can be made to work more or less like sourdough to cut your initial investment in yeast. One package, however, shouldn't be stretched for more than about five batches of wine.
Honey can be substituted for sugar in almost any wine formula. The drink will never clear, though, unless you use the following trick: Mix the honey with the water which is called for in the recipe and boil the whole business at least 30 minutes, skimming well. By the way, don't cook the fruit juice itself in this step or you'll end up with a cloudy beverage.
Honey is deficient in some of the acids or whatever that wine needs, so adjust the acidity of your blend accordingly. (We use lime juice for this purpose, but lemon would work as well.) Of course, honey plus lime juice makes a perfectly elegant drink all by itself. To produce 5 gallons of mead you need about 13 pounds of honey, about 24 limes and a packet of mead yeast.
Final note: Recycle used wine bottles, and shell out for a corker and new corks. It's dumb to put so much time into making a good drink, only to serve it up in tacky old soda bottles . . . and it'll most likely be vinegary, too, since I've yet to meet with a screw cap that can deal — as a wine cork can — with the delicate problem of exposure to air. There's a better way to reuse soft drink containers: cut them off to make glasses from which to drink your homemade wine.